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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 2021

Vol. 1009 No. 5

Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Second Stage

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.

I welcome the legislation. We were all surprised a few weeks ago when it became clear that much of the work that was done by people around the country who set up beer gardens and outdoor drinking areas for which, in many cases, they received grants from the State was actually done in the absence of proper authority from the point of view that the terms of their licences did not cover it. Of course, when we spoke to people who would know this, particularly solicitors, and indeed, many vintners, they were always suspicious and asked if they were really doing the right thing. Yet, we find that the Government proposed that this was the thing to do for months without checking and ensuring that it had the legislation in place. It is late in coming but it is welcome. That is the point I wish to make in that regard.

One of the big problems we have relates to the fact that the Bill is before the House on the day after the mess we ended up in regarding yesterday's announcement, which was not an announcement all, as to what was going to happen with indoor activity in hostelries. It is clear that the big issue is not what the Government is doing, it is that the Government is not communicating with people. This is a lesson that the Minister, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and everyone involved, including the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, need to get their heads around. There needs to be clarity in order that people understand why decisions are made and what is happening. People are very intelligent. They can ascertain what is happening and why a decision is made in a particular way. Instead of that, however, the Government leads them up to the very last minute and then when they are at the top of the hill, ready to go, it says it is sorry and that it has changed its mind. It tells people it cannot proceed because of A, B and C, without at least doing the work beforehand to ensure that people understand why. That is really why there is so much anger about all of this.

As I said, it is welcome that this legislation is being put in place to make sure that people will not be breaking the law when they are trying to make a living, as many people across the country are doing, particularly in the good weather we have now. The sunset clause in the Bill is welcome, although I expect that by the time we get to 30 November, very few people will want to drink, eat or do anything else outside because it will be quite cold by then.

I wish to mention the issue addressed by amendment No. 1, which I will move on Committee Stage. This is a minor amendment in respect of the last line in section 3, which states that a "specified person" may be "any ... person for the time being in charge of the premises." That is very loose. It could well happen to be a very junior member of staff or somebody who happens to be working for a couple of hours while the person in charge or the manager is away. To hold that person legally responsible for everything that happens on the premises at that time is difficult. I suggest the Minister needs to revisit this. The purpose of our amendment is to remove that from the Bill.

The core problem when it comes to why we are here is really Covid-19. The pandemic has caused major problems for vast numbers of people and has really put us in a terrible place. As we try to move out of it, however, and as more people are being vaccinated, which is welcome, we all talk about the race between the vaccine and variant. The truth is that people need to understand why we are making these decisions. One of the problems we have is that decisions are made without people being given the opportunity to try to understand. The Government needs to start to get that right. We need to start to communicate with people. We need to start to set out in clear terms how and why certain decisions were arrived at and how and why we can change them, what levels we need to be at from both the point of view of the vaccine, the numbers we have in hospital and when we want to move on from the different levels. That has never been done. People are in the dark about that and feel very annoyed with what has happened in the past couple of days.

I have been contacted, as, I am sure, has every other Deputy in this House, by numerous people who are involved in the hostelries, pubs, bars and restaurants and by members of the general public who are annoyed and frustrated.

They cannot understand why we are different from everywhere else in Europe. There must be some clarity in this regard. It is one of the points the Minister needs to take from this debate and from what has been a very bad week for the Government. She needs to step up to the mark in communicating clearly with people. If she can do that, she will find she at least enjoys some respect from people regarding the decisions being made. The Government certainly is not enjoying that respect at the moment. This is a pity as we all need to work together to get ourselves over the problems we face with the Covid-19 issue.

The intent of this Bill, which thankfully is time-limited, is welcome, not just for addressing a legal lacuna that was pointed out by An Garda Síochána but in giving certainty to the hospitality sector. Certainly, over the past few weeks, there has been much confusion, particularly in Killarney, as to what was contained in the town by-laws, which included a 100 m rule, as against the new regulations. Unfortunately, certainty has been in precious short supply and many of the other farcical decisions made by the Government have caused a great deal of damage, division and misunderstanding.

It was bad enough when it became clear that the unvaccinated would be asked to work serving the vaccinated, as many hospitality and retail workers will not be offered the vaccine in time. Some of these young people, having worked in a restaurant all night, will not be able to join their vaccinated colleagues for a drink at the end of the night. Now it seems, under section 3(10)(d) of this Bill, that a young person who is covering a lunch break for an hour or two and who fails to produce the authorisation demanded by An Garda Síochána, could be arrested without warrant and possibly could face up to six months in jail. That is something workers will have to take into consideration with their employer. For nearly 18 months, young people have not been able to attend college, socialise, play outdoor sport or attend a match. In some cases, when they tried to socialise outdoors, they were met with members of An Garda Síochána's public order unit. After all of this, the message to them is that if they do not have the vaccine, they cannot socialise indoors but they must work indoors unvaccinated. Given that young people are more likely to occupy less senior roles and do low-paid work in pubs, and are less likely to own or manage those pubs, they are at risk of arrest, as defined in the Bill. While I support the vaccination programme, we are not going to get to sufficient immunity cover and the uptake we need through the creation of a two-tier categorisation of persons. However, given the record of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in this regard, perhaps we should not be surprised.

