I do not think the Minister understands the argument we are making. We conceded that under the existing law, before this Bill, the six-day licence man was confined to the sale of intoxicating liquor to six days of the week and could not legally open his premises for sale for any purpose on Sundays. The seven-day man could open his house for six days of the week and, when Sunday came, he could lawfully open his house only to persons who were travelling from one point to another, more than three miles apart, and who required refreshment to speed them on their journey.
We pointed out that of the existing so-called bona fide trade conducted on a Sunday, 90 per cent. of it was illegal because 90 per cent. of the people trading seven-day houses were not drinking to travel; they were travelling to drink, and there was no sanction under the existing law for any man to get on his bicycle and cycle four miles to a publichouse, consume what drink he wanted and cycle home again. That was travelling to drink and was an illegal practice and if a Guard raided a seven-day house and ascertained that the customers in that house when he raided it were not travellers at all except in so far as they had proceeded from their own place of residence to the publichouse to take drink, he would prosecute all of them and prosecute the publican for serving them.
So long as that was the law, the six-day licence man had no real grievance but when we come along to the six-day man in a country town and say to him: "Whereas heretofore neither the six-day licence nor the seven-day licence man had the right to serve anybody on a Sunday except transients, now under the new proposal we are making the seven-day licence man is going to be permitted for two periods on Sunday to open his house for the convenience of his and your neighbours—for his neighbours and the neighbours of his six-day licence competitor in the same town—but the six-day licence man will not be allowed to open his doors at all. In addition to that we fix you with notice that whatever laxity of control there has been in the past, that is going to come to an end and whatever police measures may be necessary to see that the precise terms of this new Act will be put into effect we are proposing to take them."
I submit to the House that in effect that meant that we said to the six-day licence man: "We all know there has been widespread disregard of the law in the past and that in practice, up till to-day, neighbours coming to town on Sunday have illegally frequented seven-day and six-day houses and there has been a wide toleration of that practice. That practice is going to stop and now the only house into which a neighbour may enter is a seven-day man's house. That door will be wide open for two periods every day but the six-day licensee's door will be padlocked so that nobody can get in at all." As we pointed out to the House, if that happened, anyone who understands the pattern of rural life knows that the majority of six-day licensees in rural Ireland would be forced into bankruptcy.
Again, I am obliged to say I do not believe the Minister for Justice understands the case we make, for he has little experience of the conditions to which we refer. There are over 10,000 seven-day licences in the country and only about 1,000 to 1,400 six-day licences and almost all of those are in rural areas. Everyone who understands rural life realises that a publichouse in rural Ireland is not only a place where a person can purchase refreshment for cash but is also a place that provides a variety of amenities and conveniences for regular customers who go to town on a market day or on a Sunday.
On a market day they park their bicycle, a horse and cart, or maybe an ass and cart outside when they frequent the publichouse. If by legislation we create a situation in which on a weekday everybody living in the immediate vicinity of a country town or village can use any licensed house in the town, not only as a place of refreshment but as a place of business and amenity, but that on Sunday they may use only the seven-day licence house, what will happen is that the customers who normally go to the six-day premises will not be able to get the amenities they had always enjoyed on Sundays and therefore they will begin to frequent the seven-day house on Sunday. Anyone understanding rural Ireland knows that there will be no welcome in a seven-day house for a man if the seven-day licensee knows that on the other six days of the week he goes to the six-day house, with the result that you are forcing the customers of these 1,000 six-day licensees into their competitors' house on the one day a week when everybody must go to town, because virtually everybody in rural Ireland goes to Mass on Sundays.
We have urged on the Minister— and this he must know as well as we know—that the vast majority of these six-day licensed houses are small family businesses and the margin between survival and bankruptcy is very narrow. That case having been pressed upon the Minister up to the conclusion of the debate on Committee Stage, he expressed himself as implacable and unchanging but said he would report to the Government the arguments advanced here. Apparently these arguments carried more conviction to the Government than they did to the Minister and the Minister now comes back with the proposal to do the very thing we asked him to do, that is, to allow any six-day licensee who wants to convert his licence into a seven-day licence to do so by application, but inserts the astonishing proposal that this must be accompanied by a deposit of £200.
