Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Jun 2008

Vol. 657 No. 3

Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the House for agreeing to deal with the Intoxicating Liquor Bill as an urgent matter and I look forward to the co-operation of both Houses in having the legislation enacted before the summer recess.

There is broad recognition in this House and beyond that legislative reforms are needed to tackle public disorder and alcohol-related harm resulting from excessive alcohol consumption. We routinely see evidence of this need on our streets and in the accident and emergency departments of our hospitals. We see it on our television screens and in the newspapers. The problem is not confined to large urban centres but affects small and medium-sized towns across the country as well.

This is a relatively short but ambitious Bill that will give effect to reforms recommended by the Government alcohol advisory group. I take this opportunity to thank the Chairman of the group, Mr. Gordon Holmes, and its members for their work and especially for submitting their report and recommendations within the very tight time limit set by Government. Moreover, I thank the 200 or so organisations and individuals who took the time to make submissions to the group and to outline their particular concerns and priorities.

The advisory group submitted its report to my predecessor, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on 31 March. The action taken by the Government by way of very early publication of this Bill is a measure of the urgency and seriousness with which the Government wants to deal with the alcohol-related problems identified in the group's report. I urge the House to give favourable consideration to the proposals in the Bill.

The strategy underpinning this Bill is also one which tackles the increased visibility and availability of alcohol through retail outlets with off-licences, while tightening the conditions under which premises with on-licences qualify for special exemption orders permitting them to remain open beyond normal licensing hours. The Bill places renewed emphasis on enforcement of licensing law, particularly in relation to underage drinking.

The Bill also strengthens public order provisions by including measures to curtail alcohol consumption in public places, especially by those under 18 years, and allowing gardaí to seize alcohol. The Garda Síochána will also have powers to seize alcohol from any person, regardless of age, where the consumption of alcohol in a public place is causing, or likely to cause, annoyance or nuisance or a breach of the peace.

The factors which influenced the advisory group in framing its recommendations are explained in the report and I do not propose to enter into the detail today. It is worth recalling, however, that Ireland has one of the highest alcohol consumption levels in the European Union. Average consumption of pure alcohol per person over 15 years of age in 2006 was 13.36 litres. This means that each person aged 15 and over consumed an average of 20.8 standard units of alcohol per week. Since the recommended maximum weekly consumption levels are 14 units for women and 21 for men, this means that many people are drinking more than the recommended limits. Moreover, when account is taken of the fact that up to 20% of adults do not consume alcohol at all, the amount consumed by those who do is even greater and this increases the likelihood of alcohol-related harm and public order offences.

Ireland also stands out as having a particular problem with binge drinking. The 2007 Eurobarometer survey found that 34% of Irish drinkers consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting compared with the EU average of 10%. When asked about the frequency of consuming five or more drinks on one occasion, 54% of respondents in Ireland stated that they did so at least once a week. This was the highest figure recorded in the survey.

Regrettably, abuse of alcohol is also common among those aged under 18. The 2006 national study of health behaviour in school-age children found that half of those aged 15 to 17 reported being current drinkers and over a third reported having been "really drunk" in the previous 30 days.

The harmful effects of excessive consumption of alcohol have been well documented in recent health research findings. The 2007 report by the Health Research Bureau entitled Health-Related Consequences of Problem Alcohol Use gives a good overview of the current situation. More recently, the HSE report on alcohol-related harm in Ireland brought together various data to illustrate the consequences of alcohol abuse on health and other areas. It makes for uncomfortable reading. For example, 28% of all injury attendances in accident and emergency departments in acute hospitals are alcohol-related, alcohol was a contributory factor in 36% of all fatal crashes, alcohol was involved in a quarter of severe domestic abuse cases and 46% of those who committed homicide were intoxicated at the time.

Workplaces are not immune either. A survey by IBEC reported that alcohol and alcohol-related illnesses were cited by 12% of companies as a cause of short-term absenteeism from work by males and by 4% of companies as a cause of short-term absenteeism by women. There are serious public order issues arising from excessive alcohol consumption. Adult offences for intoxication in a public place have doubled in the period 1999-2005 and juvenile offences have almost trebled during the same period. While assault offences peaked in the period 2000-02, public order offences, the majority of which are alcohol-related, continue at unacceptably high levels. I am sure that all of us in this House in our role as public representatives know families who have direct experience of loss of life, sickness, injuries, threats and abuse caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

It was against this background that the Government established the Government alcohol advisory group in January last. The group was asked to examine key aspects of the law governing the sale and consumption of alcohol with particular reference to public order issues. It was specifically requested to examine the following matters and to report to the Minister with its assessment of the best way forward by 31 March 2008. The issues were as follows: the increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences and the manner and conditions of sale of alcohol products in such outlets, including below unit-cost selling and special promotions; the increasing number of special exemption orders which permit longer opening hours being obtained by licensed premises around the country; and the use, adequacy and effectiveness of existing sanctions and penalties, particularly those directed towards combating excessive and under age alcohol consumption.

As I mentioned already, Dr. Gordon Holmes acted as chairman of the group and the membership included a professor of criminology, a public health specialist, a senior member of the Garda Síochána and representatives from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and Health and Children. The group was, therefore, able to draw on a considerable level of knowledge and expertise in the course of its work.

Following extensive consultations and discussions with interested parties, the group submitted a report containing 31 recommendations, the majority of which advocate reform of the licensing laws and public order legislation. These are the recommendations which form the basis of the Bill before us. The group's remaining recommendations are the subject of further discussions with Departments and the Garda Síochána. Preparatory work on their implementation has already commenced.

