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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Apr 1998

Vol. 489 No. 7

Private Members' Business. - Licensed Premises (Opening Hours) Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I propose to share my time with Deputies Wall and McDowell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I hoped the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, would be here to deal with this Bill because the last time I spoke on the licensing laws, he told us there would be a seminar on 24 April. He did not tell us that the fee for entry to that seminar would be £65. My constituents in the west would not earn £65 in three weeks because of the effect of zero tolerance on the licensing laws. Will the Minister scrap that £65 charge? I also asked him to scrap zero tolerance in the west but he said he could not interfere with the daily running of the Garda Síochána.

I ask the Minister of Education to convey this message to him. The senior Minister says he cannot interfere but the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey, asked the Garda to cease the zero tolerance campaign.

The west is awake.

It is typical of Fianna Fáil to speak with two tongues. I want to know what the position is. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, tell me if legislation will be introduced, as Deputy Fahey said, before the summer? How successful was Deputy Fahey's request to the Garda to stop zero tolerance in the west? I support that call. It amazes me how the Minister cannot interfere with the daily operation of the Garda yet a Minister of State can ask them, on the airwaves, to stop the policy of zero tolerance.

The Minister should not have implemented zero tolerance in the west. Why was the west singled out? If it was anything good or money was involved, the west would not be singled out.

We have had zero tolerance in Dublin for years.

I go out a great deal in Dublin and zero tolerance here is not operated as it is in the west. Zero tolerance has had a major effect on pubs in the west. I met a delegation in Mayo recently who were upset at this and ask for legislation for 26, not five, counties. I have no problem with the legislation being applied across the country. If zero tolerance was implemented in the 26 counties, some Fianna Fáil Deputies would have a great deal more to say. The five western counties may not have the same clout as Dublin but I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey — because he seems to have more influence on the Garda than the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue — to stop zero tolerance in the west. I hope legislation to regulate pub licensing hours will be in place before the summer.

I welcome the publication of this Bill. It is a decade since this House last moved to change the law regarding licensing hours. In those ten years there has been a significant number of changes in the behaviour of the Irish drinking public, but the law has failed to take account of them. This Bill is a timely and comprehensive response to the public demand for reform of our licensing laws.

The law as it currently stands has fallen into disrepute. It is important that this House and the legislature responds to changes in society. The failure to change our licensing laws has had serious repercussions. The ongoing déba cle in Galway city because of the opening of nightclubs demonstrates this point. A large amount of Garda time is invested in enforcing laws which the vast majority of people, especially the young, see as irrelevant. This is not only a scandalous waste of Garda resources but is also extremely damaging to their image in the city and serves no one's interest.

In recent newspaper reports the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, expressed his concern at the ongoing situation in the City of the Tribes. He expressed his wish that the law be changed before the summer. However, in the recently published list of proposed legislation, there is no mention of updating our licensing laws. It is obvious all members of the Government are not singing from the same hymn sheet. If it chooses to vote down this Bill this evening, I fear the internal division will lead to further paralysis and nothing of substance will be produced.

The Bill introduced by Deputy Upton is comprehensive and well-researched. It strikes an important balance between the rights of the consumer and the rights of staff working in the industry. Consumers have a right to choice in the marketplace and workers have a right to refuse to work longer hours if they wish. The Bill takes account of these principles.

The proposal to eliminate the distinction between winter and summer time opening hours is long overdue. The reason for this distinction has always evaded me and it is time this absurdity was removed from the Statute Book. I am in favour of the general extension of pub opening hours until 12.30 a.m. This proposal takes account of the changing face of Irish society.

As a Kildare representative, I have seen the expansion of employment in that county in recent years. Many of the companies which have recently located in Ireland are hi-tech industries which operate shift systems. It is abundantly clear that the traditional nine-to-five working structure is no longer relevant to many of our workers, particularly young workers. It is common for people to work shifts which finish at nine or ten o'clock in the evening. The proposed change in the law will enable these people to have a drink with their colleagues when they finish work. It will remove the necessity to rush out to a pub and stockpile drink as the clock ticks towards 11.30 p.m.

The proposed change will also serve the interests of our expanding tourism industry. Tourists, particularly those from the Continent whom Bord Fáilte have encouraged to visit our shores, are often bemused at our archaic licensing laws. It is time we moved to bring our laws into line with the practice in continental Europe. This Bill will achieve that.

The Bill also provides a new and important facility for local communities to petition the courts to restrict the opening hours of a public house. This is important for residents whose peace and quiet is consistently interrupted by pub customers behaving in a loud and disruptive manner.

The Bill also proposes to abolish the Sunday closing requirement placed on some pubs. This is another legislative anomaly which borders on the farcical. In recent years there has been a huge expansion in the number of people who enjoy going to a pub on Sunday afternoon to watch sporting events. That citizens are forced to watch these events behind locked doors, in fear of a visit from the local constabulary, is a farce and it must be addressed.

However, it is not only people who want to watch televised sporting events who suffer because of the law as it currently stands. Many sports fans who attend Croke Park for a big match are amazed that pubs in the vicinity of the ground are legally obliged to close at 2 p.m. This is extremely inconvenient, particularly for people who may have travelled to the match without a ticket to sample the atmosphere. They are left to roam the streets in search of a hotel bar which may allow them in to see the game.

The Bill also protects bar staff from being obliged to work extra hours. I support this important part of the Bill and I commend this Bill to the House. It will not increase the incidence of alcoholism or the amount of drink consumed. There is hardly a family which has not been touched by the tragedy of alcoholism in some way. If I or my party felt this Bill would exacerbate this huge problem we would not have introduced it. However, we are concerned that the legislation enacted by this House reflects the needs and habits of our citizens. Our licensing laws have been neglected for too long. They have fallen into disrepute. The Bill would remedy this and provide a sound and relevant basis for the licensed trade and the many thousands of jobs it creates and supports. I commend it to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and commend my colleague, Deputy Upton, on introducing it. I had the unspeakable pleasure in the last Dáil to serve on the Select Committee on Legislation and Security and on its subcommittee which dealt with this issue over a period of about one year. It was, in a strange way, an unusual experience.

This is one of those issues which transcends party boundaries. To the best of my knowledge, apart from the Labour Party, there is no party which has a specific policy on the extension of closing times. The members of the subcommittee, therefore, felt a certain liberty in expressing their views. It is clear that there was no conformity between the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party members of the group. In so far as there was a clear distinction between members it was between those who represented the bigger cities, Dublin and Cork and, to some extent, Galway and Limerick where generally the licensing laws are enforced relatively strictly, and those who represented areas of the country where the laws are treated in a slightly more liberal or lax fashion. Many of the members who represented rural constituencies took the view that this was not particularly relevant to them since they or many of their constituents could doubtless find a public house somewhere in their town or village which was prepared to stay open and offer them a late night pint. This was a source of frustration.

Saving the interests of night club owners in Galway, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Garda Síochána for what they have decided to do in the west. In enforcing the licensing laws in western counties they have brought to a head an issue which might otherwise have glided past us. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform — we were told this explicitly at the time by officials of the Department; I commend them for their honesty and frankness — has much on its plate when it came to the criminal law as can be seen from the volume of legislation it has generated in the past two years. Regulating pub opening hours will not happen unless the Government as a matter of priority decides to make it happen.

In looking at the licensing laws it struck me that they are very detailed and arcane. It is difficult to come to grips with them. In framing the Bill we have selected the highlights, the laws of most concern to people. I commend this approach to the Minister and the Department should they, as I hope they will, choose to look at this issue as a matter of urgency.

It is about ten years since the then Minister, Gerry Collins, introduced some relatively modest changes to the licensing laws. They were motivated by a recognition of the changes then occurring in society. They were condemned by many as a fundamental change and something that would challenge family life, encourage drunkenness and so on but they did not. No one was immune to the argument that in extending drinking hours by more than one hour one could conceivably encourage greater drunkenness or, more serious, alcoholism.

During the course of the subcommittee's deliberations we received a report published by the Department of Health and Children on the abuse of alcohol in Ireland. What was most striking about that report was that it established that there was a serious lack of literature on alcoholism here and on public houses and alcoholism. That may sound simplistic but it is not.

Most of us engage in the activity of stacking up at closing time. This is, to say the least, unhealthy. We have all been in a public house at 11 p.m. during the winter or 11.30 p.m. during the summer when people buy two or three pints, line them up in front of them and frequently drink them much more quickly than they should. Everybody then tumbles out half cut on to the streets at exactly the same time. At that stage of the evening, apart from the nitelink buses, public transport in Dublin has to all extents and purposes ceased and there are queues for taxis with the attendant problems. Everybody under the influence of drink arrives out on the streets at exactly the same time. This causes a certain measure of civil disorder among people who are predisposed to be disorderly. What merit can there be in doing it that way?

There is a need for a careful study of alcoholism. All the studies clearly show that people do not become alcoholics by drinking lager, it is much more likely that they will do so if they abuse spirits. Alcoholics will find a means and a place to consume alcohol. Alcoholism is a state of mind, it is a disease. It is not something that necessarily will be encouraged by an extra hour's drinking time in the evening.

We need to look at this as a matter of consumer choice. There is no doubt there is a considerable public demand and an unanswerable case for the extension of opening hours and standardisation of the laws as they apply to various types of licensed premises. I will return to this later. If I had my way, I would engage in much greater deregulation than that proposed in the Bill. I suspect Deputy Upton might do the same. I do not see why the State should impose a uniform closing time, even 12.30 a.m., throughout the State. My preference would be to allow an authority, be it a licensing authority, the courts or a local authority, to decide whether a particular premises should be allowed to stay open until a particular time. Different restrictions should be imposed on a public house in a residential area and in the city centre. We should develop an authority which is capable of doing this.

The licensing laws bear no relationship to what the consumer wants. As we are all aware, tourists and people living here want to go out on Fridays and Saturdays and sometimes Thursdays and Sundays. Frequently they go out late, particularly during the summer. They are entitled to do so. People in our profession frequently attend meetings during the week which last until 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. Why should we be allowed 30 minutes or an hour's drinking time when we finish? People who work late at night, even later than we do, are just as entitled to enjoy a social drink or two after they finish work as anybody else.

The licensing laws are entirely anachronistic. They date back to Victorian times. Our then colonial masters formed the view that the Irish could not be trusted to drink sensibly and that the only solution was to cap the number of licences and impose a range of restrictions on when and where we could drink. Clearly, the demands of Victorian times were quite different to the demands of Ireland of the 1990s. We also know that, in so far as they were attempting to prevent alcoholism and drunkenness among the Irish, the Victorians were less than successful. The evidence in countries such as Scotland and New Zealand where they have liberalised the licensing laws and moved in the opposite direction is that it has not led to increased drunkenness or increased alcoholism, rather it has had the effect of promoting a more mature and civilised approach to alcohol consumption.

