Retail leaders have accused politicians in Northern Ireland of pursuing a vendetta against supermarkets and convenience stores, after the government in Stormont pushed ahead with plans to force retailers to build walls between areas selling alcohol and the rest of their products.
A consultation document by NI’s Department for Social Development proposed new measures to increase the separation of alcohol from other goods even though, like Scotland, it already requires alcohol to be sold in areas behind gates or turnstiles.
The document blamed retailers for a major spike in the number of people in Northern Ireland drinking at home, and called for further measures to “increase the separation between alcohol and other goods”.
It said there should be “a wall or door which must remain closed when not in use as an entrance to any area where alcohol is displayed.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, called the measures “extreme”.
“What we all want is fair, evidence-based regulation,” he said. “This is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and there is no evidence whatsoever to back it up.”
While retail leaders said they thought it was unlikely such extreme measures would spread to England and Wales, the government is stepping up its crackdown on binge drinking in advance of a consultation on minimum pricing and a proposed ban on multibuy promotions.
In England, Islington became the first local authority to reveal it was planning to take up new powers, coming into force from October, that will allow councils to levy thousands of pounds of charges on retailers selling alcohol between the hours of 12am and 6am, and enforce bans on the sale of alcohol at night across wide areas of towns and cities.