The proposals in the Bill, taken together, represent a coherent and carefully balanced package of practical measures and reforms which are designed to reduce access to alcohol, including its visibility within retail outlets, while at the same time strengthening measures to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour on the streets and in our communities.

I know that the group's chairman, Dr. Holmes, had an exchange of views at an early stage of the consultation process with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and that the various views expressed by members on that occasion informed the group's subsequent work. In addition, following publication of the general scheme of the Bill in late April, my predecessor, Deputy Brian Lenihan, presented the proposed contents of the legislation to the select committee. I understand that committee members were broadly disposed towards the Government's intentions.

A Bill to curtail the abuse and excessive consumption of alcohol would not be complete if it did not address the public order problems that are so often associated with excessive consumption. The Bill, therefore, identifies two specific areas where action is both possible and necessary.

The first of these areas concerns the possession of alcohol by young persons under 18 years and its removal by gardaí. The second concerns situations where the presence of alcohol is likely to result in annoyance, nuisance or a breach of the peace. In such cases, gardaí are given powers to seize the alcohol and move on the persons concerned.

Provisions relating to persons under 18 years are set out in section 13 of the Bill. They apply to situations where persons under 18 years are found in possession of alcohol in a place other than a place used as a private dwelling. This could encompass a public street, a river bank, an unoccupied or derelict dwelling or a building site.

Part IV of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 already makes it illegal for a person under 18 to buy alcohol or to consume it in any place outside the home or in another person's home where they are present by right or with permission. Section 13 adds a new section — section 37A — to Part IV. Under the new section, where a garda suspects that a person is under 18 years and that the person or anyone accompanying that person is in possession of alcohol for the purpose of consuming it in a place other than in a place used as a private dwelling, the garda may seek an explanation and if not satisfied with the reply, he or she may seize the alcohol.

A number of steps are required. The garda will first ask that the alcohol be handed over voluntarily. Where that does not happen, the garda will give a warning that he or she may arrest the person and seize the alcohol and may use such force as is necessary to do so. A person who fails to co-operate in either handing over the alcohol or in giving details of his or her name, address and age may be arrested and charged with an offence. On conviction, section 37A provides for a fine of up to €500. The garda must make and retain a record of any alcohol seized and disposed of.

Section 18 provides for the second major element of the public order aspects of the Bill. It amends the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 by inserting a new section — section 8A — into that Act. The new section is intended to deal with persons of any age who are in possession of alcohol in a place other than a place that is used as a private dwelling and who the garda believes are causing or are likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to others or there is or there is likely to be a danger to persons or property or a breach of the peace.

In these circumstances, the Bill gives the garda powers to seize the alcohol and authority to direct the persons to desist from their activities and to move on. In this section,"place" has the same broad meaning as in the new section 37A. The procedures to be followed by the garda are the same as those in section 37A which I have already outlined. As in the new section 37A, failure to co-operate with a request to hand over the alcohol or to give a name and address is an offence with a maximum fine of €500. The maximum fine in the case of a failure by an individual to comply with a direction to desist from his or her activities or to move on, is €1,000.

Powers of entry for the purposes of operating the new sections 37A and 8A are set out in the new sections 37B and 8B, respectively. In this instance, we are talking about entry into, for example, unoccupied houses and flats, derelict sites or building sites. As Deputies will be aware, our Constitution makes very clear provision on the inviolability of a domestic residence. The powers being granted here take full account of that provision but also ensure that gardaí are given a clear basis on which they can use the powers granted by the new sections 37A and 8A.

A garda must have reasonable grounds for believing that section 37A or 8A applies before exercising the entry powers under section 37B or 8B as the case may be. Of course, it may not become clear until after entry has been completed whether it is section 37A — a person is under 18 years — or section 8A which applies. The entry provisions are framed to deal with that situation by requiring that the garda be satisfied before entry that one or other or perhaps both sections are applicable. There are a few additional points I want to make about the new Garda powers to seize alcohol. First, these new powers are in addition to existing powers to deal with public order offences. Indeed, the real benefit of the new powers is that they will permit early intervention by gardaí and will, therefore, help to prevent offences taking place.

Where the parties co-operate with gardaí, the matter ends there. The question of arrests and prosecutions arises only where there is resistance or a failure to co-operate. These new powers will, therefore, not only assist gardaí in responding to and preventing unacceptable behaviour but they have the potential to enable gardaí to achieve that end, while reducing the time-consuming activities connected with prosecutions and court appearances. From the offender's perspective, he or she will avoid a criminal record where he or she co-operates with gardaí in the exercise of these new powers.

Deputies will note that the procedural requirements to be followed, including the warnings to be given by the garda, are set out in a detailed manner in the two sections. I attach considerable importance to this aspect of the new provisions. The explicit description of the procedural steps to be followed is intended to ensure that even where the opportunity for judicial supervision does not arise, for example, when the parties concerned co-operate with gardaí and, as a result, no court proceedings are involved, we can nevertheless be reasonably satisfied that due process has been observed.

Sections 11 and 17 introduce revised definitions of "bottle or container" for the purposes of the 1988 and 1994 Acts. This will ensure a consistent approach. In respect of public order matters, I am also pleased to inform the House that in line with another of the advisory group's recommendations, I am making arrangements to introduce fixed charge penalties for offences under sections 4 and 5 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. Provision was already made for these charges in section 184 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, but certain technical amendments are required with regard to the administration of the fixed charges, for example, arrangements for payment of the charges. My aim is to ensure the new charges will be introduced to coincide with the commencement of the relevant provisions of this Bill.

It is important that we recognise the significance of the introduction of fixed charges in this area. Although they have applied for some time now in the case of certain road offences, this is the first time we have applied them to public order offences. The arrangement has potential benefits for all concerned. The offender avoids a criminal record and pays a charge that is significant but, in all probability, lower than the fine that might have been imposed by the court.