Outside of bedlam, can you imagine a Legislature such as this asking 1,000 citizens to pay £200 for the right to survive in their own country under their own law? Would anyone explain to me why a six-day licensee in Bally-bay, Ballaghaderreen, Skibbereen or anywhere else—and most of them are in the West of Ireland or in county Monaghan—should be asked to pay £200 for the right to survive in his own country? All we are asking is that he should have the right to open his door in the same way as his neighbour. It is a right his neighbour never had before, and that is where the Minister for Justice has completely missed the point. We are creating an entirely new right, the right to open your door to sell intoxicating liquor to your neighbour on Sunday. No publican, seven-day or six-day, has had that right in the past. There is now no difference between the licence fee of one publican and that of another. They will all be equated at £4 10s. 0d. Why should we confer, free, gratis and for nothing, on 10,000 publicans the right to open their doors to their neighbours on a Sunday and charge 1,000 licensees who are notoriously the poorest amongst the 11,000 licensees, £200 for the right of opening their doors?
What Deputy wants that charge to be levied? That is what puzzles me. I do not believe any Deputy wants it levied. It is to be levied for some obscure purpose which is not even mentioned in the Bill and of which nobody knows, and, indeed, the Minister might have availed of the Financial Resolution to tell what is this mysterious purpose for which this £200 is being sequestered. Who wants this levy imposed on these licensees? I have been searching in my mind since the amendment was put on paper to find the answer to that question, and the only answer I can find is that somebody is concerned to maintain the sale price of six-day licences that may be on the market or of seven-day licences, so that if certain six-day licensees wish to avail of the other means provided in this Bill of acquiring a seven-day licence, they will have to pay something of the order of £200 to the licensee whose licence they seek to extinguish in order to qualify as seven-day licensees themselves.
Who are to be beneficaries of this levy? So far as I can understand the Minister's amendment its sole result will be to set a price of approximately £180 on a seven-day licence which a six-day licensee may purchase, or of £90 apiece on two six-day licences which he seeks to acquire for the purpose of enlarging his own six-day licence to a seven-day licence.
Whose interest is it that that should be done? I wonder have Deputies opened their eyes to the fact that this £200 is inoperable? All it does is to ensure that a person who offers a seven-day licence for sale will get £180 for two or the person resolving to purchase two six-day licences will have to muster a fund of approximately £180 wherewith to buy two and presumably the price will settle at £90 for the six-day licence.
Who is interested in that transaction? Does the House want to create this wretched limited market for the relatively few persons who have licences under option or who are authorised to sell and deal in licences to avail of this market at the expense of the poorest element in the licensed trade in Ireland? Is there not something utterly inexplicable in this proposal? I do not understand it. I cannot understand how this House could wish to levy on these people whom I know well this extraordinary charge.
The Minister will remember that since the Committee Stage of this Bill, I sent him a letter from a widow woman whose family lost their all in the Plan of Campaign. She has a small public house and she is trying to rear her family. Is there anybody in this House who wants to impose on that widow woman the obligation of either borrowing £200 for the right to survive or the obligation to go out and pay £180 for a seven-day licence or £90 each for two six-day licences in order to keep her door open?
If I could see any conceivable case being made for this, I could argue more effectively against it. It is the very extravagance of the proposal, when you work it down to what it truly means, that makes me utterly unable to understand the Minister's mental process. I think there is a grave obligation on him to tell us whether I am right in saying that the £200 clause will never, in fact, operate. Its only result is that the individual who has a seven-day licence to sell is guaranteed something like £180 or that the man who has a handful of six day licences available for sale can reasonably look forward to getting £90 apiece, whereas if our more rational proposal of a nominal fee were accepted, this whole question of trafficking in licences would not arise at all.
Our proposal is that if a six day licensee wishes to convert to a seven day licence in a limited period, he can do so by registering his application with the district court and depositing a fee of £5. The only reason I put down a fee of £5 is that under the rules and procedure of this House my proposal had in some measure to be different from the proposal which was rejected on Committee Stage. Our preference was for this proposal in the original form put forward by us on Committee Stage, that anyone who wanted to change a six day licence to a seven day licence would be permitted to do so on registering his application with the local district court. We now propose that he should pay a fee of £5 merely for the purpose of differentiating between this proposal and the proposal rejected on Committee Stage.