To leave the licensing laws unchanged in essence would be a contempt for those of us who like to have a late night drink in a mature and responsible way. It was said at the annual conference of the Irish Vintners' Association last week that people visiting public houses should no longer be treated like children, that "they must be treated like the responsible adults that they are". During the deliberations of the subcommittee I remember receiving a letter from a licensed premises in Galway in which it was stated that it was very difficult to explain to customers, grown adults, that they were required to go home at a point in the evening when their teenage children were going out to discos. That says it all in a concise and clear way.

As they currently stand, the licensing laws pose serious problems for publicans. Publicans often find themselves attempting, on the one hand, to satisfy the needs and demands of their customers and, on the other, to act within the law. The Bill adequately addresses publicans' concerns by extending opening hours. It is difficult for the Garda Síochána to enforce the law. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Wall, that it is, quite frankly, a waste of Garda time. The law is in disrepute. It is impossible to continue to enforce it when most people do not regard it as a serious law in the first place. Most people do not accept they are committing a criminal offence by having a drink at 11.30 in the evening, and why on earth should they?

The Bill seeks to standardise winter and summer licensing hours. I am at a complete loss to understand why the distinction was ever made. We should rectify that anomaly.

The provisions that currently exist in the licensing code for granting special exemptions clearly undermine any principled objection to the extension of the present licensing laws. The fact that there are over 60,000 applications for exemptions and bar extensions every year makes a mockery of the current law and provides us with yet another convincing argument in favour of extending licensing hours. We would be hard pressed to find another law which requires so many exemptions.

The position on Saturday night is particularly anomalous. Many people who frequent night clubs would be bemused to find out what the law actually states. It requires pubs or night clubs to close and stop serving drink at midnight on Saturday because it is not possible to obtain an extension into Sunday — the Lord's Day, the Sabbath. Likewise, on Sunday evening it is not possible to get an extension between 11 and 12 o'clock. Extensions on Sunday can only start at midnight. This is farcical and we all know that in most cases it is not observed, except currently in Galway, unfortunately for them.

The need for change is obvious given our improving tourism industry and that is nowhere more evident than in Dublin where tourists are frequently bemused to find they are being thrown out of pubs at a relatively early stage of a night out. I had the good fortune to be on a private holiday in New York for a few days around St. Patrick's Day. I would have been astonished, as I am sure anyone else would, had I been asked at 11 o'clock at night to vacate the premises and return to my hotel. When one goes on holidays, to a city in particular, for a short break — and many people are coming to Dublin for short city breaks at the moment — one expects to be able to get a bit of night life and have a few pints late in the evening.

The whole issue is bedevilled by vested interests. Many of those vested interests are seeking to maintain a differential between themselves and other providers of drink. Publicans have different interests to night club owners and hoteliers.

I was struck by one argument that we could not possibly allow pubs to open late because it would reduce business in local hotels. I told the Deputy who made the suggestion that — assuming there was an hotel where I was drinking, which there is not — I did not see why someone like me, who just wanted a quiet pint at midnight, should be forced to court the company of teenagers pushing and shoving their way through a disco and pay over the odds for a pint in a plastic cup. The point did not appear to be taken, but the fact is that many of us just want a pint late at night in our local pub. We do not want the benefit of music or singing, nor do we want to be pushed and shoved around by young people.

The Bill also addresses the issue of the holy hour on Sunday when licensed premises close from 2 to 4 o'clock. I confess I forgot to pay my Sky sports subscription last month and I have not yet been reconnected. The point is not entirely frivolous because many people go into pubs to watch matches — frequently British soccer, but also domestic games — on Sunday afternoons. It is only right and proper that they should be allowed to enjoy themselves and have a pint while doing so. What possible good can be served by the licensing code preventing people from doing that? What good can be served, for example, by stopping people going out for lunch in the local pub on a Sunday and staying on for a pint or two afterwards? What good can be served by preventing tourists from doing the same?

The existence of the holy hour is clearly an anomaly and has to go. The same also applies to Good Friday. In this party, as elsewhere, we are conscious that Good Friday is a special day for many people. They want to observe it religiously as they have done in the past. They are absolutely entitled to do so, but there is no longer any reason, in the 1990s, why we require the licensing code or statute law to enforce religious observance. If people do not want to have a pint or go shopping on that day then they are at liberty to refrain from doing so. There is no good reason why, however, on a major bank holiday weekend when many tourists are about, we should oblige those who do not want to observe in that way to do so.

We could spend the rest of the evening debating the issue of restaurant licences because the greatest abuse and difficulty has been in that area. The restaurant licence is too expensive for genuine restaurants and we should reduce the price. I am conscious that defining a genuine restaurant is not easy and the Garda Síochána has had some difficulty in enforcing this aspect of the licensing laws. However, in so far as we can define it we should seek to reduce the price and should allow most if not all restaurants that want to do so to serve drink beyond 12.30 a.m., which is the current limit.

We must, however, confront the farce that if one serves some sort of food during the day in a pub, one will in some cases be entitled to stay open longer at night. The truth is that this matter is almost entirely at the discretion of the local Garda superintendent, who have taken differing views on the issue depending on which parts of the city they work in. The lack of consistency is farcical and has brought the law into disrepute.

The availability of licences is another big issue. Providing a licence was always intended simply to give someone permission to serve alcoholic drink. In the same way as taxi licences, it was never intended to convey or sell something that would have an intrinsic value in itself, yet that has clearly happened. We are left in the absurd situation where in very small villages one will find a dozen or more licences, whereas in some huge suburbs of Dublin one finds only one or two licences. It is almost impossible to increase the number of licences, which leaves us in the obscene situation where one ends up with huge boozeramas which nobody would choose to frequent if there were any alternative. In many cases, however, there is none.

This is a major area of the law and I have touched on just some of the issues that arise. The Bill deals with only the most important issues which will impact immediately on the maximum number of people. I commend that approach to the Department if it is minded to do something in relation to the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Fleming.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am opposed to this Bill introduced by Deputy Upton, although I do not want to give the impression that I am against change. The main provisions in the Bill would be to extend opening hours to 12.30 a.m. and to abolish Sunday closing between 2 and 4 p.m. The existing Sunday opening hours would be replaced with weekday opening times as well as permitting public houses and clubs to open on Good Friday. Any revision of the existing legislation needs to take on board the views of all interested groups, including MANDATE, the union that represents workers in the licensed trade.

I met the secretary of that union, Mr. Jim Moloney, who represents these workers. A previous speaker said the matter had been well researched but Mr. Moloney informed me that no consultation took place with his union and no research was carried out. His union membership is opposed to the proposed changes. He also pointed out, and I agree with him, that there is a need to give serious consideration to the social and economic implications of extended opening hours. He says, for example, that it would cause hardship for the workforce and break up the fabric of family life. The standard of professionalism in the trade would be reduced due to casualisation.

Deputy McDowell said that tourists are demanding longer opening hours like those in other countries. The business currently trades for 13 hours which is more than adequate. In addition, customers have only so much disposable income to spend. Research has also established that there is no demand from tourists for extended hours and this can be confirmed by Bord Fáilte. It is also a fact that workers are leaving the trade due to unsocial hours as they have become strangers in their homes.

A sizeable number of publicans are not enamoured of these proposals. They believe that opening on a Good Friday would create mayhem as it is a day respected by all Christians throughout Europe. Spain and Germany are the only countries which have more trading hours than Ireland, while Northern Ireland and Britain have fewer trading hours. The union believes it would also contribute to the black economy.

There are provisions in the Bill to protect the rights of workers. The union pointed out that Deputy Upton proposed that workers who work overtime should get time and a half. I remind him that five years ago the union successfully negotiated to give the workers double time. I do not have much regard for his research given that he does not know what conditions the workers already have. The provisions in this Bill would worsen their conditions. I am surprised the Labour Party, which purports to be the conscience of the workers, introduced such a Bill.

The Deputy is jumping the gun. He must be aware that the Select Committee on Legislation and Security was engaged in a broad review of the licensing laws when the 27th Dáil was dissolved. That work is continuing under the sub-committee of the new Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights. It is premature, therefore, to introduce legislation in advance of that review and without considering the recommendations of the select committee which is engaged in consultations with interested parties. That is the appropriate way forward.

I ask the Deputy to consider if this is the appropriate time to introduce the Bill. I would like to have the recommendations of the committee to hand before attempting to amend existing legislation. We should also consult interested parties, such as the workers and the unions which represent them to find out their views and how they believe it would affect their members. I am against anything which worsens their conditions.

There would be a need for consultation even after considering the select committee's recommendations. We made this mistake before when we introduced regulations for the taxi industry without consulting the associations which represented taxi and hackney owners. We created chaos in that industry as a result of not consulting people who knew the business. I ask Deputy Upton to wait until the report of the select committee is available. Everyone would then be able to have an input, particularly MANDATE and Mr. Jim Moloney.

Deputy Upton said he consulted widely. However, Mr. Jim Moloney told me that no one consulted his union or the publicans.

Dr. Upton

They were written to in advance of the publication. Mr. Moloney should check with his colleagues.

I have known the man a long time and I must believe what he tells me. He also believes it will increase antisocial behaviour. Many public houses, particularly in the suburbs of Dublin, are located in residential areas. I receive a huge number of complaints from residents in my constituency about noise at 12.30 a.m. and 1 a.m. If a pub was open to 12.30 a.m., people would not leave it until 1.15 a.m. and residents would not be able to get up for work the next day. At present, the workforce does not get home until 1.30 a.m. The union points out that if this legislation is passed, workers will probably not get home until 2.30 a.m. I ask Deputy Upton to reconsider his proposal.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Dennehy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Any debate on the licensing laws will provoke a wide-ranging debate. While it was not wise of Deputy Upton to introduce this Bill, I compliment him for affording us the opportunity to have a national debate on the issue. However, it is a pity the Deputy did not wait for the outcome of the wide-ranging review by the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights. One wonders what importance the parties in this House attach to such committees.

I did some research on this issue and I found a variety of conflicting opinions. At the vintners' conference in Tralee last weekend, it was suggested that customers should be treated with more respect. However, where is the respect in shouting "time please" only an hour after people have come out for the evening? On the one hand, proprietors of licensed premises advocate wide-ranging flexibility and review of the laws, while, on the other hand, MANDATE urges caution. I agree with MANDATE's advice.

Those of us who represent constituencies where many licensed premises are in built up areas have experienced high levels of antisocial behaviour and rowdy activity outside public houses at night. As someone from a teaching background, I have salutary experience of seeing children coming into school extremely tired because in some cases their parents have been allowed to stay in a pub in a quiet neighbourhood area until the early hours of the morning. That is a flagrant breach of the laws. I have also seen older students with hangovers coming into school to sit State examinations. Anyone involved with youth and community work should caution against such activity.