We agreed to the Bill being waived through pre-legislative scrutiny but, once again, the Government is being caught flat-footed by very foreseeable developments, this time in regard to the fears around the Delta variant. The need for this legislation has a solid legal basis but, as we have heard from expert witnesses at the justice committee over the past year, the Government has often blurred the lines, whether deliberately or accidentally, between what are legal obligations and what is health advice. A Private Members' motion my colleagues and I moved would have gone some way towards addressing this by requiring the Government to bring regulations under the relevant legislation before the House for scrutiny prior to their being enacted. The problem goes beyond the confines of parliamentary scrutiny. We have had answers given during press conferences not appearing in Government advice, omissions from Government advice and poor promotion of what restrictions are currently in effect or the rationale for them.

All of this continues to be a problem. We saw that today with the announcement regarding the numbers to be allowed to attend matches. This provision has been brought forward from midnight on Sunday to Saturday morning and should, in my view, be brought forward further to facilitate League of Ireland games, which take place on Friday nights, having an expanded number of fans in attendance. Surely the Government has some idea about the spread of the virus from what has been going on at matches around Europe over the past six months? We have been calling for changes in this regard, given that the matches take place outdoors. The UK has seen 50% capacity at games. In Denmark, 11,000 people have been allowed to attend matches. Why is NPHET not releasing the data on outdoor sports fixtures if it needs to justify the small numbers being allowed to attend matches in this State?

There are other aspects of the Bill that are concerning. The expansion of the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, for instance, could have been fleshed out a little more. Overall, however, the intent of the Bill is good and it will help to address the legal lacuna identified by An Garda Síochána. We will deal with that at a later stage.

I said on 21 June that a plain reading of the licensing laws would indicate that serving alcohol in the new temporary areas on streets and public spaces that have been set up for pubs is not permitted, despite local authorities granting permission for it. I also said that both the Garda and publicans and restaurateurs need certainty in this regard. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, said that same day, in essence, that she had talked to the Garda Commissioner and that discretion would be applied. For weeks, the Government talked about an outdoor summer, with outdoor dining a key strategy of facilitating a summer in Ireland in Covid times. Dining outdoors was to be the hallmark of the summer but the Government did not bother to ensure its clear national strategy was lawful. The State invested €17 million to provide for temporary spaces and to make this policy a reality. Local authorities set about designating areas and providing grants for outdoor furniture, canopies etc. for restaurants and pubs. It did not take long for the Minister's strategy to change from one of saying the Garda would look the other way to one of stating we should fix this legal difficulty that needs to be properly addressed. I welcome the presentation of this Bill, although it should have been envisaged and presented well before now.

The Government decision to allow only those who are fully vaccinated to partake of indoor dining will significantly undermine public confidence in the overall health measures that are still required to keep people safe, probably more so than ever in the context of the Delta variant. We must explain what is being done and bring people with us. That surely is the message of the past 18 months. With its notion of separate categories of vaccinated and unvaccinated, the Government is offloading responsibility to restaurateurs and publicans to separate customers, potentially dividing families or groups of friends. The requirement for certification will cause confusion and create a burden and angst for restaurateurs and publicans, who have already been crucified for the past 18 months. All the while, these same sectors will depend on unvaccinated younger staff to serve customers. If the Government wanted to create a point of conflict, it has done so here. In simple logic, the notion of a young person who is unvaccinated being expected to work for six or seven hours on five or six days of the week in a pub but not being allowed to go into the same pub on his or her day off for fear of being contaminated, after spending the whole week in it, makes no sense. We must anchor our strategy in sense and bring people with us.

Then there is the anomaly whereby in-house dining for guests of hotels has been available, lawfully and properly, since early June. In effect, the message is that if people pay for an overnight stay in a hotel, then the health difficulties evaporate. That cannot be the basis of a sound health strategy. I know these are difficult decisions for the Government. No one is suggesting anything else. However, the public wants common sense and clear explanations based on medical advice. At the same time, such advice is not dogma, as we have seen. For example, in the six months since AstraZeneca was made available in this country, it was not initially forbidden by NIAC to be given to the over-70s, then it was only to be given to the over-60s, after which it was not to be given to the under-50s. Now we are told it can, in fact, be given to people aged under 50.

