Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome several aspects of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. We need to target the significant increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences. We must specifically examine the issue of below cost selling and special promotions. I also welcome the move to review existing sanctions and penalties, particularly those directed towards combating excessive and under age alcohol consumption.

I am not completely convinced that reducing the opening hours of certain bars will, in one fell swoop, rid us of all the modern day ills of alcohol. Many are concerned about the proposal to reintroduce closing times which they regard as an unwanted intrusion in their lives. I simply wish to voice these concerns; it is an issue on which the Give us the Night campaign has been vocal. The Government has a duty to strike a correct balance between individual freedoms and the proper regulation of the industry.

Proper planning is required, including in the area of opening hours. For example, taxi deregulation eliminated many of the queues for taxis faced by those leaving licensed premises late at night. The vast majority of those who go out late in the evening are clubbing or are, by nature, late socialisers. They go out to have a beer, listen to good music and dance. I am concerned that this group will be restricted by the 2.30 a.m. closing time. Perhaps a more sophisticated approach should be taken to closing times to ensure we do not unduly discriminate against those who wish to socialise, particularly after a hard working week.

The 1 a.m. closing rule for Sundays does not reflect the changed work environment. The large numbers working in the service and retail sectors such as cafes want to enjoy themselves as much as the rest of us. Sequential closing times of bars and nightclubs have been proposed. For obvious reasons, the alternative term — "staggered closing times" — is not considered the best use of words. Joking apart, an argument can be made for some form of sequential closing to ensure people leave premises at different times during the evening. This would relieve much of the pressure on public transport and fast food restaurants and could result in a reduction in the number of public order offences. In short, it would lead to a more orderly dispersal of people onto the streets.

Such a system could be regulated by geographical location and types of bars and nightclubs. I hope the Minister will consider such an approach. We should reflect on what works elsewhere. In Italy, for example, the level of binge drinking is perhaps 2% compared to a figure in excess of 30% here. We could learn lessons from the continental model. From my experience, having lived in Italy some time ago, there is a strong association between food and alcohol. In small bars, even those no bigger than the Dawson Lounge not too far from Leinster House, food is served at all hours of the day and night. While there has been a move towards providing more food in pubs in recent years, the shutters still tend to go down in mid-evening. If one walks into almost any Irish pub after 9 p.m. and asks for food, the chances are one will be offered nothing more than a packet of peanuts. Likewise, the later it is in the evening the less likely it is that one will have the choice of having a non-alcoholic beverage such as tea and coffee. Much could be done in this area.

The pricing structures on licensed premises need to be examined. The price of a non-alcoholic beer is frequently equal to or greater than the price of alcohol. The Minister may need to address this issue in this Bill or future legislation.

There are other matters that could be addressed, namely, the advertising of alcohol. I concur with those who argue for a blanket ban on such advertising. We have a difficulty with alcohol in this country. As a result, it should not be promoted through the medium of sports events or advertisements which, to a certain degree, glamorise it. We should reconsider the position in respect of its advertising.

While we should consider the responsibilities of the users of alcohol, we should also examine those of publicans. There is an onus on them not to serve those who are clearly intoxicated. From my limited knowledge of the Temple Bar area in the centre of Dublin, I cannot but be of the view that many publicans are disregarding this aspect of the licensing legislation, in which it is stated people who are clearly intoxicated should not be served. I am not referring to those who might be tipsy or merry. I refer instead to the many people one sees on the streets of Dublin who were obviously visibly drunk when they were served alcohol in pubs. We should take greater action in respect of this matter.

In the United States, not only the owners of public houses but also their bar staff are liable for the actions of those to whom alcohol is served. If a person knocks back three or four drinks and then drives his or her car, legal liability rests with the individual who served him or her alcohol. If we were to extend legal liability in this country, not only to publicans but also to their staff, it would concentrate their minds on the need to ensure people do not leave their premises in a state of severe intoxication. Such an extension of legal liability merits investigation.

I wish to vent my spleen on the issue of super-pubs. I reiterate that the emergence of such establishments during the past decade has led to a dramatic deterioration in the behaviour of patrons and in the quality of drinking places throughout Ireland. Small, intimate venues that were strong in heritage have been literally ripped apart in order to allow for greater amounts of alcohol to be served. Some of the pubs I frequented in my younger drinking days such as the Temple Bar and many other establishments in that neck of the woods have had their hearts ripped out and been replaced by premises with all the atmosphere of an airport departure lounge. We should reconsider those aspects of the licensing laws which allow for massive increases in the areas of public houses given over to drinking.

I am concerned by the phenomenon of "vertical drinking", whereby those who own pubs remove most of the seating on the premises, turn up the volume on the sound system, refuse to serve food and try to shove as much alcohol as possible down the throats of their patrons. This type of establishment represents a huge step backwards and is far removed from the small, intimate bar in which one can have a conversation with the owner who will then keep an eye on one and refuse to serve if one is clearly drunk.

The legislation is a step in the right direction in some respects. However, I am concerned about the proposal to reduce opening hours. Sequential closing might have a great deal to offer in combating the binge drinking culture. I have no doubt that the Minister will examine other aspects of the legislation on Committee Stage.

I thank Deputy Cuffe for sharing time. I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill.

When discussing issues such as drugs and alcohol, one always feels one is showing signs of one's age and that one sounds like one's grandmother. However, I am not going to pass up the opportunity to sound like my grandmother or the Minister of State's for that matter.

Clearly, alcohol is a gateway drug which, for young people, opens up the way to an entirely new culture. People are increasingly drinking at a young age. The difficulties we face are clear, particularly when one analyses some of the statistics. The statistics to which I refer indicate that 28% of all attendances at accident and emergency departments in acute hospitals in respect of injuries are alcohol-related, that alcohol was a contributory factor in 36% of all fatal crashes, that it was also a factor in 25% of severe domestic abuse cases and that 46% of those who had committed homicide were intoxicated.