I concur with MANDATE'S comments that longer opening hours would have a devastating effect on working conditions in the licensed trade and a huge negative impact on a wide range of social issues. I do not like suggesting that anyone would introduce a Bill as a public relations exercise. Unfortunately Deputy Upton's Bill smacks of that. Any extension of licensing hours must be carefully considered. I have an open mind on some flexibility in the Dublin area. Many licensed premises do not close between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays because they serve food. That makes a laugh of the legislation which provides that they should be closed and this area needs to be reviewed. There is an annual call for licensed premises to open on Good Friday. I also have an open mind on that, but I am not persuaded of the need for them to open on that day.

Longer opening hours will have an impact on the employment of bar staff and licensed premises staff. It is becoming more difficult to attract young people into bar apprenticeships and there is evidence of increased casualisation in the licensed trade, which is regrettable. The bar apprentice trade was one to which young people aspired and could derive considerable income. Recently MANDATE stated that many bar staff are voting with their feet. Because they are required to work such long hours it is not worth their while taking such employment. I expressed reservations in this House about allowing betting shops to remain open late. The dangers incurred by many bar staff in our troubled society is worrying and I do not want to place members of any profession or trade at undue risk.

The seminar organised jointly by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Dublin Institute of Technology which is due to take place in the Gresham Hotel on Friday will contribute greatly to this debate. I am impressed by the range of views it is seeking. The views of the Competition Authority, the licensed trade and the tourism industry are being sought and that is valuable. Other jurisdictions have broadened their approach to the licensing laws in recent years. I note that one of the speakers is from the liquor licensing commission in Victoria, Australia. It is important that there will be a spread of expertise at the seminar. For example, Ken Barry, Director of the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research at the University of Paisley in Scotland, is due to attend and he will give his opinion on this matter.

Some of us are concerned because there is an inclination to glorify the notion of alcohol consumption when it contributes to a great deal of pain, hurt and trouble in our society. There was a spate of fatal road traffic accidents in the past year and the number in the most recent months has been extremely worrying. Research evidence suggests there is a fairly direct link between the high rate of road accidents and high alcohol consumption. Many of the accidents occur in the early hours of the morning. Putting two and two together is often a dangerous exercise, but if nightclubs and late drinking pubs close at 1.30 a.m. or 2 a.m. and accidents occur on lonely roads or motorways at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., one inevitably comes to the conclusion that there must be some link between people drinking late and people driving fast. That is a cause for concern.

I am also extremely concerned about the exploitation of young people and I voiced my opinion on this elsewhere. We have great difficulty in enforcing the laws governing the employment of young people as part-time workers whether in supermarkets or the licensed trade. I worry about the impact on young people and their families if, as inevitably will happen, many of them are forced to work later and later hours. They will not be able to attend school next morning or if they are able to turn up they will be incapable of putting in a good day's work and that will have a major impact on their performance in State examinations. I do not want to be too pessimistic about this, but the impact that the attraction of opportunities to drink late at night will have on young people attending primary schools also worries me. It is for that reason I caution against rushing through this Bill. We should have a well thought out debate on this matter because it is not straightforward. Issues such as the price of non-alcoholic drinks and the abuse of bar extensions by football and sporting clubs need to be explored in such a debate and other issues also need to be ventilated. While I compliment Deputy Upton on producing this Bill which has presented a valuable opportunity to debate this issue, I cannot support it.

I oppose this Bill. Like other speakers I do not disagree with it on the basis of its content, but on the basis of the methodology used in its production. Debate took place over a good many years on the best method of ensuring the most productive and beneficial use of the time available to Members of the House and the use of the general facilities and during the lifetime of the 27th Dáil and this Dáil a new system was put in place. The system is based on the existence of a series of working committees related as far as possible to each ministerial portfolio. Each has secretarial support and wide-ranging rights regarding the collection of information and views of different interest groups and so on. They are becoming more effective as people begin to realise the benefits of the system. The potential for the production by these all-party committees of well researched and well debated reports and recommendations is enormous, but they can be time consuming for Deputies who wish to give them their full commitment. Members here are aware of the amount of time issues under discussion can absorb at those committees, but I believe they are worth the effort.

The main argument put forward against these committees when they were first mooted was that a member might leak major stories from them while issues were under consideration or, as I believe we are witnessing here, a member might make a solo run on whatever issue was the topic of debate before the committee. I strongly believe and am concerned that if that were to happen a few times it would greatly undermine the credibility of the system. Deputies and others would legitimately question why they should spend hours week after week at committees discussing some issue or carrying out research on them to find that some other member has made a pre-emptive strike on the issue. I have debated this issue at local Government level and in the Dáil. I may have spent too long on this matter, but it is one about which I am genuinely concerned. A committee of the House is doing work on this matter at present. An enormous amount of work has been and is being done on this issue. It is wrong that somebody should make a pre-emptive strike, irrespective of the justification put forward.

There is no doubt that there is a need for changes in the licensing laws. We will almost certainly make changes when the committee involved reports back to the House. I am not a member of that committee or a party to its findings to date.

However, we also need to recognise that the greatest drug abuse involves alcohol and that has been the case for many years. We need to recognise the number of people who have ended up in psychiatric institutions because of alcohol abuse. We need to accept the influence of drink in many road accidents, as Deputy Pat Carey mentioned. We need to recognise the part that alcohol abuse plays in domestic violence and hardship.

The only way we can take proper account of all of those issues and still allow for the normal and legitimate enjoyment which the vast majority of us take from the consumption of alcohol is by working in a reasoned fashion with all of the aspects, the difficulties and the issues before us. We should not just pick out one item in isolation.

Our style of social living for generations has centred around gathering in houses and people having a drink, a game of cards or a chat. That has now moved into the local hostelry and so be it. That is the choice of people and I have no problem with it. We need to reflect the needs of tourism, but I do not believe that sector is clamouring for extended hours.

I, as somebody who at a function or otherwise is often around at closing time, am extremely worried about the stampede to the bar at 10.55 p.m. or 11.25 p.m., as the case may be at different times of the year. The fact that people are buying drinks and consuming them quickly in the last half hour is the cause of much drunkenness. It is an issue which must be looked at and dealt with, as I said, in a reasonable fashion.

If we extend the hours — it is quite likely the committee will recommend that in time — one must look at the availability of some kind of public transport at night. One cannot just leave it as it is. We have heard about the situation in Dublin after clubs close. People tell us there are no taxis and they cannot get home. At Christmas publicans organise transport home for people, but if pubs remain open until 1 a.m., I cannot see them co-operating in the same way.

I see the farcical situation that at 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m. what are classed as the responsible adults in society are sent home — they have had enough to drink — yet the young people move into the nearest disco or nightclub and stay until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. That must be addressed.

I am extremely worried by the reaction of MANDATE but I recognise where it is coming from. It has had problems with the exploitation of young people and it has voiced this consistently over the years. There is a fear that if the hours are extended, young people will be used to gather the glasses or to do the lesser jobs for which they are given a few pounds.

The average bartender works a long day. It is not a well paid job and that needs to be address. People will say to me that is another issue which must be dealt with separately, but if we are introducing legislation we need to look at the effects across the board. I know Deputy Upton has attempted to address the question of hours, etc., but it would not appear that what he has put forward is widely accepted. It needs to be looked at.

I am totally against the Bill. I must confess it would not matter to what the Bill related. People talk about PR and speaking in public, but as a person who does a good deal of work in committees, both here and at local level, I disagree totally with somebody taking out of committee an issue which is under debate.

Although I am against this Bill, I believe we need to look at the issue. It is topical. It relates to so many aspects of society that we need to examine it. It is approximately ten years since the last review. At that stage, unfortunately, many of the clubs which were social centres, GAA clubs, etc., suffered from the advertising changes which were introduced. Many of them closed down.

It is time for change. When the committee tables its recommendations, I hope Deputy Upton will support them and merge his recommendations with them. In the meantime, I am against this Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McGahon and Deputy Ulick Burke.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support the Bill because it attempts to remove outdated and paternalistic controls on adult behaviour which are very worthy in their intent but which have actually worked against achieving their original purpose. I presume that limited opening hours set out to limit the consumption of alcohol, but early closing has actually increased the pace of consumption as drinkers, myself and all of us included, seek to maximise the intake in the last hour before closing. We are forced by rules, which do not seem to have any relevance anymore, to become obsessive, frantic, irrational imbibers just as the witching hour of closing approaches. Removing these ridiculous constraints would lead to a far more relaxed approach to drink and a far more responsible attitude.

There is a valid view, or at least a view which I would take on board, that more relaxed drinking laws would have an impact on families where there is an alcoholic member. It is a view with which I would have sympathy. However, one cannot legislate for obsessive behaviour. Shorter opening hours for pubs will not cure alcoholics, but a more relaxed approach by the majority of drinkers generally could help prevent alcoholism.

The points made by Deputies earlier about the need to facilitate shift-workers are valid. They are entitled to have their enjoyment the same as the rest of us, and to relax over a drink. The point made about the need to facilitate tourists, who are truly astonished by our drinking laws, is also valid. After all, tourism is now our biggest industry. It is a growing industry and we cannot ignore it.

Listening to Government Deputies it is worth reminding people yet again that when one introduces legislation which makes regulation more flexible, it is a system which is not mandatory. Pubs are not obliged to stay open all of these hours. It is about introducing flexibility and giving people the choice to stay and have a relaxing drink in the local pub if one wants to drink late at night rather than, as Deputy McDowell stated, being forced into much overpriced clubs.

I know bar workers have fears about this, but that is a red herring. If bar workers must work longer hours or unsocial hours, of course they must be remunerated for it. There are laws which limit the number of hours which a person, particularly a young person, may work. If they are not being enforced, they should be.

There is another related aspect to this topic which I also want to raise, the problem of underage drinking, and this Bill may have a role to play in solving it. As a society, we show a totally unacceptable ambivalence to it. It is completely and utterly unacceptable to have young children drinking alcohol. Certainly, it is unacceptable to have them doing so without the supervision of adults. Recent figures published only last week show that three-quarters of teenagers between 12 and 18 — there are 400,000 of them — are drinking alcohol regularly. An alcohol counsellor working with alcohol abusers maintains that the average age of those he is treating has fallen in the past ten years from 35 to 17 years. That is a frightening figure. I am not suggesting that all young people who drink alcohol underage become addicted, but a healthy adolescence and alcohol consumption are not compatible and should not be tolerated. We owe it to our young people to ensure we as a society do everything to prevent alcohol abuse.