An offender who disputes the charge retains his or her right to go to court and to have the matter settled there. Needless to say, an offender who fails to pay the charge will be prosecuted for the original offence. The system also has benefits for the Garda and the courts. It provides gardaí with an additional option, which may be more appropriate in many cases, while remaining a deterrent. It will reduce administration time and time spent in court. I fully support this new departure and think it has potential for further development. However, it will be necessary to evaluate these first, albeit limited, steps before considering any expansion.

There has been a significant increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences in recent years. At the same time, there has been a remarkable increase in the scale and frequency of alcohol promotions and price discounts. The result has been a marked increase in alcohol availability and visibility within these mixed trading premises.

There are basically three types of off-licence, which correspond with the three main categories of alcohol products, namely, spirits, beer and wine. Specialist off-licences, supermarkets and many convenience stores hold all three licences and can, therefore, sell all types of alcohol. Other retail outlets may have a licence to sell wine only.

To obtain the necessary off-licences to sell spirits and beer, an applicant must apply to the District Court for a certificate which, if granted, is then presented to the Revenue Commissioners. Revenue then issues the licences, subject to tax compliance requirements. The District Court will not issue the required certificate unless the applicant satisfies the court that an existing licence holder, usually the holder of a public house licence, is willing to extinguish an existing licence when the new licences are issued. Grant of the certificate is also dependent on the court not accepting an objection on any of the grounds on which an objection can be lodged. Neither a District Court certificate nor extinguishment of an existing licence is required to obtain a wine only off-licence. These are issued directly to applicants by the Revenue Commissioners.

In 2001, the Revenue Commissioners issued off-licences permitting the sale of spirits and beer to more than 790 outlets. This had increased by about 70% to more than 1,300 outlets by 2007. The number of wine only off-licences almost trebled over the same period. More than 3,600 wine only off-licences were issued in 2007. This is the background against which the advisory group formulated its recommendations to restrict both the supply and visibility of alcohol in mixed trading premises.

Section 4 of the Bill proposes to restrict off-sales of alcohol to the period between 10.30 a.m. and 10.00 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. on Sundays and St. Patrick's Day. This new restriction will apply to premises with on-licences as well as off-licences. It also means the existing provision, which permits the sale of alcohol from 7.30 a.m. in mixed trading premises such as supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations, will be repealed. This proposal will reduce the time during which mixed trading premises may sell alcohol by 29 hours per week. Existing prohibitions on the sale of alcohol on Christmas Day and Good Friday will remain in place.

Section 5 provides that an applicant for a wine off-licence will in future require a District Court certificate. As already mentioned, this requirement already applies to applications for spirits and beer off-licences. Section 6 provides for the possibility of lodging an objection to the grant of a District Court certificate for an off-licence on any of the following grounds: the character of the applicant; the appropriateness of the premises; the needs of persons residing in the area; and the adequacy of the number of licensed outlets already in the area.

Currently, objections to certificates for spirits and beer off-licences are generally limited to the character of the applicant and the suitability of the premises. The new provisions will permit gardaí or local residents to object, on the grounds that an off-licence is not required to meet the needs of residents or because there are already enough off-licences in the neighbourhood. Subsection (2) provides that the District Court may require the installation or operation during licensing hours of a closed circuit television system on granting a certificate. This is intended to deter people from loitering in the vicinity of off-licences and to combat secondary purchasing, namely, where under-age persons try to persuade or pressurise adults to purchase alcohol for them.

The result of the implementation of sections 5 and 6 is that the same grounds for objections will in future apply to on-licences and off-licences. It will remove differences of treatment between premises seeking on-licences and those seeking off-licences, and between off-licences selling all alcohol products and those selling wine only. Section 7 is a technical proposal which gives jurisdiction for granting the certificate for a wine retailer's off-licence to the District Court and provides for the giving of advance notice of applications for such licences.

Section 8 provides for the separation of alcohol products from other products in premises which are engaging in mixed trading, for example, supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. It provides that alcohol shall be displayed and sold in a separate area of the premises to which access is controlled. Where a structural separation is not feasible, for example, because of the size of the premises, alcohol products must be displayed and sold from a part of the premises where public access is prohibited, for example from behind a counter. Subsection (3) provides that structural separation will not apply to specialist off-licences or to duty free shops. As implementation of the structural separation provisions may require structural alterations within premises, the Bill provides for delayed implementation of section 8.

The advisory group's recommendation for structural separation of alcohol products was motivated by its concerns that the display and sale of alcohol side by side with ordinary foods served to create the impression that alcohol is an ordinary retail product. It also exposes children to alcohol products at an early age. Restricting sale and display to a separate area will emphasise the difference between products which require a licence for sale and those which do not require any such authorisation.

On Friday last, I held detailed discussions with the trade bodies representing supermarkets and convenience stores on the structural separation proposals in section 8, and their impact. During these discussions, the bodies concerned offered to implement an agreed voluntary code of practice as an alternative to implementation of section 8. The code would cover issues such as the location and display of alcohol within premises, signage, warning signs, in-store advertising, as well as staff training standards. Implementation would be overseen and enforced through an independent audit and verification mechanism. I am awaiting details of the proposedcode.

If agreement can be reached on its contents and the necessary level of support for its strict implementation across the mixed trading sector, if I am satisfied the proposed code would achieve in effect what we have set out to achieve through structural separation and if the code is subject to independent verification on an annual basis, I would be disposed to deferring implementation of section 8 for the present. If independent verification of compliance were to show the code is being implemented effectively across the country, and achieving in effect what we have set out to achieve through structural separation, it may not be necessary to commence section 8. If not, I will not hesitate to do so.

