A call by the Irish drinks industry for a ban on cut-price alcohol sales in supermarkets has been rejected by trade and enterprise minister Micheál Martin.

At its annual conference in Galway last weekend, the Beverage Council of Ireland, representing drinks manufacturers, wholesalers and suppliers, claimed such sales encouraged alcohol abuse by young people and conflicted with the stated aims of industry and government to promote responsible drinking.

Council president Edward McDaid told the conference that multiples had slashed alcohol prices to the point "where four young people can each put a fiver in the kitty and buy themselves a crate of beer". He asked: "How can that be reconciled with the Irish ban on other forms of drink promotions, such as Happy Hours in pubs?"

However, Martin, a guest speaker at the conference, insisted there could be no return to a ban on below-cost sales. "The damage caused to the competitive process and to consumer interests by 18 years of such a ban, under the groceries order, has been immense," he said, "and I make no apology for its abolition."

A Tesco spokeswoman, commenting on the controversy, said: "We take very seriously our duty to sell alcohol responsibly."