Irish spending more on alcohol at home than in pubs as consumption drops, report finds

New law proposed by Government is in conflict with legislation introduced in 2018 to drive down drinking, particularly among young people, review says

The decline in the number of pubs in the Republic over the almost 20 years to 2021 has been offset by the increase in the number of off-licences, with the number of each type of liquor licence reaching equivalence around 2021, according to the latest overview on alcohol consumption from the Health Research Board (HRB).

And despite the almost 20 per cent decline in the number of pubs during the period, Ireland still ranks third in the world in terms of number of pubs per capita for a country with a population of more than one million, behind the Slovak Republic and Hungary.

The overview says that in 2021 there was one liquor licence for every 345 people and that 73 per cent of the population lived within 300m of a liquor licence (measured by a direct line).

A geospatial analysis found that liquor licences are more common in areas of higher deprivation, with almost twice as many per capita in such areas as compared with more affluent ones.


“The average Irish household spent more money on alcohol for consumption at home than on alcohol for consumption outside the home,” according to the report Alcohol: Availability, Affordability, Related Harm and Policy in Ireland.

The cost-of-living crisis saw alcohol prices increase more rapidly in pubs than in off-licences, and utilities and food items increase in price more rapidly than alcohol.

“Although the price of alcohol has increased, it has actually become more affordable when considering inflation, especially in the off-trade sector.”

While per capita alcohol consumption has been declining, surveys have found that, since the beginning of the pandemic some people have been drinking more.

“Of concern is the finding that parents of children aged under 18 years were more likely to report increasing their alcohol use since the beginning of the pandemic (16.4 per cent) compared with those without children aged under 18 years (11.5 per cent).”

Overall, however, per capita alcohol consumption remains lower than pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019. Since the last HRB overview in 2021, per capita use has dropped from ninth highest among the 38 countries in the OECD, to 16th.

A survey in 2022 found that 44 per cent of respondents who drank did so most frequently at home, followed by 30 per cent who said it was in a pub, and 13 per cent who said it was in a restaurant, hotel or cafe.

Drinking in groups was more common among younger people, with the unemployed, older people, retired people and men being more likely to drink alone.

The overview considers the health effects of alcohol consumption – there are approximately three alcohol-related deaths every day – the association with depression and suicide, and the association with crime, including public order offences.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, which introduced a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol as well as other measures, was the most significant legislation ever introduced in Ireland in relation to alcohol and had a central aim of targeting alcohol consumption by the young.

The introduction of the new law against the backdrop of the pandemic meant its effect was not always clear, given that the pandemic caused drinking behaviours to change, the report said.

The Government’s Sale of Alcohol Bill (2022), which aims to streamline the liquor licensing process, extend opening hours and increase alcohol availability, is “in conflict with the Public Health (Alcohol) Act,” according to the overview.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent