The Minister of State at the Office of Public Works has urged people to "drown the shamrock with water" on St Patrick's Day instead of alcohol.

Patrick O'Donovan also urged people to stay at home tomorrow and said it was a "massive failure" that the sale of alcohol was not "dealt with" before Christmas.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, the Limerick TD said he believes the country paid "a very dear price" for not addressing the volume of alcohol that could be purchased, as well as the trading hours of off-licences.

"We didn't deal with it as a country, and I'm very critical of the way in which we didn't do this. It was a massive failure, because we didn't deal with it before Christmas and I think we paid a very dear price for it," he said

The minister added that "we have seen some scandalous things" as a result of what he called the "uncontrolled sale of alcohol".

However, Mr O'Donovan said he believes most people are heeding the public health advice.

"People are getting the message that the clowning around and the fooling around has done enough damage," but that gatherings before Christmas and gatherings at funerals "did a huge amount of damage".

Speaking on the same programme, Chair of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland Professor Frank Murray called for minimum unit pricing to be implemented immediately.

Prof Murray said there is a "need for speed" and "every day we defer doing this we are doing more harm".

He said trying to implement this strategy in tandem with authorities in Northern Ireland is "less than perfect".

Prof Murray said there is a need for urgent action on alcohol consumption in Ireland and said if minimum pricing was introduced, there would be a "net gain" to the Exchequer in relation to the costs of health, social services and productivity.

Meanwhile, the Director of Drinks Ireland described the possibility that the Government may act on minimum unit pricing, independently of Northern Ireland, as "a dangerous proposal at this point in time".

Patricia Callan said the organisation is not against minimum unit pricing, but it is asking the Government to redouble efforts with its Northern Ireland counterparts to do it jointly on the island of Ireland, which she said is "the critical thing" or people will continue to drive north to buy alcohol.

Ms Callan said there is a lot of cross-border shopping and recent studies show 7% of total alcohol purchases in the Republic come from Northern Ireland.

There are substantial spikes in traffic every time there is a change in the exchange rate or the excise rate, Ms Callan added.

She said because of the price differential, a recent Ibec report showed there is a risk of a €94m loss to the Exchequer in terms of lost revenue because alcohol prices in Ireland are the second most expensive in the EU.

She said in the last recession people travelled from Cork to Northern Ireland for cheap alcohol and when they did, they did their entire shop there too.