In urban Ireland, particularly Dublin, teenage drinking takes place on an unbelievable scale in open spaces, laneways and parks. It is an increasing phenomenon, the new urban youth culture, and it is frightening in its extent.

Public representatives will be aware of complaints relating to this practice, about local nuisance to residents, litter and petty vandalism, but for the teenagers involved the effects are much more deleterious. It is in those places that young people learn about drugs and many teenage pregnancies start. There is a general disconnection and disaffection among our young people with society in general. Alcohol abuse is bad for children and society and we should do something about it.

I am not suggesting this problem can be solved by legislation. Parents have a huge role to play, but many of them do not play a responsible role. The provision of funding for recreational and sporting facilities is important. There are many underlying causes of underage drinking. Social disadvantage is often quoted as one cause, but it is not the whole story. In my constituency most of the young people who are drinking and taking drugs are not disadvantaged children. They know better, they have money and alternatives, but yet they choose this as a way of life. The real problem relates to attitude and culture, and young people follow our attitudes and culture. Legislation changes attitudes, as we have seen with the drink-driving laws, as a result of which that practice is no longer acceptable. That is one Bill that has worked and perhaps this one will work too.

There is legislation to prohibit underage drinking, but it is unenforceable at sales outlets and where the drinking takes place. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised last October to bring in a voluntary system of national identity cards, but I have heard nothing about it since. I ask the Minister to pass on my request to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to reconsider a mandatory system of national identity cards. Nothing else will work because society is too complex and sophisticated. A voluntary system would not work because our young people are too smart. The position has deteriorated to the point where the nettle must be grasped in terms of a national identity card system. Laws that cannot be enforced are not only useless but damaging because they encourage the behaviour they are designed to prevent. I am not a prude or a killjoy, but if we do not take this problem seriously we will allow this generation to destroy themselves.

This Bill will result in a more relaxed and sensible approach to drinking habits, which will improve society not only for ourselves, tourists, shift workers and so on, but particularly for our children who, I hope, will adopt a different attitude to drink.

I like and respect Deputy Upton, but I stare in amazement at this Bill and I do not intend to support it. I have very strong views on the tragedy of drink. I view with cynicism the complete neglect by all Governments, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, of the damage the drink industry is doing to the country. Comparisons with European countries are invidious. Our problem is that we have a problem with drink. Whatever is in our genes, it affects us severely. There is not a family that has not suffered from the ravages of drink. The saddest aspect is the damage done to the youth and women who sat on bar room stools about 30 years ago. The fastest rising statistic in psychiatric terms is the number of women who seek admission to psychiatric units as a result of drink abuse. We pontificate with regularity about the horrors of the cigarette industry. I do not advocate that anybody should smoke but we turn a blind eye to the ravages imposed on society by the drink industry.

On Monday last a girl of 22 years attended my clinic. She has four children by four different fathers and the four contacts were made in a pub. Some young men spend their wages getting girls into a position where they destroy their lives and then walk away. Society must face up to the problem of drink. There is no room for ambivalence. We feign outrage about the drugs industry and the amount of damage it does to society, but the drug that causes the greatest problem is alcohol. A man who smokes himself to death does not starve his family by denying them money. The damage done to families by drink is incalculable. Yet, Governments ignore this problem because of the power of the vintners' industry, the most lucrative business in Ireland where millions of pounds change hands. At their delegate conference in Wexford yesterday a client requested State aid to refurbish his premises. Those people want grants and subsidies, yet 88 per cent of vintners spent £200 million, money taken from the backs of unfortunate wrecks in society.

Deputy Mitchell spoke about adult drinkers. Adult drinkers have a long road to go from the first day they are targeted by the drink industry. Young people are fed on a diet of television advertisements every ten minutes about Harp or Carlsberg, seductive bullshit advertisements showing a good looking woman or man in the pub. Sex is used to sell drink to gullible young people at a vulnerable stage of their lives. About 90 per cent of social problems are directly attributable to drink. There has been an appalling increase in the break up of families and single parents, and that is attributable to the drink industry. If a cash supplement was provided, the number would not increase as quickly.

Yesterday, the chief executive of the National Safety Council attributed the number of deaths on the roads to speed and drink, and he is right. In February of this year 730 people were injured and 30 killed on the roads. In January, 739 were injured. Therefore, almost 1,500 people were injured and 65 were killed in two months. During the past fortnight, 24 people have been laid to rest. How can a person who cannot walk a straight line be expected to drive a car? Despite the best efforts of the police, thousands of people are continuing to drink and drive. When the drink is in the wit is out. Alcohol gives people false confidence.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell advanced what I would, with respect, term a fanciful notion that if hours of opening are extended people would become relaxed because the their fear of the prospect of being denied alcohol would evaporate. My colleague is a nice lady but her notion is too fanciful.

I oppose the Bill for the sake of young people. I have consistently expressed my views on alcohol, particularly in contrast to the way in which we deal with the tobacco industry. I want to illustrate the hypocrisy of successive Governments in homing in on the tobacco industry and turning a blind eye to the country's greatest problem, namely, the glorification and glamorisation of alcohol. There is an increasing need to open additional psychiatric hospitals because of the excesses of alcohol. I am not advocating prohibition but we have a definite weakness in respect of alcohol. We do not savour or sip alcohol in the same way as people in England or on the Continent, we drink it like tea and the social consequences are appalling.

One of the major problems faced by elderly people is the disco scene. These establishments are unbelievable hellholes where rows often ensue. Local newspapers carry continual reports of fights at discos which sometimes lead to fatalities. Young people drinking alcohol are like Indians who are given whiskey, they cannot handle it and they go bananas. Rows and fights ensue in the darkness of the disco, accompanied by a thudding beat. That is a world away from the days when the Minister of State and I attended dances.

Most crime occurs in the early hours of the morning. Vandalism is uncontrollable and occurs when these people, having imbibed hooch, are travelling home. Some young people do not want the night to end. A number of years ago there was a case of a judge who did not want the night to end and he drove in the direction of the Shelbourne Hotel desperately seeking a final gulp of alcohol. If judges are doing this, the ordinary Joe Soap is also doing it.

We should be less ambivalent in our attitude to alcohol and recognise it for what it is, namely, a serious drug. Alcohol kills more people than heroin and it is peddled successfully by the vintners and the brewing industry. Occasionally, these interests send money to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the relief of those unfortunate people who have fallen by the wayside. I would like to see a more honest approach to the problems Irish people have with alcohol. To advocate an extension of the hours of opening is madness and represents a recipe for increased disaster.

I thank Deputies Olivia Mitchell and McGahon for sharing time. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I acknowledge the work of Deputy Upton in bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. It is important to debate this matter now, despite the fact that some Members believe Deputy Upton has "jumped the gun" or is being "opportunistic". However, since we have the opportunity to debate this issue we should be serious about the way we intend to tackle it. If Members oppose the Bill, they should do so because they do not agree with its contents rather than opposing it for political reasons. This important Bill must be dealt with on a serious basis rather than Members opposing it merely for the sake of doing so.

There has been a long and unproductive debate on this issue for the past ten years. No one has grasped the nettle to settle this matter once and for all. The opening hours that will emerge from the legislation to be drafted in due course must represent the final word in this area. At present, a chaotic situation obtains in respect of licensing laws and opening hours. We could use the excuse that tourists have demanded that opening hours here should be brought into line with those on the Continent. However, we must not use any other group or state as a pawn when discussing difficulties in this country.

It is unreal to expect the Garda Síochána to police the licensing laws because of the chaos that exists in respect of the variation in opening hours. The press and the media have highlighted the ludicrous situation which obtains in County Galway at present. I do not know who took the initiative — perhaps it was a Garda superintendent or otherwise — but it was decided that the opening hours would be rigidly implemented and adhered to in County Galway. I have no difficulty with gardaí carrying out such work if they are directed to do so. However, it is laughable to suggest that they can rigidly implement opening hours in County Galway or Galway city when licensed premises in Portumna in County Tipperary can remain open as late as they wish because they are situated far away from a central Garda area such as Nenagh. The situation is similar on the border between counties Limerick and Clare because the latter county has also been targeted in this regard. I endeavoured to discover why County Galway was targeted but I could not do so. I do not disagree with such action but it is disturbing that the opening hours are only implemented rigidly in certain areas. For example, I could go out drinking until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. in Dublin if I knew the right place to be and no one would ask me to leave. That is the reality of the situation. The laws relating to opening hours must be regularised across the board.

Last year, 65,000 exemptions were granted for a wide variety of reasons. Sporting clubs, residents associations, political parties and other organisations all benefit in some way from extended opening hours in hotels, restaurants and social clubs. We expect too much from the Garda Síochána in this area.

Deputy McGahon referred to the problem of drinking and driving. I hold a similar view. We are requesting extended opening hours at a time when we will soon be asked to reduce the alcohol limits for driving. There was absolute outrage expressed last week when Commissioner Kinnock, who has responsibility for this area under the Presidency of the EU, suggested that all EU countries incorporate an equal blood alcohol limit of 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. If this House followed that advice there would be uproar. The lobby groups would put a great deal of pressure on us and we would be unable to resist that pressure, yet every one of us abhors the slaughter on our roads.

Opening hours, with which this Bill deals, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of this whole area. We must introduce all-embracing legislation that will include the issue of licences and once and for all eliminate the scandal of exemptions. Why should a proprietor of one premises get an exemption and not another? That problem has given rise to the concept of pub crawling. The young people go from one licensed premises to another, depending on which pub has the extension.

In regard to a case in Galway, did the Garda Síochána send trainee gardaí into discos in Galway city to get evidence to bring before the courts that the licensing laws were being broken and, consequently, deny the proprietors of those premises a licence? The proprietors of those clubs cheated — as was expressed in the courts — by using a system which alerted them when the gardaí were about to raid their premises. Everything would be in order when the gardaí arrived, but within five minutes of them leaving, the proprietors would reopen the shutters and sell drink late into the night. The Garda must have had ample evidence on those nightclubs. It was wrong to use trainee gardaí in that fashion. It is similar to when the health boards sent children into shops to buy cigarettes to obtain a conviction against those shops in court. It is beyond belief that young trainee gardaí were sent to discos to get evidence to bring to court.

I am perturbed that counties Galway, Clare and Mayo have been targeted in terms of opening hours. At whose behest is that operation being carried out? Is that what zero tolerance means? I shudder to think of the consequences if that is the way it is introduced in other areas.

The obligations on a person who gets a licence must be seriously considered. It should be stated in legislation that a person's licence will be revoked and the premises closed for a certain length of time if opening hours are violated or other unacceptable practices take place. We need to regularise opening hours across the board so that premises on the same street do not have different opening hours. That leads to chaos which cannot be controlled.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ardagh, Keaveney and Brady.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Upton on introducing a Private Members' Bill. It is an achievement for any member of the Opposition to introduce such a Bill, regardless of whether the House agrees with its content.

