I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This emergency Bill seeks to bring the clarity required by business, local authorities and the Garda as the Government continues to support an outdoor summer. In line with public health guidance, Government policy is to have a gradual reopening of the hospitality sector, beginning with outdoor hospitality. Unfortunately, as Deputies will be aware, due to the significant risk that the incidence of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the Government decided yesterday that the next phase of reopening will be based on a cautious approach with an emphasis on lower-risk activities. It nonetheless underlines the importance of ensuring this emergency legislation brings clarity for those pubs, bars and clubs that are in a position to provide an outdoor seating area to their customers and members.
Many of our bars and restaurants have now reopened, serving outdoors, and this is giving people a welcome opportunity to safely meet friends and family again. We want to preserve that and support those businesses in what has been an unprecedented period of challenge.
We are here today because the distinction being drawn between the liquor licence and the licence or approval or both by the local authorities for outdoor seating areas is causing a concern about legal uncertainty and enforcement. Confidence in the law and certainty is being sought by businesses, local authorities and the Garda Síochána. It is important that An Garda Síochána has clarity on its powers for public order purposes and that licensed premises owners understand their obligations to maintain order in public areas where they are selling alcohol. I want to ensure there is no uncertainty for all involved and this time-bound Bill seeks to achieve this objective.
In addition, it was agreed by Government to expedite an urgent provision on matters dealing with an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. This was originally to be accommodated in the forthcoming courts and civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill but was included in this Bill due to its speedier progression. It is an urgent matter because of the pressures on the courts due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite measures taken by the Courts Service to meet the demands placed on it during the Covid-19 pandemic, including facilitating the increased use of remote hearings, the courts and Judiciary continue to face unprecedented challenges in respect of available resources, particularly in the High Court. The existing backlog and waiting times for hearings have increased since the beginning of the pandemic and it is anticipated that there will be significant demand for access to the courts once public health restrictions are lifted. Furthermore, the difficulties facing the court have been further exacerbated by the appointment of a number of judges to various State bodies and tribunals of investigation. The President of the High Court flagged with the Government her concerns over the pressure on the courts. It should be noted that the work of the independent judicial planning working group is under way. The group is considering the number and type of judges to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years.
I thank the House for facilitating this urgent Bill. I will outline the main provisions of it. Section 1 sets out the definitions, and the key definition is that of "outdoor seating area" of a licensed premises. Part (a) of that definition seeks to ensure that where a licensed premises is operating an outdoor seating area, such areas are lawfully permitted by the local authorities. Section 254 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is the authorisation most commonly relied on. Part (b) of the definition provides for an outdoor seating areas on private land abutting a licensed premises with a number of further conditions, including ownership or other entitlement to use the land and that it is not already the subject of a licence. The number of seated patrons, that is, customers or members, who can be accommodated in the area must not exceed the number of patrons who may be accommodated in the licensed premises and the area should contain sufficient seating to accommodate this number of patrons. In addition, this cannot contain any bar area across which intoxicating liquor can be served to the public. The sale or supply of intoxicating liquor by the licensee in this outdoor seating area should not be the primary purpose of the business.
For the purposes of this legislation, section 2 facilitates the necessary linkage between the liquor licence and the permission to operate an outdoor seating area. It proposes that for the period during which this section remains in operation, such areas will be deemed to be part of the licensed premises.
Section 2(1)(a) provides clarity that no new arrangements can be interpreted as now being in place.
Section 2(1)(b) is an important provision to ensure the regulation of the licensed trade in the context of the annual renewal of licences. It outlines that failure to operate an outdoor area in accordance with the Acts shall be grounds for objection to the renewal of the licence or a certificate of registration for clubs. This shall apply irrespective of whether at the time of renewal the licensee has ceased to operate the outdoor seating area.
Section 2(3) sets out that notwithstanding the type of licence held, the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor in an outdoor seating area shall not be lawful where the intoxicating liquor is sold or supplied for consumption off the premises or outdoor seating area.
Section 2(4) seeks to bring clarity to the issue of operating hours and to ensure the use of these outdoor areas is in compliance with what has been authorised. This will allow the relevant local authorities to ensure the conditions of their permits are adhered to, where applicable.
Section 2(5) is an important clarifying provision to the effect that the temporary licensing of an outdoor seating area under this legislation shall not be taken to absolve the licensee from appropriate authorisation under planning legislation. This provision also confirms that these temporary premises do not allow for any activity in an outdoor seating area which is otherwise unlawful.
Section 3 provides the instances where a specified person on a licensed premises must comply with the direction of a member of An Garda Síochána. This power of direction operates in a similar manner to the powers provided under the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020. It also allows that where a member suspects with reasonable cause that a person is not complying with the licensing legislation, this legislation or the authorisation insofar as they relate to an outdoor seated area, the member of An Garda Síochána can direct the specified person to take the steps considered necessary to ensure compliance. A specified person, that is, a licensee, occupier, manager or any other person in charge of the premises at the time who fails to comply shall be guilty of an offence. The offences set out in this provision are liable on summary conviction to a class C fine, imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
Section 4 is the application of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 to an outdoor seating area in respect of relevant enactment. Section 5 is the extension of the application of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 to an outdoor seating area. With regard to sections 4 and 5, it is useful to understand that section 5 provides that the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 shall apply to an outdoor seating area as it applies to a relevant premises. This means that the powers of a member of the Garda Síochána under the 2020 Act to ensure compliance with the relevant Covid health regulations will apply with regard to an outdoor seating area. These powers will cease to apply when the Act of 2020 ceases to operate.
Section 4 provides that the powers of a member of the Garda Síochána under the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 to enforce the enactments specified in that Act will apply to the enforcement of the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018, the Registration of Clubs Acts, the Bill, authorisations and directions made by a member under section 3(1) as they apply to an outdoor area. This facilitates gardaí in ensuring compliance with those Acts and directions made under section 3(1) by availing of, among other things, the process outlined in the 2020 Act on temporary closure order and appeals systems. Section 4(2) expressly states that the enforcement powers under the 2020 Act will continue to apply in respect of the enactments referred to and directions under section 3(1), notwithstanding that the Act of 2020 ceases to be in operation to ensure that there is no uncertainty on these Garda powers in the operation of this Act.
Section 6 provides that an outdoor seating area on private land, as identified in this Act, is a public place for the purposes of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. Section 7 provides that the Minister may, by regulation, restrict the time period during which a licensee is permitted to sell or supply intoxicating liquor in an outdoor seating area. Any regulation made under this section shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Section 8 involves the amendment of section 9 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 to provide for an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. It provides for the maximum number of ordinary judges of the High Court to be increased by five, from 37 to 42. It also provides that the Government may, by order, allow for an additional judge of the High Court over the maximum number permitted. The Minister for Justice shall consult with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform before requesting Government to make an order.
Section 9 comprises the Short Title, collective citation and commencement. This is a technical section but I want to highlight the explicit sunset clause that it shall remain in operation until 30 November. The period of operation may be extended for such further period or periods, each not exceeding six months, as is specified in a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas.
Deputies will fully appreciate the urgency of us ensuring this legislation is enacted to give reassurance to businesses and clarity for An Garda Síochána. This is a time-bound Bill that is both proportionate and suitably extends the regulatory and enforcement powers. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to hearing from Deputies.