Who will argue against the justice of our proposal and make a case that the kind of people to whom I refer, the average six day licence person who must acquire a seven day licence to survive under the new law, should be burdened with a charge of £180 if he adopts the procedure of buying one or two licences or paying £200 if he adopts the procedure envisaged in amendment 13?
Does the Minister for Justice have any notion what £200 would mean to the writer of the letter I sent him? Most of these licensees on whose behalf I speak today belong in that order of economic strength. They are people to whom £200 is as unattainable as £250,000 would be to me. Who would give it? What security have they to offer? Where could they borrow it? I ask any Deputy if a small six-day publican rearing a family and with the very limited accommodation he normally has in rural Ireland came to him and asked him to go bail in the bank for £200, would he go into the bank and bail him for it? Is there anybody who knows this trade who believes that for a single moment any prudent wholesaler would give any such publican as those belonging to the category to which I refer credit for £200? If any of us heard that a wholesaler had allowed a publican in this category to stumble into debt to the tune of £200, would he not be inclined to say to the wholesaler: "If you lose the money, the devil mind you"? Will they not pile up debt in those circumstances and if a judgment is given against them will they not have to mortgage their house and in the end perhaps may be put out on the street? What good is it to these people if they go into debt to the tune of £200 if they have to borrow and pay £12 per year interest on it? What good will the seven day licence be to them?
Suppose they go to a bank and get £200 for this purpose, will they not be asked to pay it back in two or three years? Where are such people to find £2 5s. a week to pay off a debt of that kind in two years and to find, over and above, the weekly charges that come upon them for food, clothes and emergencies which every family must provide and in addition, £1 5s. not to speak of £2 5s. a week to liquidate a debt of this kind? When you come back and ask why we are putting this burden on them, one does not meet a single normal human being who can give any rational explanation.
I do not know the explanation of the proposed £200 charge, but there is only one conceivable explanation of it, and that is that somebody is interested in trafficking in licences and wants these licences in which he is concerned to traffic given a statutory value by this House. I do not think we ought to do that. We are doing it at the expense of a small section of the community ill able to bear such a charge and we are doing it for no good reason.
I would urge the Minister most strongly, seeing that he has come thus far to meet us by recognising that every six-day licensee has a right, in view of this legislation, to share in the new right which will be created by this Bill, to trade without restriction on Sunday, that he ought to come the rest of the way now and allow them to acquire that right without putting upon them a financial burden which will bring upon them the very nemesis from which we are concerned to protect them.
In all seriousness, I ask the Minister, reviewing the circumstances of the woman to whom I have referred, does he believe she can raise, in her circumstances, £200 as the purchase price of her survival? If he agrees with me that she cannot, I can assure him that more than half of the 1,400 six-day licensees who hope for deliverance under this Bill are more or less in her circumstances. It is bad enough to wipe them out by legislation, but it appears to me to be almost diabolical to adopt the policy of Tantalus and to say to these people: "Very well. We recognise the justice of your case. We recognise that you ought to be entitled to qualify as a seven-day licensee and we shall provide the machinery whereby you can do so at your own option, but we shall levy a charge upon it which will put it out of your reach."
If that is being done to convenience those who want to traffic in licences at the expense of the 500 or 600 small licensees who ought to be allowed to qualify under this legislation, it is very wrong, and I urge the Minister most strongly, seeing that we did succeed in carrying conviction to his mind in respect of the principle of these amendments, to come the rest of the way to meet us and say, in effect, as well as in theory, that we shall put all these licensees on an equal footing hereafter and that, having done so, we shall then be able to ask the Garda authorities ruthlessly to enforce the law. But if the Minister does not come the rest of the way to meet us, he will put on every Garda down the country the detestable obligation, and it will be a detestable obligation, of wiping out of existence those who, his own conscience will tell him, ought to be a first charge on his protection and his solicitude.
I do not believe there is any Deputy who, understanding the situation, wants to see that happen and I hope the Minister, who has changed his mind so radically since we last discussed this matter, will not think it beneath his dignity to change it this little more—this little more which will make all the difference between justice and injustice; and, inasmuch as he is Minister for Justice in this Government, I hope he will be prepared to vindicate the title of his office.