I do not know where the lobby is coming from for this legislation. While there has been a great deal of publicity in recent weeks about the problems being experienced in certain parts of the country in regard to opening hours, the only lobby of which I am aware is that from the vintners. In the run up to the general election I was not asked to change the pub closing hours. Why is this issue getting so much attention? Deputy McGahon rightly stated that the vintners are a strong and powerful lobby group. Not for the first time I agree with a number of the comments he made sincerely and passionately. Unlike him, however, I enjoy a drink and do not believe there is ever an appropriate time for a pub to close when one is out for a few drinks. Deputy McGahon is a non-drinker and many of his comments were very valid.

We are ambivalent about drinking. We do not perceive the abuse of alcohol as substance abuse. When we refer to substance abuse we tend to refer to drugs, even though half of the audience at public meetings on drug abuse usually smoke cigarettes. The amount of damage done by over-indulgence in alcohol is evident. The Minister and Deputy McGahon mentioned that the incidence of violence against women and increases in violent crime as a result of excessive drinking have been noted in report after report. The excuse of having had too much to drink is often used by people as a defence in court. I am pleased that in the majority of cases judges have not accepted it. However, there was a time when credence was given to the fact that someone behaved out of character or in an inappropriate fashion because they had had too much to drink, and that probably contributed to or was the result of our ambivalence to excessive drinking.

Let me turn to the question of changing pub opening hours. We have seen, graphically and horrifically, the increase in deaths on our roads which has been attributed to excessive speed and to alcohol. I would be concerned that any changes we make in the licensing laws to extend pub opening hours would lead to an increase in drink-driving offences. The lack of public transport is a huge issue in terms of going for a drink. If it is an issue in Dublin, it must be a much bigger issue outside Dublin. The Taxi Drivers' Federation are looking for a huge fare increase. They specifically mentioned Skerries. Young people in Skerries, if they go out for a night, have to add £30 for a taxi to the cost of their night out, and taxi drivers were looking for an increase in levies imposed on persons going a certain distance outside the city. Our public transport cannot cope with the ordinary demands on it at the moment. As things stand, it certainly would not be able to respond to later pub closing times.

The legislation relating to how late and how many hours young people can work has had an effect on young people working in pubs, but it is still an area in which students get part-time work to earn a few bob. It would not be desirable for young people in second or third level education to find themselves cleaning up a pub at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. as distinct from 12.30 a.m. as they do at present. It is an area of employment opportunity for young people, but an extension in pub opening hours would mean that they could not avail of it.

I want to refer to the question of neighbourhood pubs. There has been much comment about the situation in rural Ireland where the Garda Síochána are closing pubs early. As a member of Dublin South County Council, Deputy Upton knows that the concept of neighbourhood pubs is one that the planners decided upon. They decided that in a parish there would be the church, the school and a neighbourhood pub. That has caused great difficulties for communities. In builtup local authority and private housing estates, the neighbourhood pub was a focus of social life with people coming out of pubs in those areas late at night and causing major problems — Deputy McGahon referred to this in the context of night-clubs, etc. If we have a planning concept in our local authorities that ensures that more and more neighbourhood pubs will be provided in growing parishes, late night drinking will cause more problems for communities in Dublin city and county.

I have no problem with changing the licensing laws to allow pubs to stay open on Sundays because it is ludicrous that pubs should have to close from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. If that is still happening, and I am not sure it is, I support a change. Good Friday is one of two days on which pubs are not open, and I do not see the need to change that.

Other contributors to the debate mentioned that visitors to our country see our licensing laws as archaic. Visitors come to our country for the ceoil and the craic, but I do not know that they come to drink until all hours. The way we drink is totally different from the way our European counterparts drink. We seem to drink at a lunatic rate, and I would include myself in that, whereas continentals sit over one glass of beer or one coffee for an entire night. I do not know if that would be a good reason to change the licensing hours.

The Minister stated that he wants to look at this in a holistic way, to look at the pros and the cons. I am not sure that we should change the legislation, but if we are to change it, we have to take account of both sides of the argument. My gut instinct is that, even having received the report, we should tread warily on this.

I thank Deputies McGennis, Upton and Brady for sharing their time with me. I am pleased to have the opportunity of contributing to Deputy Upton's Bill. While I agree that there is a need to change the licensing laws, Deputy Upton seems to have called "time" prematurely on this issue. As the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights has been given the task of investigating all aspects of the current law, surely it should have been afforded the courtesy of being able to conclude its work, submit its recommendations and allowed time for those recommendations to be debated. I understand that the Deputy put much work into the Bill, and I do not want to appear to be playing for time, but there is a report on its way which is only a month away. Proper consultation with all concerned is vital. I include in that not only those directly involved, the people who own and work in licensed premises, but also the statutory and voluntary groups, the general public and the Garda Síochána who will enforce the legislation, although they will not be the sole enforcers.

The current laws include about 50 Acts dating from 1833 to 1997. There is obviously a complex licensing code and complex body of legislation under which those with licensed premises operate. I doubt that the law is being fully implemented because the current legislation needs updating. In his contribution the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, made a commitment to take the current review very seriously and said he was willing to deal with amending legislation. His Department's involvement in a seminar on liquor licensing law reform to be held this Friday, 24 April is an example of the positive action in which he is currently engaged.

Positive and informed action is needed. Publicans and consumers alike are unhappy with the rules as they stand. There are many anomalies in the laws and they are often difficult to enforce. The Garda Síochána are caught in the middle when they are expected to ensure that the law is enforced, while the mind set of consumers has moved on substantially to the stage where they, as consumers, feel it is unfair to be hounded out of a premises before midnight. Ideally the compromise resolution of the current review will lead to a more workable legislative framework. Within the context of newly amended legislation it would be important, however, that the owner of the premises would take responsibility in the enforcing of the law.

Within the setting of this Bill, I am not convinced that there is a great demand in rural areas for extended opening hours on weekdays. Policing of many rural premises or the surrounding environment is not an issue owing to the generally quiet nature of the business from Monday to Thursday. Perhaps the report from the committee will suggest varied recommendations for city versus countryside. I would be happy to leave that to the experts.

When looking at the concept of opening on Good Friday, there could be substantial objections, if not hostility, to this from many perspectives. Within the context of this debate I would also be concerned that the fringe elements associated with alcohol should be looked at. There is no doubt that the country has a public that enjoys alcohol consumption. I include myself in this. We are renowned for many of our alcohol products, many of which I would endorse. However, there are also serious alcohol related difficulties in homes. Thankfully, I do not have to include myself in that. It could be argued that these problems will not necessarily be alleviated or made substantially worse by alterations to opening hours, but they are in need of attention as much as the current laws. One such issue which has been addressed previously is underage drinking. A recent newspaper article indicated that three-quarters of teenagers between 12 and 18 years drink. Another startling statistic is that the average age of people being treated for alcohol addiction had dropped from 35 to 17 years since the mid-1980s.

A survey carried out by the Garda among secondary school pupils and alcohol and drugs in Inishowen made striking reading. I compliment those who were involved in the initiative which brought about the study. I do not say that Donegal people are worse than others. The issue of drugs is often highlighted but a similar level of concern is not expressed about the use of alcohol which is an equally addictive and potentially dangerous substance.

The study asked children when they took their first full alcoholic drink: 35 per cent had it at 15 years of age, 4 per cent had it at 12 years old, 11 per cent at 13 years, 22 per cent at 14 years and only 8 per cent at 17 years. When asked with whom they normally drink, 67 per cent responded that they drank with friends and very few drank at home with their parents. When asked how often they drank in the past year 29.5 per cent replied between two and three times a month. Let us remember we are talking about secondary school children who are not of legal age to drink.

In reply to the question about the number of drinks taken at a time, 15 per cent said they would have six or more drinks when they were out, 18 per cent would have three and very few would take only one or two. When asked in the survey where they got the drink 55 per cent said they got it in the disco, 32 per cent in a pub, 18 per cent from friends and 20 per cent from the off licence. When asked where they drink currently, 55.5 per cent replied they drank in the disco, 26 per cent in the pubs and 13 per cent in a friend's home.

Measures need to be taken to combat underage drinking and I am glad the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has been involved in bringing a focus to bear on this issue with the launch of the national alcohol awareness campaign. In the past strong advertising has had a positive impact on drink driving and the Minister's campaign message, "Control your drinking before it controls you", should give food for thought. The reasons young people are drinking and the manner in which they gain access to drink need to be pursued.

In the local survey I mentioned the places where drink was accessed and the reasons the respondents gave for drinking were explored. A main factor was boredom. I hope the level of funding for sporting and arts projects will continue to increase because they are constructive ways for young people to overcome that problem. There need to be alternative places for young people to go because the focus of social life in Ireland is the pub. If young people get involved in sport the sense of self-pride they develop will ensure they do not abuse alcohol because they will want to be fit to play the next match.

The reform of the licensing laws is complex and there are many issues to be addressed. I look forward to the report of the select committee and the implementation of its recommendations. The mindset of the consumers has changed. We go out later and stay out later. I have experience as a consumer and as an employee in a licensed premises. Wage levels should also be considered.

I do not wish to give the impression that I am against extending the hours of opening. Unlike Deputy McGennis I was asked by a constituent to seek to have pubs open all night. Other countries may have late opening but they may also have siestas. There are different attitudes to alcohol consumption in other countries.

I disagree with Deputy Olivia Mitchell who said that pubs do not have to open until later. A pub which is closed when the others are open will lose business. Deputy McGahon was right in much that he said but I would not tar everyone with the same brush. Bars sell soft drinks and the prices should be examined. The pub and drinking culture is an important aspect of Irish social life and it deserves priority in the legislative programme. I cannot agree with this Bill but I look forward to the report of the select committee.

It would be patronising of me to congratulate Deputy Upton on bringing forward this Bill because as a new Deputy I do not realise the amount of work and effort required. I am sure a tremendous amount of work is involved. I congratulate him on spending six hours listening to the debate.

Dr. Upton

I will need a drink after it.

I have a long standing interest in the licensing laws. From a young age I worked clearing tables and when the occasional octagonal threepence was put my way I was delighted. At one stage while in college I was a member of MANDATE. I note that union is opposed to the Bill which indicates that more consultation is needed.

Deputy Upton's tongue is so firmly in his cheek that he would have difficulty in lowering a pint. This is an opportunistic Bill which is taking up Private Members' time. The sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights is near to concluding its deliberations on the licensing laws. As Deputy Upton realises, the previous Select Committee on Legislation and Security had done a lot of work on the issue and received many representations from outside bodies. It was the advent of a general election and a summer recess which held up its work.