Following last week's discussions, I intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage to exempt wine from the requirement that in cases where structural separation is not possible, the sale of all alcohol products shall be confined to a part of the premises from which the public are excluded. This will permit customers to continue to browse while purchasing wine.

Section 9 amends existing statutory provisions under which the District Court may grant special exemption orders, which permit extended opening hours for special occasions. The conditions under which such orders can be made are being amended to require the operation of a CCTV system at venues where the public are admitted, for example, nightclubs and late bars. The public order ground on which objection may be made by the Garda to the granting of such orders is also strengthened. Moreover, the District Court shall not grant such orders in future unless satisfied that the premises concerned comply with fire safety standards under the Building Control Act 1990. I understand that some courts already insist on compliance with such standards, but I now propose that it will apply in all cases. In future, all applicants for special exemption orders will need to present certification by an appropriately qualified person that the premises comply with the relevant fire safety standards to the District Court.

Section 10 deals with the sale of alcohol in premises with theatre licences. Under existing rules, such licenses may be obtained from the Revenue Commissioners without a court certificate and the normal licensing hours do not apply. In theatres, the sale of alcohol is permitted both before and after performances. The result is that premises with theatre licences often remain open until 3.30 a.m. or 4 a.m., long after other premises operating on the basis of special exemption orders have closed their doors. This has created a strong incentive for nightclubs and other late-night venues to obtain theatre licences and thereby circumvent the special exemption order provisions. For these reasons, there has been a very significant increase in their number in recent times. In 2006 and again in 2007, a total of 76 theatre licences were issued by the Revenue Commissioners. So far this year, 80 have been issued in Dublin alone, with 20 further applications pending. This is a serious problem that must be addressed.

The reforms contained in section 10 will mean that the sale of alcohol before and after performances will only be permitted during normal licensing hours, or during extended opening hours under a special exemption order granted by the District Court. This will enable the Garda Síochána to object to any such orders on public order grounds and will also ensure compliance with fire safety standards. It is intended that there will be equality of treatment for all premises operating as late night venues.

The advisory group did not confine its examination of extended opening hours to late night opening. It recommended repeal of the provision which allows supermarkets and convenience stores to sell alcohol from 7.30 a.m. This recommendation is given effect in section 4.

The group also proposed repeal of the general exemption order provisions contained in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 Act which permit the early opening of licensed premises located in the vicinity of fairs and markets. This exemption from normal licensing hours was mainly intended to cater for people travelling long distances to fairs and markets and to ensure that they could receive food and refreshment when they reached their destination. Also, sailors who had not been on shore for some time might obtain refreshment if their boat docked in the early hours of the morning.

The advisory group considered that changes in our society rendered this type of arrangement redundant and recommended its abolition on the ground that it is now used mainly by late night revellers on their way home and by problem drinkers.

The Minister lives a very sheltered life.

Following separate discussions last week with the Garda Commissioner and the vintner organisations, I am disposed to allowing premises already availing of such orders to continue to apply for them in the normal way. However, no general exemption order shall be granted in respect of premises unless a general exemption order was in force in respect of the premises on 30 May 2008, that is, the date of publication of the Bill.

The fair days are coming back.

It is a reprieve. I also intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage which will mean that off-sales of alcohol will not in future be permitted during periods covered by general exemption orders, from 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. in those early houses.

Section 13 provides for the introduction of test purchasing of alcohol products in the new section 37C to be inserted in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988. It provides that the Garda Síochána will be permitted to send a person aged 15, 16 or 17 into licensed premises for the purpose of seeking to purchase or being permitted to consume alcohol. Parental or guardian consent in writing will be required in all cases and all reasonable steps must be taken to protect the young person concerned. Test purchasing will apply to all categories of licensed premises and is intended to assist the Garda Síochána in its efforts to combat under age consumption of alcohol. I am hopeful that this measure will also lead to greater use of the Garda age card and to a stronger culture of compliance with provisions regarding under age persons.

Sections 12 and 14 provide, as recommended by the advisory group, for a minimum two day closure period for temporary closure orders made by the District Court on the conviction of licensees for certain licensing offences. The relevant offences include the sale of alcohol to a person under 18 and permitting drunkenness and disorderly conduct on the premises. At present, the law provides that the closure period may not exceed seven days in respect of a first such offence but it does not specify any minimum period. The advisory group refer in its report to cases where closure orders for periods of a few hours were imposed by the courts. Such closure orders do not represent an effective deterrent.

Section 15 provides for the making of regulations which may prohibit or restrict the advertising, promoting, selling or supplying of alcohol at reduced prices in order to reduce the risk of a threat to public order as well as health-related risks arising from excessive consumption of alcohol. Reduced price in this context will include the award, directly or indirectly, of bonus points, loyalty card points or any similar benefits and the use of such points or benefit to obtain alcohol, or any other product or service, at a reduced price or free of charge. Permitting excessive consumption of alcohol at events held anywhere other than in a private residence is also covered by this provision. The making of regulations at a later date to deal with these matters will facilitate advance communication of draft provisions to the European Commission under the EU standards directives.

Section 16 provides for increases in fines for certain licensing offences set out in Schedule 1. These include fines for the sale of alcohol to a person under 18, the provision of alcohol to a person under 18 years of age, for being drunk, and for permitting drunkenness and disorderly conduct on licensed premises. Section 19 provides for increases in the fines levels in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 set out in Schedule 2.

