The Irish government is set to ban the below-cost sale of alcohol by supermarkets, forecourts and off-licences -and may also restrict the hours at which drink can be sold in the off-trade.

The new measures will be introduced early in the new year, according to Ireland's justice minister Brian Lenihan. He promised "some consultation" with those affected, but warned: "We cannot continue having this endless proliferation of the public sale of alcohol at below cost."

The crackdown represents a policy change by government, following concern by community groups and the medical profession that the increased availability of cheap drink was encouraging alcohol abuse among the young.

Earlier this year, trade and enterprise minister Micheál Martin, who abolished the groceries order that had outlawed below-cost sales, had rejected appeals that the order be restored solely for the off-licence sector.

According to figures from Diageo, for the first time more alcohol has been sold in supermarkets and off-licences in the Republic this year than in pubs, a trend blamed on a combination of the smoking ban and the stringent enforcement of drink-driving legislation.

Lenihan cited the fact that "fewer people are drinking in the controlled atmosphere of a pub, and a lot are drinking in a very uncontrolled atmosphere of the home or outside" as one reason why the government had to act.

He added: "We have to look at the issue of the sale of drink below cost because this isn't an economic or commercial issue - it is a public order issue."

Turnover in the Irish off-licence sector has doubled in the past five years, with supermarkets and c-stores reported to have as much as 40% of the market.

Allegations of irresponsible selling by retailers were rejected by Retail Ireland, which represents the multiples. "We take our responsibilities very seriously when it comes to the sale of alcohol," said a spokesman.