The Bill is an embarrassment to the Opposition. I understand Fine Gael is reluctant to support it but it understands that the Government side will vote it down. The Fine Gael and the Labour Party members of the select committee which is considering the licensing laws know that changes which have been fully thought out and discussed by consumers and members of the trade will be brought forward soon by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

There are normally three hours per week for Private Members' time and this premature Bill is taking up two weeks of that time. If it were not common knowledge in the House and throughout the industry that new legislation on the licensing laws was in gestation the initiation of this Bill would be welcome. However, that is not the case. There are other more important matters, such as refugees, human rights, the drug problem, and to waste valuable Private Members' time on an issue which is being dealt with already demonstrates a thought vacuum on the Labour Party benches. Perhaps the Labour Party badly needs the cerebral members of Democratic Left to come up with legislation that might rock the foundations of the State.

There is widespread distaste at the idea of opening pubs on Good Friday. Those of religion and of none respect the wish of a predominantly Christian country to have Good Friday as a day on which the pubs do not open. In the pluralist society to which we aspire on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, in which each wishes to respect the traditions and culture of all others on the island, if there is a desire for pub opening on Good Friday it is a matter that could be examined. I am not aware of a religious or cultural group which feels strongly about pub opening on Good Friday. We should not interfere with the existing arrangements for Good Friday.

The idea of later opening hours has widespread support throughout the community. It would be archaic if on Friday, 31 December 1999, as we approach the year 2000, people were not legally entitled to raise their glasses among friends and neighbours to toast the beginning of the third millennium. Changing lifestyles demand greater latitude for people to decide when they can have a social drink. It is wrong that tourists and holidaymakers during the summer, particularly at the August weekend when there is a feel-good atmosphere throughout the country, cannot get a drink after 11.30 p.m. While changes are needed, it is unacceptable for Deputy Upton to cherrypick in a pre-emptive strike manner, the key points of the consultants' report without dealing with all of the details and consequences. In the meantime I am sure there is no pub in Dublin South-Central that would not serve Deputy Upton until 12.30 a.m. any night, except Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Dr. Upton

I suspect the Deputy is trying to lead me astray.

I would be only returning the compliment he frequently paid to me. I respectfully ask him not to press the Bill and await the legislation which will result from the work of the all-party committee which is nearing completion.

I support the Minister's position on the Bill. This area must be examined, and we are examining it at present.

There is an argument for extending opening hours. The development of this industry and European law highlights the need for new licensing laws. Bar extensions and the preparation of food must be considered in the European context and in the light of consumers' requirements. The majority of consumers want longer opening hours, but they also want the grey area of bar extensions and food preparation dealt with in legislation.

The abolition of Sunday closing form 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. is reasonable, but opening pubs and clubs on Good Friday would be unacceptable. Pubs are asked to close on only Christmas Day and Good Friday each year. There is a tradition that people's attitudes change, perhaps through spiritual intervention, when it comes to Good Friday. We should allow the day to remain special by keeping pubs closed.

A critical part of this and any future legislation in this area relates to off-licences. Major stores have off licensing facilities and they should be governed by proper laws. Off-licences are a cause of concern to parents because much under age drinking starts with younger people getting older friends to purchase drink for consumption elsewhere. A similar problem pertains in respect of big supermarkets. I have no difficulty with the family run off-licences in my town. Many of the submissions on this subject will have to be taken into consideration. Off-licences should be actively monitored and curtailed.

The concept of an identity card should also be addressed. Education on drink is not dealt with under the Bill. That must form part of an overall package to confront the social problems caused by drink. Parents and various organisations demand such a package and we must respond.

Some publicans claim extended opening hours would result in a more civilised pattern of drinking, with fewer problems at closing time. There is no evidence to support that argument. Many years ago a similar argument was put forward in favour of extending the opening hours. When the hours were extended, however, there was little change in the pattern of drinking, apart from the fact that consumption of alcohol continued to increase. It would not make sense for pubs to stay open later unless they could sell a substantial additional amount of drink because their overheads, such as overtime payment for staff and the additional cost of heating, lighting and so on would be significant.

Additional consumption of drink could add to the problems currently associated with the abuse of alcohol, such as road accidents, domestic violence, child neglect and public disorder. Extending opening hours would be of particular concern to the owners of hotels, discos and restaurants who fear encroachment by publicans on their important night trade. On a more positive note, a liberalisation of the licensing laws could be seen to reflect the current reality of the licensed opening hours resulting from extensions and special food licences. Extension of trading hours would also benefit the tourism industry.

I support the Minister and hope we do not have to wait too long for detailed legislation in this area.

I wish to share time with Deputies Reynolds and Barnes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment Deputy Upton on introducing the Bill. As one who introduced a few Private Members' Bills in the past, I realise the amount of work, with very little back-up, that goes into their drafting. The Deputy also deserves credit for initiating this debate. I am assured Deputy Ardagh did not mean what he said in his final comments. His original comments reflected his views on the Bill.

Even if the Deputy is pre-empting the work of the review committee, I am sure its members will read with interest the contributions made on the Second Stage of the Bill and perhaps include some of the suggestions in its final report. Because the problem of alcohol abuse is so prevalent in our history, a thorough debate on the issue is welcome. It is a coincidence that the Irish Vintners' Federation is holding its national conference in Tralee this evening. We are getting some feedback from it on the current laws and on the question of introducing a national ID system which it now supports. Its thinking in this area is also evolving.

We must address the issues of alcohol abuse and opening hours. Deputy Upton's Bill addresses only the question of opening hours. The question of over indulgence is in some form related to opening hours. I am sure most Members have visited countries where there is almost no prohibition on opening times. In the United States, for example, pubs remain open quite late, but there is not a high incidence of alcoholism or public disorder on the streets as a result. Opening times are restricted here and, as Deputy McGennis said, that can lead to binge drinking for which we were famous in the past for all the wrong reasons.

The culture of drinking in Ireland is changing. There are not as many people drunk on our streets and in the pubs. I do not see any evidence in the pubs I frequent of people getting drunk to the same extent as in the past. We are becoming more educated in terms of alcohol consumption and people control their drinking more than in the past. However, I accept there is a major problem with under-age drinking.

I have no problem with an extension of opening hours to 1 a.m. I agree with Deputy Mitchell that it is up to the publican to decide the time he or she wishes to close. I am sure publicans in rural areas will not keep their premises open until 1 a.m. if they have no customers. However, they can set acceptable times with their customers. There is a problem in tourist areas, such as Kerry, where it is difficult to get tourists out who are on holiday and enjoy the pub culture. They may not drink much but, nevertheless, their holidays are disrupted and their enjoyment spoiled if they are forced to leave a pub before midnight. We must look seriously at changing the law from a tourism point of view. It is inevitable that will happen as the Minister and the committee will come up with proposals for the extension of opening hours.

The holy hour on Sundays serves little purpose and I cannot see anybody opposing opening all day on Sundays. I have a problem with pubs opening on Good Friday. The licensing law in this regard should not be tampered with as it is important Good Friday is seen as a different day in the lives of the people and I am very much opposed to opening on Good Friday.

Deputy Keaveney referred to health education and complimented the Minister on his recent initiative where he launched a new programme. In the past there were several health education programmes which concentrated on the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse and other issues. However, they were based on an ad hoc principle where a scheme was launched and then forgotten. There was no reinforcement or continuity where one scheme could be put forward in isolation. The health education bureau has not been replaced since it was scrapped and serious consideration should be given towards restoring it or setting up a similar body. As a former physical education teacher, I participated in an ongoing health education programme in my school and could see its value. Nationally, there is no communication between the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They operate within departmental straitjackets with regard to health education and issues such as alcohol abuse. I hope the Minister refers to that in her reply.

I refer to the question of a national identity card system. I am one of many in the House who promoted this concept over the years. We had an opportunity in Government and did not introduce it, but serious consideration should be given towards the introduction of such a system. I was heartened by the support given to it by the outgoing president of the Vintner's Federation of Ireland yesterday in Tralee. A mandatory national scheme is needed and the Government should introduce the necessary legislation, as a result of which publicans would have something to go on. They cannot control teenage drinking in the current climate. Many locally based identity schemes have been effective while others have not because they were not monitored properly.

The Vintner's Federation of Ireland referred to the inadequacies in current licensing laws, which are indefensible. I agree with it and the ongoing review of the joint committee needs to produce new proposals quickly. If they demand legislation, it should be introduced.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and compliment Deputy Upton for introducing it even though many colleagues feel a great deal of the work had been done by the joint committee. It is a simplistic Bill in that it deals particularly with licensing laws but not with other difficult issues associated with licensed premises. I have no difficulty with opening time remaining at 10.30 a.m. However, I disagree with the proposed change in closing time from 11.30 p.m. in the summer and 11 p.m. in the winter to 12.30 a.m. Closing time is 11.30 p.m. during the summer but there are 30 minutes drinking up time. It is the greatest difficulty for rural publicans, and I am one, to contend with because locals figure closing time is not until midnight so they will come in at 11.55 p.m. thinking they still have 30 minutes to drink up. It is difficult for the Garda to police this in rural areas where they know most of the people on licensed premises. Local gardaí in the area I represent have been pragmatic in their policing of opening hours. The only way to deal with that would be to have closing time at 12.30 a.m. or 1 a.m. during the summer. If closing time is 1.30 a.m. there would be no half hour drinking-up time and if the publican had customers on his premises after that time he would be aware he and his customers could be hauled before the courts for breach of the licensing laws. Closing times of 1 a.m. during the summer and 12.30 a.m. in winter would be sufficient.

I agree that Sunday opening hours from 12.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. should be replaced with normal opening hours. I agree also with opening hours on St. Patrick's day but not with opening on Good Friday. This probably results from my conservative upbringing. Deputy Ellis is a former publican in my constituency. In the past a few pubs attempted to open on Good Friday but most of them remained closed. If we cannot survive without drink for two days it is too bad.

The late opening discos are supposed to provide food. We have all heard horror stories about discos, drugs and all types of shenanigans. I was reared mid-way through the disco era and attempted to do much of my socialising at discos. There are many good discos and well run establishments. Those which are badly run get the publicity while those which are run perfectly well are taken for granted.

If the pub licensing laws were amended to extend opening hours to 1 a.m. it would be very difficult for many people who have invested heavily to survive if the hours for discos extended only to 1.30 a.m. If the licensing hours for public houses are extended, in fairness to most of the disco proprietors and hoteliers the disco licence should be extended to 2.30 a.m. or 3. a.m. Apart from that, the way it is proposed to be dealt with it through the courts would be unfair because judges will make different decisions in different areas. This aspect which is not dealt with in the Bill should be taken into consideration.