We must, as a society, address the problems to which the consumption of alcohol gives rise. Politicians or political institutions will not be able to deal with this matter on their own. Action must be taken in consultation with parents and the Government. Everyone has a role to play. Gordon Holmes and the alcohol advisory group have done excellent work in crystallising the difficulties and challenges we face.

While it is clear that the Bill will not solve all our difficulties, it represents another step towards tackling many of the issues to which I refer. Deputy Cuffe referred to the problem of binge drinking. Such drinking is a very visible problem among young people. The introduction of alcopops such as fat frogs and others has, in the case of young people, made drinking trendy. When I was young, I did not drink. However, my friends used to hide the fact that they were drinking. They used to go to the bottom of the local field where they could not be seen or heard, except on occasion. It is almost a badge of honour now for young people to be seen walking around with bags or trays of cans of alcohol. I am concerned that it is almost trendy to be seen weighed down with alcohol on one's way to the local field, someone's house or wherever it is that young people drink these days.

During the period 1999 to 2005 the number of juvenile offences almost trebled. That is a matter of concern. I have two young children who, thankfully, have not yet reached drinking age. However, it is worrying for parents to face the eventuality of their children going off to hang out with their friends. One must give one's children a certain degree of independence but one must also know their whereabouts and have some control over them, which is becoming increasingly difficult. In certain areas of my constituency children gather each Friday evening to drink outside the shops. This is a cause of grave concern for people who live in those areas and the Garda, which is not in a position to solve the problem. This Bill will certainly make it easier to address difficulties as they arise on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening. Gardaí will now have the power to seize alcohol. The problem does not only arise in respect of young people because my age group does not set a good example for our children. In Temple Bar, adults are rolling out of pubs incoherent and unstable. That happens all over the city.

The Government needs to support cultural change through legislation, as it did in the past when drink driving was not regarded as a serious offence. The practice is now frowned upon thanks to a mixture of legislation and education. This Bill will support those who are trying to address alcohol abuse in Ireland.

Supermarkets are a serious problem in terms of below cost selling. The Competition Authority would say that below cost selling cannot be prohibited for competition reasons but when it has such a social impact we, as legislators, must override the authority's rigid adherence to the free market. Some form of regulation is needed. Petrol stations appear to be a problem in terms of easy access to alcohol. I would prefer that petrol stations sell nothing but petrol, although I appreciate the severe problems this would cause in rural areas. I am speaking from a Dublin perspective and acknowledge that many rural petrol stations have morphed into community shops and have become the centres of village life in many places. Simply banning petrol stations from selling beer would not suffice but it might be considered within city limits. In the city centre and the suburbs, the sale of alcohol in garages is clearly a problem.

I welcome the Minister's proposed changes in respect of early houses. While they may not be the place to drink fine wines, early houses play an important part in Dublin's inner city and working class communities. Many of them are frequented by taxi drivers and shift workers.

This Bill is a good step forward and I have no hesitation in supporting it.

I wish to share time with Deputies Sheehan and Perry.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this Bill as an attempt to impact on a national cultural issue which is causing severe damage across our society. However, I would prefer it to be made part a coherent Government policy across a range of Departments. It is a start in that it restricts off-sale times, requires wine licences to be granted by the District Court, provides for structural separations, CCTV, fire and safety and theatre licensing and gives gardaí powers to seize containers. It also provides for test purchasing, which is controversial in that it could be seen as entrapment. The Bill imposes a two-day closure as a minimum penalty, increases fines and gives the Minister powers to bring in restrictions on advertising, reduced prices and special deals. Part 3 of the Bill deals with public order and alcohol abuse. Age cards are an important provision in this regard.

The Bill appears to address two areas, namely, under age drinking and the abuse of alcohol by those over the age of 18. Under age drinking is an important issue. Last night, I received a letter from a constituent informing me about young people who were congregating in an area behind his house to drink out of cans and bottles. They abuse alcohol and cause public disturbances but manage to outwit gardaí by leaving as soon as the latter arrive and returning 20 minutes later.

I note what young people have to say, however. The Ombudsman for Children recently launched a report in this House which she described as a big ballot. She engaged with 74,000 young people across the country and found that they are looking for a safe place to visit. I call on the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to bring forward the provisions of the Youth Work Act 2001. Young people are calling for youth cafés in every town. They need places to socialise but in towns throughout Ireland they have nowhere to go until they are old enough for the pubs other than walking the streets or, often, drinking alcohol in the fields and bushes. We need to put a comprehensive youth service in place with trained workers who can engage with young people. The cost will be high but the overall savings will be huge.

This country is facing a health epidemic caused by alcohol abuse. Speakers on all sides of the House have noted the rampant abuse of alcohol in this country. That will have a serious impact on health in terms of liver problems and cancer.

Education in schools is important but I taught these issues for the best part of 20 years and am aware that the effect is limited because the audience is captive and takes little notice. We should consider the establishment of a proper youth service that would be integrated with health services, the justice system and the gardaí in every town and village. Trained youth workers could engage with young people and bring them off the streets and into youth centres. All they want is a safe place to sit and eat with their friends. We should provide an alcohol-free environment for young people. I do not know why that is not being provided. Many of the provisions of the 2001 Act have not yet been implemented. The Act was lauded when it was passed and the national youth development plan was introduced a couple of years later, but neither has been progressed.

The introduction of an age card is crucial. People working in off-licences and pubs should be over 21 because people under that age can come under strong pressures to serve alcohol to minors.

I call for the establishment of an office of alcohol control. The Office of Tobacco Control has been quite successful. An office of alcohol control could bring together all Departments and State agencies.

Debate adjourned.