This short but strategic Bill is intended to tackle public disorder and health-related harm resulting from excessive alcohol consumption. It is a package of measures based on the reforms identified by the Government alcohol advisory group and recommended in its report. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Bill, which Fine Gael will support. The Minister indicated he expected the Bill to pass all Stages and be enacted before the summer recess but there could be a difficulty with that. On a number of occasions on the Order of Business I asked the Taoiseach and the Chief Whip about the arrangements for this. I would be anxious for every Member to have an opportunity to speak on this debate. It is not clear what function the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights might have on this. It was reported that Committee Stage may be held in a plenary session. Only two more weeks remain in this session.

There used to be a long-standing protocol that there would be a considerable lapse of time between the completion of Second Stage and the introduction of Committee Stage to allow for amendments to be prepared and a period of reflection between the two Stages. I would be surprised if that long-standing tradition is not upheld. If the Minister or the Chief Whip could tell us the proposals we could discuss it. I hope the Minister can provide us with an idea of his proposals at the completion of Second Stage.

We are into the last few weeks of the session and guillotining legislation without adequate debate means that the House may have to revisit it. Earlier this year a special measure on bail was undertaken. We were required to revisit it because we did not have sufficient time.

There is broad consensus that legislation to curb intoxicating liquor consumption is long overdue. There is a compelling case in the context of public health and public safety to limit the widespread availability of alcohol. This is not an argument in favour of a nanny State, it is an acknowledgement that the Government must protect the common good of the citizens by legislating in a responsible way. Since the beginning of this decade, the laissez-faire approach adopted by Fianna Fáil, with undoubted support from the Progressive Democrats, has been a failure when viewed through the prism of public health and public disorder.

The hands-off approach of Government is evidenced by a 29% increase in theatre licences in the past five years. There were 59 in 2002, 76 in 2007 and the Minister states that there were 80 in 2008, with a further 20 pending. In view of this the traditional character of what constitutes a theatre has changed significantly over the years. I was surprised to hear a High Court judge accept that a licensed premises where there is a disc jockey with access to a record player or a CD unit that is turned on can be regarded as a theatre for the purposes of the Act.

Younger Members of the House do not call them record players anymore.

What about gramophones?

They are making a comeback.

It is a farcical situation that any piece of music equipment connected to a loudspeaker, even a gramophone, is sufficient for a premises to be considered a theatre. Over the same period we have seen an 11% increase in special exemption orders, from 81,933 in 2002 to 91,157 in 2007. This figure is probably heading for record proportions in 2008, if I can use the word "record" in the presence of Deputy Rabbitte. The number of off-licences has trebled in the past seven years, and there is now one off-licence for every 750 adults with a total of 4,300.

We have seen a dramatic rise in alcohol consumption which, as the Minister stated, increased by 17% between 1995 and 2006. We have all witnessed the explosion in alcohol-fuelled public order offences which shot up by 60% in the past five years. The CSO figures for the past four years show a 57% rise in public order offences, with 40,380 last year; a 26% rise in assaults, from 8,248 to 10,423; and a 30% rise in four categories of assault, from 49,700 to 65,000.

In the meantime, it is remarkable the traditional public house as we know it, which for generations has provided a controlled and safe environment for people to have a social drink, has gone into serious decline and we have seen approximately 1,000 public houses close in the past three years.

We need only visit and accident and emergency unit any night of the weekend and we will see the strain being put on our already over-stretched hospital services as a consequence of abuse of alcohol. Walk through Temple Bar on a Sunday morning and witness the trail of destruction. Stand outside a nightclub before the streets have been cleaned and see the blood stains on the footpath and broken glass everywhere. Pick a secluded scenic area in any town or city and one will see piles of empty alcohol cans. Recently, in my home town of Portlaoise, the county council had to embark on the removal of park benches from all the green areas in the town because they were being used as areas of resort where alcohol was abused not only on a nightly basis but on a daily basis. The evidence of a languid and lazy Government approach towards this matter is visible everywhere.

On St. Patrick's Day, parts of west Dublin provided a rather spectacular example of where we are thanks to the ineptitude of the Executive. A total of 17 people were arrested following a day of disturbances during which seven cars were burnt, a van was petrol-bombed and a car was hijacked and its driver pulled out of the vehicle and subjected to a vicious assault.

Speaking at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference the following week, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, stated that drink had played a "considerable role" in the west Dublin violence. He stated, "I'd be very concerned about what happened in Finglas. Very young kids, 11 and ten year olds, seemed to have indulged in alcohol." The Minister admitted, "We have a problem with binge drinking in this country. This is leading to public disorder and antisocial behaviour."

Tackling underage drinking is not something high on the Government's list of priorities as the figures will testify. Only 96 prosecutions were taken in five years against off-licences, shops, pubs and restaurants for illegally supplying alcohol to under-18s while last year only 14 prosecutions were brought compared with 26 in 2003. We know young people purchase alcohol from off-licences and pubs as surveys by bodies such as the Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society have shown.

The response in this Bill includes tightening up and the concept of test purchasing. This will only work if the matter of an identity card is reviewed. I see the Minister again reinforced his confidence and that of the Government in the Garda scheme. I wonder whether this is sufficient. Should we examine the concept of a national identification card scheme for every citizen of the State irrespective of age? We can revisit this matter on Committee Stage.

I am pleased to hear the Minister engaged in a U-turn on his proposal to abolish so-called "early houses". What evidence existed to support the view that early houses contribute to civic disorder in the State? I have never seen any research, and I sought some in recent weeks, to stand up what the Minister stated and what the heads of the Bill seem to substantiate. I have not even heard much anecdotal evidence to suggest that consigning early houses to the history books will address the issues that are supposed to be informing this Bill.