I support fully my colleague Deputy Deenihan and others who have proposed a national identity card scheme. Such a scheme would have to be introduced on a mandatory basis. We would only fool ourselves if we believed otherwise. I know of two 15 year old girls who have identity cards saying they are 20 years old. This happens in every area. The publicans know they have a problem and in consultation with the local garda they try to introduce a scheme. We have to take into consideration also that there are many publicans who know they are serving drink to under age persons. Given the legislation it is difficult for any member of the Garda Síochána to accuse a publican of serving drink to under age persons.

I lived and worked in New York for a number years. An identity card scheme was rigidly operated in that state and in New Jersey. Nobody could get a drink unless he was over 18 years of age. There is no good reason a national identity card scheme should not be introduced. In both rural and urban areas children of 13 and 14 years of age are drinking. By the time they reach the age of 18 the buzz has gone out of alcohol and they turn to drugs. We have a serious drugs problem.

The national identity card scheme would play a major part in trying to control the problem and I hope the Government will introduce one. It would go a long way in helping to regulate deficiencies and solve problems affecting society in general. It will not solve all our problems but it would be the basis and foundation for solving some of them. It is time we considered our licensing laws. We are a progressive mature society. We base much of our progress on attracting tourists, many of whom cannot understand the reason pubs close at 11.30 p.m. during the summer. This debate is worthwhile. The Government should take the matter on board and have legislation enacted as soon as possible.

I welcome not only the discussion here but the debate which has been taking place in the committee for the past two years. The cross-party committee examined the matter in depth, consulted widely and is working towards a deadline for completion of its report. This is a comprehensive and responsible way of presenting what is difficult legislation.

The difficulty with Deputy Upton's Bill is that it considers only the parameters of hours of admittance, ejection and enforcement, without considering many other areas which, if we are to introduce reformed legislation in this area, would have to deal with.

This debate and committee's report will raise issues other than the times and hours of drinking. It has to do with our behaviour, our perception of ourselves and our experience of how we view drink. I was struck by Deputy Cecilia Keaveney who referred to a survey carried out in her area. She pointed out, as many Deputies have done, the real concern about under age drinking where young people are unable to control themselves and the resultant bad effects.

Deputy Keaveney mentioned that in that survey many young people did not drink at home with their parents or in a social capacity such as with meals or on Sunday afternoons. Our concentration on drinking has not been as social and as moderate as it should be. We have focused on and done much of our drinking in the pub. That does not take away from the importance of what we have to do regarding the conditions, standards and opening and closing times of pubs. Countries which drink in a moderate and highly enjoyable way do so without guilt and little binging attached to it. This is because it is looked on as positive in moderation and enjoyable, particularly as an accompaniment with meals. We only have to look at Mediterranean countries, where people imbibe and enjoy wine. European tables show a high level of consumption of wine and alcohol. However, the people there have a long and enjoyable lifestyle. They live longer than in countries where people do not treat alcohol in the same way.

This Bill and the report of the committee is important. The more prohibitively and disparately we treat licensing hours and drinking the worse it will get. We should look at the experience of prohibition in the United States which resulted in a sense of guilt, illegal drinking and activities beyond that. This demonstrates how counter-productive that type of enforcement can be.

The report of the committee will hopefully give the Government the option to introduce a wider and more considerable Bill. If we extend drinking hours, we must also take the conditions and standards of work for bar staff into consideration. These are part of the legislation. Successful publicans cannot claim, from the profits they are making, that they cannot afford to look after their staff properly.

While there is a problem with underage drinking on one side of the counter, the employment of underage staff must also be questioned. They are not only exploited by low pay and bad conditions but are also exposed to an atmosphere which is not conducive to their development.

I deplore the high tariff on non-alcoholic drinks — it is almost as if one is penalised for drinking them. It is outrageous, particularly when we are trying to implement a safe drink driving programme. It is not only mineral water which is priced exorbitantly, but also non-alcoholic beer and wine. We have to look into this. If we are to encourage people not to drink alcohol solidly throughout an evening or to allow one or two people to abstain from alcohol for safe driving, they must not be made pay through the nose for drinking a non-alcoholic drink when everyone else is drinking merrily.

We must integrate a programme in the school system to encourage drinking for enjoyment, as part of a civilised way of life. Different age groups should be encouraged to drink together at different venues. We all appreciate, as do many people outside this country, the craic engendered in the pub. If we do not drink immoderately and treat alcohol consumption as normal and enjoyable, that will continue. We need an education programme which protects our young people and allows them to learn how to drink in a proper and enjoyable way.

We all deplore binge drinking for the sake of getting drunk rather than drinking for taste and convivial purposes. It is important that enjoyment is not taken away by people drinking to get drunk and the terrible effects of that. I hope the Second Stage of this Bill is passed. The depth and breadth of the committee's work should be utilised to provide the legislation which both sides of the House welcome and know is urgently needed.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Michael Moynihan and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The introduction of this Bill by Deputy Upton has given us a chance to focus on what has been a major issue for a number of years. It is about 20 years since opening hours were reviewed and opening hours on Sunday were increased by an hour, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., which was changed again subsequently.

Social changes have taken place as regards drinking. I agree with many of the speakers that there is a greater need than ever before for education about drinking. None of us want to see young people binge drinking. It is sad that this mentality has developed. Parents have a duty to educate their children about drinking. No parent should be afraid of allowing his or her children to drink with them. This is better than being antialcohol, which often leads to bigger problems. When young people drink a glass of wine or beer in the company of their parents, they are better able to cope with it at a later stage than those who drink behind their parents' back.

We can all remember funny incidents about drinking in our early days. There was a funny side to it afterwards, but not at the time. The lashing out of many parents at their teenagers' drinking led to greater problems in the home at a later stage. There is a need for education in our school system about the dangers of drink. I agree with Deputy Gerry Reynolds that when the buzz from drink goes, there is a danger that young people will move to drugs. If they are properly educated about drink, it can make life a great deal easier and they do not suffer peer pressure as regards drugs and other harmful substances.

We all agree with later closing in the summer. However, in the winter, except at weekends, there is no need for 12.30 a.m. closing plus half an hour drinking up time. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11.30 p.m. closing is sufficient. Perhaps weekend closing hours should be different because people socialise. Longer opening hours are not in the best interests of publicans or those who drink.

I am against opening pubs on Christmas Day and Good Friday. I was reared in a pub and those were the only two days one could close the door and have a day off. Everyone involved in the drinks trade accepts that pubs should remain closed on these days.

There is also a problem with the disco scene, which is much broader than any of us can deal with. There are problems with age, identity and the fact that discos are frequented by people much younger than those who went to discos ten or 15 years ago. We now hear 14 year olds saying that they do not want to go to discos run by social clubs and others. It is the old story, the buzz has gone out of the teenage hops, as we knew them, for 14 year olds who want to move to the bigger scene. This is not in their best interests but there is little parents can do about it. The only hope is that they have an older brother, sister or friend who will mind them on their initial visits.

We need to look long and hard at the hours discos remain open. If publicans are allowed to remain open longer, discos will have to be allowed to do the same. We will have to find a happy medium. We will have to determine a time at which it will be socially acceptable for discos to close. No one wants them to remain open until 4 a.m. at which time people who have to work the following day will fall out of them. That is not realistic.

The responsibilities of publicans should be reviewed. Publicans have a responsibility to their customers. They should cease serving people under the influence of drink. This is in their own interest, although they may not appreciate it at the time. They will come to realise the following day that the publican had done them a favour. This will happen mainly where publicans are familiar with the people with whom they are dealing but in cities barmen possess less knowledge about their clientele and it may be much harder for them to deal with somebody who has had too much to drink. We have all heard about the people who have fallen, having had too much to drink, and suffered horrific injuries, even death. There should be a reference, therefore, in the new licensing laws to the responsibilities of publicans to ensure the safety and well-being of their clients. We have all heard the horror stories about people who have fallen in pubs and were later found on the pavement. This is not acceptable. Many questions have to be asked and answered.

We could all talk for a long time about binge drinking, underage drinking and those involved in the licensed trade. Those who work in public houses do not have an easy job and work long hours. Their working day does not finish when they close the door on the last customer, they have to clean up and get everything ready for the next day. We have to look at the social consequences of liberalising the licensing laws too much because those who work in public houses have wives and families at home who wonder if their loved ones are still working and how they will get home.

We should allow the committee to make its report before implementing any changes. The matter should be teased out. I agree with Deputy Barnes that it should be referred back to the committee which should look long and hard at all aspects of the licensing laws. It is not a question of increasing the number of hours but of making it a more social business.

In the short time I have been a Member no legislation has generated as much debate among the public as this Bill. In recent weeks I have spoken to many people about it. It deals with a contentious issue on which everybody has an opinion. Many families have been touched by drink and drink related illness.

Some people are of the opinion that the licensing laws should not be touched. It is not the function of the licensing laws, however, to ensure a husband or a wife stays at home with their family but sin scéal eile. It would be a major decision to extend opening hours. It would affect nearly everybody in the country. There is a saying in north Cork that there is one thing worse than being too late and that is bringing in something too early. The matter should be given much thought.

In seeking an extension of opening hours, some sections of the tourism industry have argued that we should not expect tourists to leave a public house or licensed premises at 12 midnight, that they should be allowed to enjoy the company they are in for a further few hours. Surely it is not being said that the only thing Ireland has to offer the tourist is drink? This afternoon I spoke to a former hotel manager whom I know well and asked her for her opinions on the matter. She indicated that in her experience the extension of opening hours was never considered contentious by tourists.

I agree with Deputy Barnes that the issue should be referred back to the committee. It ought to be the subject of a full and rigorous debate. Every section of the community should be consulted. I am aware that the trade unions which represent those who work in public houses are very much against the extension of opening hours.

As Deputy Ellis said, 13 and 14 year olds no longer want to go to discos organised by youth clubs or GAA clubs, rather they want to go to ones where alcohol is on sale. We should educate young people on the proper use of drink. As said by numerous people, the next step from alcohol abuse is drug abuse. Children should be educated at an early age about the pitfalls. It is not good enough to provide a one hour or one and a half hour course once a year in second level schools. A range of services should be provided.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, outlined the reasons for the Government decision in opposing the Bill proposed by Deputy Upton. The subject of intoxicating liquor legislation commands great interest inside and outside the House. There is a developing consensus that the way forward in relation to improving our liquor licensing laws is to await the recommendations of the subcommittee which has devoted much energy to a review of the licensing code.

The Minister has undertaken that any recommendations arising from that review will be given serious consideration with a view to any amending legislation that may be necessary.

Members of the House have stressed that it is important to get any such legislation in this area correct. That goes without saying, but in order to get it right there needs to be full consultation. We have heard over and over again during the debate that everybody has a view on the liquor laws. As Deputy McDowell and other speakers have said, everybody has an opinion on this matter. Perhaps the fact that the debate continued over Easter was of interest because everywhere I went people had an opinion on this issue. It is important that all those views should be considered in the wider debate. Undoubtedly, many more views will be expressed.

An important fact raised in the debate is that the principal union involved in the licensing trade, MANDATE, is still reported as being opposed to longer opening hours. This must be taken into consideration. A sensible approach to the possible updating of the law in this area would be one in a context where the many views, opinions, and reservations of interested parties are properly articulated, reflected upon, and measured so as to ascertain as balanced a view as possible of the law.

We have heard suggestions that our licensing laws are archaic, outmoded or out of synch with modern day living. The difficulty is that for every view that is put forward in this area there is a contrary view. Public debate on the issues is not only complex but extremely sensitive. It is that very complexity and sensitivity which does not permit simple or piecemeal solutions.

Great store is being placed on the provisions in this Bill which would allow the courts to vary the hours of opening which would operate in different parts of the country or between public houses in the same locality. We need to examine this point. The argument is that in a tourist area the courts would be able to modify opening hours to suit special needs. The question this raises is whether such a provision would disadvantage owners of public houses and other licensed establishments in adjacent counties or towns, who for one reason or another are not regarded as meeting the criteria of particular licensing areas.

Some Deputies have spoken about the effects of the Garda Síochána's initiative in certain parts of the country and have argued that the only effect it has had is to curb the trade in the affected areas and encourage people to travel to where it would be possible to get a late drink without the next knock on the door being that of a member of the Garda Síochána. Would this Bill achieve a similar result? For example, if town A has later opening hours under this Bill than town B, say ten miles away, is there not a danger that there will be an imbalance which will encourage people to travel to get a later drink? Will not the publicans in town A complain that they are losing trade to town B? I mention this to illustrate how apparently sensible provisions may operate negatively or create even further anomalies in the licensing code.

The cumulative effect of our legislation has been to create uniform opening and closing hours as central to the licensing code. The thrust of this Bill would be to do away with that and to create almost ghetto-like pockets of late night drinking. There are many who would not be convinced that this would be an improvement.

Deputies may query the uniformity which exists at present among pubs in as far as opening and closing hours are concerned. The figure of some 65,000 special exemptions dealt with by the courts in the year August 1996 to July 1997 might tend to indicate a lack of uniformity about opening and closing hours rather than uniformity. However, on examination of that figure of 65,000 exemptions one finds that it includes all special exemptions sought by the holders of on-licences for premises which are hotels or restaurants, exemptions which are not open to the holders of publicans' licences only. Additionally, premises which operate as night-clubs regularly apply for such special exemptions and are included in the figure.

There are many who are genuinely fearful that later opening hours for pubs and clubs will lead to a worsening situation in relation to the abuse of alcohol. On the one hand, there are those who argue that those who abuse alcohol will do so anyway and that longer opening hours would, therefore, have no major effect on the situation. There are also those who would argue that were opening hours to be extended persons would start to drink later in the evening, particularly in the summer months, and would not necessarily drink more as a result.

Of major concern is whether later opening hours will solve or create problems. There are, for example, the public order difficulties, which were referred to during the debate, associated with persons spilling on to the streets at closing time. The question which arises, however, is whether closing times of midnight or 1 a.m. would lessen or add to such difficulties. We need to listen closely to all interests on the matter and this is one of the benefits of awaiting the full report of the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights.

The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has this week launched the National Alcohol Awareness Campaign. The importance of that campaign lies in the recognition that alcohol, both in its use and misuse, plays a huge role in society. The campaign seeks to create an awareness of the potential for damage which exists in alcohol abuse, while recognising that, used sensibly, alcohol has many positive aspects.

I am satisfied that the most appropriate way forward in relation to the complex and important issues raised by this Bill is to proceed with careful deliberation, taking into account the various public debates and interests as well as the consultative procedures of the kind currently engaged in by Members of the House on the sub-committee. The Government regards this Bill as premature and not the way to proceed at this time. It does not propose to accept the Bill.

Dr. Upton

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. Between 30 and 40 Deputies contributed in all. I thank my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour Party for allowing me the opportunity to present the Bill on behalf of the party. I also thank those who helped me to prepare the Bill, in particular Mr. Richard Humphries and Mr. Kevin Baneham.

I have been heartened by the public response and support I have received since the publication of the Bill. There is a clear consumer demand to modify the licensing laws to suit modern lifestyles. There is an urgent need to immediately reform the drinking regulations as they apply to opening hours.

This Bill has sparked an important public debate on the issue. I have been heartened by the comments from the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, in support of modernising the licensing laws. He has publicly stated his support in the media for the immediate modernisation of the licensing laws by this summer. I welcome his comments.

It is clear that the Minister of State is in close touch with his constituents and he is prepared to listen to them. It is a pity that many of his colleagues on the Government benches seem determined to ignore the clear wishes of the vast majority of the general public, especially the younger element of the population.

The intervention of the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, follows from the full implementation of the law by the Garda in four western counties — Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Clare. The public disquiet in these areas illustrates clearly that people wish to stay in public houses longer than for the period now legislated for. It is also clear from the public response that the law is being flouted to a large degree.

The gardaí cannot be blamed or faulted for implementing the law. Their job is to implement the laws passed by the Oireachtas. It is, therefore, incumbent on us as public representatives to modernise the law as appropriate.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, has not taken the opportunity to speak on the Bill. He feels that opening hours must be extended as provided for in this Bill. I find the attitude adopted by the Minister of State hard to understand in the context of the legislative programme published by the Government earlier this week. The Government has failed to include such a Bill in its legislative programme. I fail to see how the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, will provide for extended opening hours before the end of this summer, as seems to be his wish. The only way this can be done is by voting for this Bill. In terms of the practical realities of politics that is what it comes down to. Anyone who pretends otherwise is just fooling themselves.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, now has two choices. He can support the Bill or he can meekly follow the Government Whip. From his public statements he should support the Bill and if he does not do so, he has no choice but to accept that his credibility will be gravely damaged.

I am greatly disappointed by the response given by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the Bill. The Minister has given no commitment to modernise the licensing laws as they apply to opening hours. He has mentioned consideration, reviews, ongoing scenarios and meaningful exchanges but no hard promises — no beef, in other words. The Minister has shown scant understanding of the need for reform. He has failed to grasp that the laws are out of date. He does not comprehend that the law is tolerable only if the Garda Síochána chooses to allow pubs to break it. To continue to allow the present disregard for the law to prevail is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister refuses to recognise both the strong public desire for reform and the outdated nature of the licensing laws.

This Bill does not jump the gun and is not opportunistic, it is a response to legislative paralysis. The Government does not seem to be committed to changing that. It moves the debate forward and it wrestles the issue of opening hours from the quagmire of detail and inaction. Committees of the Oireachtas have been discussing this fairly basic matter for more than two years. During the last Dáil the relevant committee received detailed submissions from all interested parties. Opening hours have been widely discussed and analysed for that period and longer. I spoke on this issue in the early 1990s and in 1995 I took the opportunity to highlight it again when the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, introduced minor changes to the licensing laws on off-licence sales on Christmas Eve.

A welcome discussion by the House on the need to alter the licensing laws was triggered by the work of the Select Committee on Legislation and Security. However, that work seems to have stagnated. The Government has failed to act on one of the most important issues requiring immediate attention. The committee process has become bogged down in detail and minor issues and has not addressed this question as a matter of urgency. The opening hours of public houses is a crucial issue for many people and is in need of urgent attention. The Bill has sparked a public debate and brought attention to the issue. It has broken the paralysis which has gripped the committee and the House in tackling the question of opening hours. I hope it will break the legislative stagnation.

I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy McDowell, and other Members of the relevant Dáil committees. I recognise the work done by Deputy Flanagan and I compliment him on his efforts to secure comprehensive change. However, that work is not an excuse for inaction. We cannot forego reform of an urgent issue such as the licensing laws because of ongoing analysis by committees of this House. I reject the suggestion that when this comprehensive report is published, it will be possible to take action in the immediate short-term. Is anyone suggesting that if changes are proposed in the way licences are issued it will not stir up a hornet's nest and lead to greater paralysis than we have already seen?

This Bill seeks to do what can be done while we have the opportunity and in accordance with the wishes of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Fahey. I accept this Bill is limited in what it tries to achieve. That is not because of ignorance of the broader questions involved but because it is based on a pragmatic approach to achieve a realistic target and on the concept of legislating for what is now the practice. I am sure if one visited public houses tonight between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. there would be plenty of customers and no shortage of drink.

I listened with interest to the doomsday scenarios painted by some Members during this debate, such as the evils of alcoholism and the fact that young people drink too much. I accept that many of the points were valid. However, no one gave evidence that what is proposed would make the situation worse. There was an obligation on those people to do that. We want to introduce legislation to ensure that the law which is now being flouted will be adhered to. Deputy Jim Higgins said that publicans who now adhere to the law — they are probably a small minority — are at an economic disadvantage because other publicans stay open half the night and customers will move accordingly. That is an unfair economic sanction on people who adhere to the law. The Minister should address this as a matter of urgency.

A number of Deputies said they are opposed to the proposal to allow pubs to open for business on Good Friday. I do not accept that these objections are valid. There is sufficient demand to justify pubs opening on Good Friday. There is no obligation on anyone who owns a public house to open on Good Friday or on anyone who wishes to stay away from pubs to visit one. We want to ensure that a choice is available to that section of the community which wants to avail of it. I fully respect people who want to adhere to religious practice and stay away from pubs on Good Friday. However, I do not accept that the legislation should impose those religious concepts on an element of the population which wishes to obtain drink on Good Friday.

A number of comments were made about the position taken by people who work in public houses. We went out of our way to cater for those concerns when drafting this Bill. We have built into the Bill a series of provisions to ensure that the rights of people who work in public houses are fully protected and that they should be allowed to opt out if that is what they wish. There are also provisions to ensure they are well compensated if they decide to work the extra hours.

The Bill is primarily designed to increase the level of choice for consumers. We are trying to modernise the licensing laws and to bring our practice into line with what is happening in most other European countries. We do not know when the committee will publish its report or what action, if any, will be taken, but we know it will be long, detailed and complex. It will give rise to a new debate, but the status quo will prevail. The status quo is unacceptable so we should act now.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 66.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Broughan, Thomas.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Farrelly, John.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Higgins, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reynolds, Gerard.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sheehan, Patrick.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Yates, Ivan.


  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Harry.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McGennis, Marian.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Flynn, Noel.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory. O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wade, Eddie.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Ferris; Níl, Deputies S.Brennan and Power.
Question declared lost.