There is an amendment very much to the same effect in the names of Deputy Linehan, Deputy Ryan, Deputy Morrissey and myself. I associated my name with that amendment in this spirit. Whatever licensing laws we have in this country, I should like to see them respected and carried out, not only by the officers of the State, but by the general public as well. If we have licensing laws that are unduly restrictive, or that in themselves interfere to too great an extent with the reasonable requirements of the people, I think, no matter how many Acts of that kind are passed, they are doomed to failure on the very day of their passing, in so far as if they carry on their face the stamp of being unreasonable, of interfering to an undue extent with the ordinary normal requirements of the people, then those Acts will not get public support, and the public servants charged with the responsibility of carrying out such Acts will carry them out in a rather lame way.
As this Bill stands, it would seem that we are to lay it down in this country, from north to south, from east to west, that under no circumstances, no matter if a man has travelled 200 miles between the hours of 10 o'clock at night and 10 o'clock the following morning, can drink be supplied to him in an ordinary licensed house. On the face of it, that is unreasonable. There is nothing evil in alcohol; there is nothing more evil in a glass of whiskey or a pint of beer than there is in a pound of beef. It is the abuse of either one or the other that brings about the evil, that is dangerous and harmful. Our object should not be to prevent people getting any type of solid or liquid refreshment that they want; our legislation should be aimed at preventing abuses in the use of any commodity, the outstanding one being alcohol. World experience should have taught us this much, that over-interference with the people and too rigid restrictions on a population produce reactions among the public so that the end is far worse than the beginning.
Experiments have been tried in many countries, and I think experience has shown—and time will tell here— that the only type of legislation that is likely to succeed in removing the abuses that are there and removing the scandals that have existed, is reasonable, common-sense legislation. It is definitely unreasonable to say that for 12 hours out of the 24 the person who treats himself or a friend, the person who secures refreshment, is going to be branded as a law-breaker. The Minister told us that the purpose of this legislation is to deal with disorderly houses, to put down all-night drinking, to deal with the houses that have a far bigger trade during the hours of the night and the early hours of the morning than would be done during the normal working hours. Having introduced his Bill on that note, the Minister proceeds by the very drastic provisions contained in the Bill to drive every legitimate trader into the position of being a law-breaker if he is to listen to the appeals, the knocks and the demands of his customers. That is entirely unreasonable.
The all-night house would be dealt with by the suggestions contained in any of these amendments. The all-night house would be dealt with by allowing a reasonable margin for bona fide trading over the normal hours, such as is suggested here—1 a.m. in summer time and 12 midnight in the winter. The gap between that and the ordinary hours of trading has been considerably lessened by amendments already outlined by the Minister. I urge on the Minister the advisability of accepting the type of amendment that is before him. He will at least deal with the type of house that, he has indicated, has brought about all this legislation. He would have more public support behind him and far more support from the trade in dealing with abuses and breaches of the law if the law in itself is reasonable, is common sense and appears to be fair, not only to the trader but to the general public.
I am not so very keen on the amendments from the point of view of the trader. I am more interested in the amendments from the point of view of the general public and the rights of ordinary, well-behaved citizens. I think it is an entirely undue and bureaucratic interference with the ordinary free people of this country to say that a law has to be introduced to make it a crime to take alcoholic beverages in a licensed house between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. That particular suggestion is so restrictive that it will lead to widespread law-breaking of, what some may consider, a minor kind. The Minister and his colleagues are long enough in public life to know that, if you are to have the laws of the land respected, you must have those laws founded on a reasonable foundation, and that the very minute you bring about a mentality that "this is an unreasonable law and we will ignore it, brush it aside," it is only a step from that to the breaking of another law, and still another after that. What is really required more than anything else in this country is to stamp into the mind of the ordinary member of the community as deep a respect for all the laws as would be found in other democracies.
Our background historically over a very great number of years, indeed over a number of centuries, is a background of conflict between the people and the law. National aspirations, the national demands, the national agitations and one national movement after another found themselves in those days in conflict with the law, so that, with our papfeed, every one of us imbibed disrespect for the law and a kind of natural tendency to break and to oppose laws. Times are changed. We are our own law-makers now. We are making laws with the authority of the people, and we should make those laws with the approval of the people, and, above all, we should not legislate here in an Irish Parliament to make laws which unduly interfere with the normal rights, the normal recreations and the normal pleasures of normal people. If there are abnormal people in the community, deal with them, but do not deal with them by victimising the ordinary people. If there are abnormal licensed houses, badly supervised, badly managed, badly kept, there is ample machinery in existing Acts to empower the State to deal with them; but do not deal with them by hitting, and hitting hard, the ordinary people of the community and the ordinary member of the trade who has conducted his business within the law in an orderly and proper manner.
The particular suggestions contained in the Bill as it stands are unreasonable, either from the point of view of the member of the general public or from the point of view of the well-conducted business. The Minister, on an earlier stage of the Bill, said that his reasons for introducing the Bill, and his complaints against members of the licensed trade, were not based on a few houses in County Dublin or any other county, that abuses of the Acts in houses carried on in an improper manner were to be found in every county and every parish.
Presumably a Minister making a statement of that kind does not make it on the basis of his information as the man in the street. A Minister making such a statement bases it on information received by him as a Minister, through the services operating and functioning under him. It is an extraordinary thing that if there are houses badly-conducted, breaking the law, giving scandal and demoralising people in every parish in the country, there have been only 35 objections on behalf of the State to the renewal of licences, and that, of those 35 objections, only five were considered reasonable by the courts of the land.
On the very evidence of the Minister's answers, it would appear that the whole necessity for tightening up of a drastic kind is based on a very small percentage of the licensed houses, and because there is a very small percentage of the licensed houses improperly supervised, badly managed and anything but well-conducted, the well-conducted, highly organised trade throughout the country is to be hit, and hit drastically, and what is more, the ordinary normal citizen is to suffer more restrictions, more interference with his rights as an individual than, so far as I know, is the case in any other European country.
Are we such a weak-minded, spineless people in this country that we cannot conduct ourselves unless the State steps in between us and temptation, and unless there is a policeman to keep us from making fools of ourselves, and that the conduct of Irish people depends upon the amount of policing over every individual? I think that over-drastic legislation will do harm instead of good. Reasonable legislation, reasonable provision for reasonable people, will get reasonable people behind the State, behind the services of the State and behind the laws of the State.
I urge the Minister very strongly to consider at this stage the advisability of accepting amendments such as those before him, that bona fide trading should not be allowed during the late hours of the night or the early hours of the morning—there are the ordinary legal hours for open trading—that bona fide trading be allowed up to 12 midnight winter time or 1 a.m. summer time, that from 12 midnight winter time or 1 a.m. summer time until 6 a.m., no licensed house be allowed to serve anyone with alcoholic refreshment no matter how pressing his case is, and, having got an Act containing restrictions of that kind— reasonable restrictions, sensible restrictions and restrictions which will prevent the scandal of the all-night house—the Minister will not only have the full co-operation of his own State servants, but will have, what is more valuable in a democracy, the co-operation of the general public brought about by the belief that the Minister's legislation is reasonable and not unreasonable.