Legislation allowing for early houses may sound antiquated, referring to "fairs and markets", and it is true fairs and markets are no longer the feature of Irish cultural life they were, even in the Ceann Comhairle's constituency. However, as the Minister will have been told and as his officials will have researched in recent times there remain many who work on night shifts and I contend this is most likely a demographic pattern which is growing rather than shrinking.

I met with many people and groups of varying views to hear their thoughts on this proposed legislation and those who wished to retain early houses made a reasonable case. I am glad the Minister has taken on board the submissions made to him and that he has revisited the issue. Hard evidence did not exist and targeting early houses in the Bill was a soft touch.

The Minister mentioned late-night revelling turning into early morning revelling but this belied the fact that to my knowledge those who operate early morning licences, and few enough of them exist throughout the State, have a strict policy in dealing with debs balls and the Trinity Ball in particular. I could not find much Garda evidence to suggest that late night revellers cause difficulties in areas formerly used by people indulging in fair or market activity, be it in the inner city of Dublin or elsewhere. It was a concern and I am pleased the Minister indicated his intention not to go there.

Another concern addressed by the Minister was that of smaller retailers who feel they are being blamed for all of the ills befalling the country where alcohol is concerned. A certain bewilderment exists with regard to some of the proposals contained in the Bill. Justified concerns were raised about the logistics of partitioning the premises, particularly when it may be a small corner shop in the first instance. I am pleased the Minister will revisit the proposal as outlined in section 8 of the Bill. The cost of such partitioning is a factor, particularly for those whose profit margins are tight. A significant and justified concern was raised that retailers would not be able to pay staff as a consequence.

The issue of planning was also raised as was the important consideration of the fire officer as well as the fact the legislation is somewhat unclear as to whether all premises would be subjected to the type of partition envisaged in the Bill. We will have an opportunity to deal with this on a line by line basis on Committee Stage. I would be most concerned if the legislation were subjected to a guillotine or jackhammer as we approach the summer recess. These are important issues upon which all Members of the House have a view. I contend these views should be heard.

An issue which the Minister did not clarify, and perhaps he will do so on closing Second Stage, is the question of penalties. I note there will be further development in terms of closure orders and temporary closure orders. What is not clear is whether, in the event of a closure order being made, it applies to the entire premises or to the portion of the premises in which alcoholic drink is sold. For example, practically every petrol station sells alcohol. If a temporary closure order is granted against a premises, does that mean the Texaco station will close in its entirety, thus preventing the sale of fuel, or will the order apply to the partitioned area? Given the Bill is being watered down and the partitioned area may not become a reality, where then will lie the application of the order? It probably should apply to the partitioned area but it appears the entire building is licensed and not just a portion of the premises. That is why I had the opportunity, when the advisory addressed the joint committee, to suggest consideration could be given to providing for a maximum floor area in all retail outlets in which alcohol might be sold. It should be promoted on the basis of a percentage of the floor area of the unit rather than the entire area. However, we will seek clarification on this issue of whether the partitioned area or the entire petrol station or supermarket would have to close.

There was concern about the absence of clear criteria for making an objection to an off-licence application and worry that legislating that alcohol could not be sold after 10 p.m. in stores that remain open beyond that time will lead to pressure on staff by irate customers, particularly given the proposal to partition the premises is not as it first seemed. I accept the Minister's reference to an exemption for the sale of wine and that perhaps wine might not be subject to the same controls as other alcohol products. Evidence should be adduced to show wine is fuelling civic disorder. I would not have thought so but if there is evidence to suggest this, perhaps we might hear it. Alcopops, spirits and cans are the issue rather than bottles of wine.

We must examine another issue mentioned by the Minister, which is the definition of a "specialist off-licence". The Minister made reference to the different licences and it is acknowledged that specialist off-licences are not affected by the legislation because it is reckoned they are specialist outlets that engage in an exclusive form of retailing, which is the alcohol. However, these lines are heavily blurred when one considers that the law might accept such off-licences can sell cheeses, biscuits and canned foods. One can only expect that it would be a short time before they were selling bread, butter and other consumer goods in the same way as supermarkets, corner shops or average retail outlets. I am not sure if it is fair in law to describe a specialist off-licence as such. It means one has a general off-licence but it is difficult to differentiate such an off-licence from a corner shop in the context of the products for sale.

Small retailers are concerned about their livelihood and they are concerned they will be hardest hit by the new provisions, particularly those who have expended between €150,000 and €200,000 on a licence, which is the cost at current rates. The common theme in representations I received is a concern about the lack of detail in the Bill regarding the logistics and the ramifications of what it proposes. That is why I ask that debate on the legislation should not be curtailed as we approach the summer recess. It is essential the Minister takes these concerns on board and provides comprehensive and clear detail in respect of its provisions and what it will mean when enacted. It is not unreasonable that these questions be asked. We can deal with the detail of the regulation and lead in time. At first reading, it is fine but detailed consideration will highlight difficulties.

Training of those who work in this sector and who are permitted to sell alcohol might have been a more straightforward matter to address. The advisory group recommended that adequate staff training standards be introduced and that the grant and renewal of licences be made conditional on compliance with such standards. The group said the minimum age for selling alcohol in off-licences and mixed trading premises should be increased to 21 years because it was felt if there is a considerable age gap between young persons seeking to illegally obtain alcohol and those selling it, the pressure applied to a person aged over 21 selling alcohol might not be same as that applied to someone who has just turned 18 years. The group also recommended provisions permitting the employment of 16 and 17 year olds in bars of licensed premises be reviewed. These three recommendations were totally ignored in the legislation and I would like the Minister to explain why they were not followed.

