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Independent retailers on both sides of the Irish border have reacted positively to the opening of consultation on the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Northern Ireland.

MUP came into effect in the Republic on January 1, sparking fears of a surge in cross-border shoppers seeking cheaper alcohol from off-licences in the Province.

Independent retailers believe MUP in Northern Ireland will create a “level playing field” and bring alcohol prices in line with the Republic, Scotland and Wales, where it is already in place.

The Fed’s Republic of Ireland president Martin Mulligan is also in favour of MUP being introduced in Northern Ireland. He said: “It’s certainly a good thing and would make things equal for retailers on either side of the border. It would be particularly good for those retailers whose stores are on or close to the border.”

Joe Archibald, the Fed’s district president for Northern Ireland, added: “One of the main benefits of MUP for smaller retailers with off-licences is the fact that the big multiples and supermarkets will have to charge the same prices, so they will no longer be able to undercut independents by selling cheaper alcohol as loss leaders. This should level things up and give everyone a fair crack of the whip.”

Health minister Robin Swann announced the consultation on February 22, saying: “The evidence is quite clear that price is a key factor in driving alcohol-related harm. Alcohol is 74 per cent more affordable now than it was 30 years ago, and the availability of alcohol at very low prices is encouraging excessive and, most importantly, harmful consumption.

“Now I want to hear the views of the public and I would urge everyone to have their say and respond to this consultation.”

The consultation document is available online at Department of Health (health-ni.gov.uk), with a closing date of May 17.

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