Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher has suggested that the legal age for purchasing alcohol from off-licences should be raised from 18 to 21 years of age.

Speaking at a Joint Committee on Health and Children, Mr Kelleher said this would break the peerage link between teenagers and young adults, where 18-year-olds would buy their 16-year-old friends alcohol.

He also called for a clampdown on 'the multiples' where drink is being sold in bulk and/or on promotion.

Addressing the committee, Kathryn D'Arcy from the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen by 21% from its peak in 2001.

She said revenue figures have fallen again this year and are now at 1990s levels.

Padraig Cribben of the CEO of Vintners' Federation of Ireland said sales of alcohol in pubs has fallen by 15% in the past two years.

He blamed the Grocery Order as the single biggest issue for publicans and said there has been 30,000 jobs lost in the drinks sector in the past five years.

He said this was the equivalent of “sixty Talk Talks or thirty Avivas”.

When asked about setting a minimum price for alcohol, Ms D’Arcy said it was overly simplistic to focus on this issue as it was not the only factor people considered when buying alcohol.

She also cited a Eurostat study which showed Irish alcohol prices to be amongst the highest in the EU.

Mr Cribben said if excise duties were the solution Ireland would have no problem as it has the third highest duty on alcohol in Europe.

However Fiona Ryan, director of Alcohol Action Ireland, said minimum pricing was a win-win situation as it would discourage heavy drinking and protect jobs in the pub industry.

She said alcohol can be bought in supermarkets for cheaper than a bottle of water or a bar of chocolate and said it is at “pocket money prices”.

Ms Ryan also expressed concern at the impact of marketing on teenagers and said a survey carried out by AAI found that half of teenagers’ favourite ads were ones for alcohol.

39% of those surveyed also owned an item of alcohol-branded clothing, which she described as 'stealth marketing'. The survey also found that 30% of 16 to 17-year-olds had received an alcohol 'pop-up' on their social networking site.

Ms Ryan said the codes for alcohol marketing were “woefully inadequate” when it comes to digital advertising.

Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane said Ireland must address the social and economic issues caused by alcohol.

He cited antisocial behaviour in parts of Co Waterford which is directly linked to the sale and availability of cheap alcohol.

He said there was a lack of responsibility at house parties and said the social consequences are clear.