I am aware, on the basis of my former work in the courts, of the onerous workload on the District Court, in particular. Is there concern about the significant additional demands this proposed legislation places on the courts system? Taking certain licensing responsibilities away from the Revenue Commissioners and giving them to the courts makes sense in theory and I support this, but I wonder whether an examination of the ramifications of such a move has been conducted in the context of the additional resources that the District Court will require. It is vital the new responsibilities are matched by improved resources and I expect this will be acted on.

The Minister referred to public order and the Garda. With regard to the jurisdiction of the District Court to deal with licensing matters, a licensing sergeant should be appointed in each court division. Gardaí from different divisions could sit in court waiting for applications to be heard. Licensing matters could be addressed to a designated officer in each division and he or she could deal with objections and have responsibility in court for such cases.

The Minister did not address the issue of night clubs in the Bill or in his contribution. Why was the introduction of sequential closing for nightclubs not included in the Bill? It will have to be addressed in detail. There is broad support within the industry and it is logical and sensible not to have all night clubs closing their doors at the same time, giving rise to a scenario where thousands of people spill on to the streets at the same time. Sequential closing is common practice in several European countries. Current practice, particularly at weekends, is to allow tens of thousands of people to spill out onto our streets simultaneously, resulting in large queues for taxis, pressure being placed on take aways and fast food outlets, trouble and difficulty.

The Deputy has five minutes remaining.

The emergency services and the Garda are bearing the brunt. I am surprised that something like sequential closing has been overlooked. If the clubs, pubs, theatres and so on close at 2.30 a.m., 2 a.m. or earlier, difficulties will arise. The Minister is aware that the intolerable situation in Glasgow of the 1 a.m. spill-out into the streets needed to be revisited. Sequential closing must be examined. In the context of tackling civic disorder, I regret that this option has not been explored. We should revert to the issue.

Fast food outlets pose a difficulty. While I accept that they do not fall under this Bill's remit, the Minister must liaise with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this respect. Irrespective of the time at which pubs close, difficulties will remain if people can continue their night's revelling by filling those outlets and chippers.

Another issue overlooked relates to schemes allowing consumers to gain bonus points for purchasing alcohol. Rewarding people for purchasing alcohol when the purpose of the Bill is to restrict availability should be constrained.

Departments do not have a co-ordinated approach, which will be necessary if we are to tackle alcohol abuse. We are unlikely to succeed unless the Minister engages with other Departments, particularly the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Arts, Sport and Tourism, which is a movable feast. We need a programme of facilities for young people. Failure to tackle boredom in society, particularly among young people, will give rise to a situation in which the best alternative available is to resort to drink. This week in my town of Portlaoise, a skating facility for young people that had been years in the developing was removed from the local authority to house prefabs for a primary school. The school did not have adequate facilities, but where did the prefabs arrive after ten years of the Department's broken promises? They arrived on the skating facilities. This example neatly encapsulates the chaotic approach to relatively straightforward issues. I request co-ordination between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Arts, Sport and Tourism and Health and Children because such an initiative is essential.

While I welcome the legislation overall and it will be supported by Fine Gael on Second Stage, we need an opportunity to address the points raised line by line. I look forward to revisiting them on Committee Stage.

I confess to being a sceptic on this Bill. It is designed as an interim high-profile response to the public disorder resulting from binge drinking on our streets and public places. It is true that public disorder and anti-social behaviour are worse now than ever before and it is probably true that alcohol abuse is a major contributing factor to this phenomenon. Is more legislation the answer and is this legislation in particular warranted? A more considered sale of alcohol Bill is promised and it may have been wiser to await its production.

Easy access to alcohol, the proliferation of off-licences and below-cost selling probably contribute to drunkenness among teenagers and young people, but the reality may be that people, young or old, will get alcohol if they want it. Is there any evidence that the prohibitive cost of alcohol, for example, in certain fashionable establishments has led to diminished consumption? Given our apparent inability to enforce current laws, will we be able to enforce new laws? There are new powers in this Bill to move drunken youths on from a public place. Is this markedly different from the existing powers to deal with disorderly loitering?

It makes good sense to tackle the proliferation of establishments that can sell drink for off-premises consumption. I am at a loss to understand how closing early morning houses will contain drunkenness and disorder among young people who generally do not frequent those establishments, a point to which I will revert in the context of the Minister's comments. However, the pattern of recent years, particularly in the past decade, seems to have established that every Tom, Dick and Harry has been authorised to sell alcohol from every forecourt and premises with a roof. There is a suspicion that some unsavoury characters took advantage of the simple procedure to get a licence over the past decade. The renewal of authorisation seems to have been automatic unless grave breaches of the law were established, but we know that some of those establishments have been selling to under aged persons and residents associations and others know that public disorder in adjacent public spaces can often be related directly to a particular off-licence. I do not know what the practical impact of requiring the District Courts to give such permissions will be, but at least it permits some evidence to be heard as to the track record, conduct and character of the applicant.

The personal and social consequences of excessive alcohol consumption are horrific. If anyone doubts the accuracy of this description, he or she should read the recently published report, Alcohol Related Harm in Ireland. My scepticism derives not from any denial of the harm done by the abuse of alcohol, but from an absence of conviction that this societal malaise can be addressed by the enactment of more legislation. Of course there should be more rigorous regulation of the sale of alcohol and more rigorous enforcement of those regulations, but there is no logical reason for not forbidding persons under 21 years of age from purchasing alcohol from off-licences.

There ought to be traceability capable of being enforced so that the small number of regular offenders who supply alcohol to under aged persons can be shut down. If it is true that there is lack of clarity about Garda powers to confiscate drink from youths in certain circumstances, then it is right, within limits, that the Garda should have such powers.

