A Tesco drinks promotion that ran in the Irish Republic over the St Patrick's holiday has been found to be in breach of the industry's code of practice by an independent panel.

The 'buy 12 cans, get 12 cans free' promotion for Guinness Draught and Budweiser was backed by an in-store poster campaign and national press ads. Although in-store posters stated in small type that customers were limited to one purchase only, the newspaper ad used the phrase 'get in fast, limited availability'.

The panel said that making no reference to any limit on the number of cans a customer could buy was "a serious omission". The ad did include the advice to 'enjoy alcohol responsibly', but only in small type.

The code is operated by MEAS (Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol), a group funded by the Irish drinks industry.

According to MEAS, the Tesco promotion fell foul of a section of its code that states: "Promotional material must not, in any direct or indirect way, encourage irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as binge drinking, drunkenness or drink driving."

While the breach carries no financial penalty, the decision is a blow to Tesco, which has consistently maintained it operates a responsible alcohol policy.