The sickness in our society where young people drink to get drunk is more difficult to address. Why do persons at such a young age feel the need to join the binge drinking merry-go-round? Is the drink culture so all-pervasive that young people regard it as a necessary rite of passage? What blame attaches to adults if this is the case? We have an innovative and creative section of the advertising industry devoted to coming up with ever more imaginative ways to attract young people to a more glamorous lifestyle necessarily involving one brand of alcohol or another. What about parental responsibility? Are parents too preoccupied in the pub or too busy boasting about property prices in the golf club that they have no knowledge of the binge drinking habits of their offspring? As the excellent new television ad says, "when they are drinking they don't notice that I am drinking". Are older siblings purchasing alcohol for the younger members of their family without the knowledge of their parents? If the law disapproves but parents approve, who wins out? Cheating the law, presenting phoney ID, representing oneself as one's older sibling are all deemed great fun. The cumulative effect of all this is to confer approval on conduct that is considered normal behaviour in our society when the opposite should be the case. The notion that this can be policed is very doubtful if parents and sellers of alcohol conspire to make it appear normal.

Whereas I hold no brief for publicans or off-licences, we should not underestimate the impact of some of the impositions in the Bill. If one manages a convenience store, there is nothing convenient about being required to queue for a second time to purchase a bottle of wine. Nor is it insignificant for the small trader to be required to reconfigure his mixed trading premises so that alcohol sales are not only separated from other sales but that a barrier is erected thus requiring dedicated staff.

The relationship between "early houses" and rampaging youths entirely escapes me. I have a high regard for the accessible and practical insights in the report expertly prepared by Dr. Gordon Holmes and his committee, but I can discover no argument that justifies this latter recommendation.

I expect we will have greater participation in this debate by Government backbenchers than we had on the debate on Thornton Hall, the business immediately preceding this debate. It is the first occasion during my time in this House, that all Stages of a Bill were taken and not a single Government Deputy offered. When I saw the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, in the House until a few minutes ago, I assumed he would contribute, having somehow missed out on contributing to the debate on Thornton Hall, on which he made such committed pledges a little more than a year ago.

It appears we will have wider participation in this debate — perhaps that was the purpose of the Minister's interventions in that in introducing the Bill he went out of his way to tell us that he had detailed discussions with the trade bodies representing supermarkets and convenience stores and he also had detailed discussion with the "early morning houses". I commend the Minister's proactive approach. That is the way to work in our democratic system but I wish he had applied it to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. I wish he had met some of the organisations that made representations to the committee or met some of the stakeholders regarding Thornton Hall. Many advocates of reform would love to have had his ear, but for some reason he is personally available to meet the publicans regarding this Bill. It is good he corrected in the Bill some of the more crazy provisions in legislation by indicating that the separation requirement will no longer apply in the sense of the need for erecting a barrier and, consequently, the system of double queuing, separate tills and a separate set of staff. As I understand it, that is no longer a requirement. No doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong and no doubt he will a go at that anyway.

As regards the "early morning houses", it is proposed to abolish the proposal in regard to them. There will no more of that nonsense. The proposition that young people who are engaged in public disorder are engaged in it at 7 a.m. and how a proposal to address that can end up in a Bill is beyond me. I do not know how we do daft things such as that.

To be honest, I am out of kilter, I suspect, with my party and with Deputy Charles Flanagan. I find it difficult to be grave about this Bill. It is a PR stunt. Now that the Minister has gutted it, as he wisely has, very little is left in it. If the Minister is bringing forward a sale of alcohol Bill, why is there a mad rush to introduce this Bill? When I got my schedule of business I was fascinated to find that at the bottom of the list it is stated that Report Stage of the alcohol Bill will be taken will be taken next week; this was before Second Stage of the Bill was taken, not to mention Committee Stage. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked where is the protocol in this respect, which provides that at least two weeks shall elapse between the ending of Committee Stage and the taking of Report and Final Stages of a Bill. Deputy Charles Flanagan and I met the senior people in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which is always a great pleasure. They had not heard of this Bill; they had a huge legislative schedule but an alcohol Bill was not included in it. I do not know where this Bill came from and why it is so urgent as if the youth of Ireland will drink themselves to death unless it is enacted next week. Some of the youth of Ireland, unfortunately and regrettably, are drinking themselves to death, but I greatly doubt if there is much in this Bill that will stop that.

I accept that an accessible, sensible report has been prepared by Dr. Gordon Holmes and his people. I also accept that it is proper that there ought to be rigorous enforcement of the regulation of the sale of alcohol and that easy access to alcohol has to have something to do with the situation in which we find ourselves, but, I submit again, that the malaise in our society is deeper than can be addressed by measures such as this one.

I do not know what swung the Minister to abolish the proposal regarding the "early houses", the important point is that he changed his mind about it. It is important when one is wrong that one changes one's mind. I received very learned submissions on this subject, one of them drawing my attention to Kevin O'Higgins's Bill in 1927, which all but enforced the provisions of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association on all of us, but the remarkable thing is that he left the early morning houses as they were. He did not touch them in terms of the 1927 Bill. The Ceann Comhairle will be interested to hear that along with Matt Talbot, the following were brought to my attention, namely, that over the decades many of Ireland's literary greats such as Brendan Behan, Myles na gCopaleen, Patrick Kavanagh, James Donleavy and Oliver St. John Gogarty were regular early morning imbibers and incorporated that into the richness and cultural fabric of their writings. I would say it was the literary angle that swung the Minister rather than any suggestion that the publicans would have his ear. It would say it was the literary influence. The Minister is a well known abstainer and abstentionist.

I apologise, I have misjudged him. I thought his crankiness down through the years was due to the fact——

He must be an early morning man.

I reckon he does not go to bed at all.

In any event——

I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy, but it is a case of "time, gentlemen, time".

Debate adjourned.