Originally, a second dose would be given after only 12 weeks. Then it was 16 weeks, then eight weeks and now apparently it is four weeks. Medical advice, therefore, is not dogma. The Government will rightly say the advice changes because the circumstances change but in any other sphere of public policy that many changes would temper a government's dependence on the correctness of advice given and it would ensure such advice was very carefully evaluated in the context of all other issues, including external advices and what is happening in other jurisdictions.

On AstraZeneca, I should also state that three quarters of the 60- to 69-year-old age cohort have received only one dose to date. That is a fact. Three quarters of those in that vulnerable age group have received only one dose and are consequently only 30% protected against the Delta variant. That is a fundamental failure of Government policy. The US Centre for Disease Control, CDC, in data published on 24 June, set out the ratio of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 by age. Compared to the 18- to 29-year-old cohort those aged between 65 and 74 years are six times more likely to be hospitalised and a staggering 95 times more likely to die. That is worth reflecting upon. Those aged between 50 and 64 years are four times more likely to be hospitalised and 35 times more likely to die of Covid in comparison to 18- to 29-year-olds. Despite this, three quarters of people in that age cohort, who are multiple times more vulnerable to hospitalisation and death, have not been vaccinated while younger cohorts have. Since Government policy from the outset of this has been based on age and vulnerability, that is surely a monumental failure.

Returning to the specifics of the Bill, there must be a general tidy-up of the interaction of the overall legislative framework and the powers, and indeed actions, of local authorities in relation to by-laws. I previously stated that on the plain reading of it, it was unlawful to do what the Government had intended to do, that is, to have outdoor dining and simply colonise streets, pavements and so on and say they are now licenced areas. They patently could not be because the law did not provide for it. It hopefully will after the enactment of this legislation. However, we should consider the by-laws. In some case the by-laws enacted by, for example, Dublin City Council, contradict the basic law enacted by the Oireachtas and that is not lawful. Councils cannot enact by-laws where there is extant basic law. As such there is a general need for a tidy-up in this area and it might be something the Minister will reflect and comment on. I am not suggesting it can be done on an emergency basis but we must have clarity so we know what is within the purview of local government and what is within the purview of the Oireachtas. Local authority by-laws are made under section 199 of the Local Government Act 2001 which sets out the conditionality under which those by-laws can be made.

I will comment on a final issue in the few minutes I have, which incidentally is not a great way of making law either, emergency or otherwise. I refer to the bolting-on to what one might say is a non-controversial issue of a separate legislative measure. This is the second time it has happened in the justice area that we have an agreement to take an emergency measure to deal with a specific bespoke problem we all agree must be dealt with speedily and now bolted on is another matter, in this case an increase in the number of High Court judges by five or perhaps six. That is not something that should be bolted on to an emergency measure. Let us deal with that in the ordinary way. If it takes another couple of months then so be it but let us have the rationale for that spelled out and let us have a debate about that. We are making law and it cannot simply be a matter of saying we have a fast vehicle now and the Houses of the Oireachtas have said this is an emergency measure so let us throw in something additional to it, however meritorious the particular issue. I obviously will not oppose it but if there are other measures to come through by agreement without pre-legislative scrutiny on an emergency basis let it be for the topics that are agreed and not for additional ones.

As the Minister might remember, I rang her when this issue became a very hot issue in Galway. We had a good conversation about it and I really appreciate the fact that she came back to me very promptly. I was of the view from the beginning that looking for discretion is a bad policy in law and that the best way to sort out this is the way the Minister is doing it, by bringing in the legislation and having no uncertainty about what is going to happen. I say that on two grounds, the first being that I knew where the issue had stemmed from and knew the circumstances various people were trying to deal with, including An Garda Síochána, and knew the competing demands from different sections of society. The other reason is that it is untidy. I believe in discretion in some circumstances but I do not believe in a discretion where one person applies it one way and another applies it another way. I would like to think when people use discretion most reasonable people would have applied it the same way in the same circumstance. I welcome this prompt action by the Government to deal with this issue and bringing certainty to it.

I got this Bill only in the afternoon and was busy all day at committees. I take it on a very quick reading of it that basically, the area immediately abutting a licenced premises de facto becomes part of that premises and therefore alcohol can be served there in the normal way, subject to keeping the normal order a person would keep within his or her licenced premises. My understanding is that in Galway there is a general prohibition in by-laws on drinking in the street. I presume without changing the by-laws that these particular areas are now covered by the primary legislation which would trump any by-law made by the local authority. However, that issue needs to be clarified so we are absolutely clear. I have understood from the very beginning that statute law always trumps any by-law. That clarity may be supplied by the Minister in her reply. She might state that a council cannot now make a by-law making it illegal to drink when a person is served on what seems to me, based on a very quick perusal of this Bill, to have become de facto part of the licenced premises.

Any of us who have been in Government, including the previous speaker, will have had the experience where, in the morass of legislation in this field - there is a huge amount of it - some detail gets overlooked. These things happen, and even the most expert people can often find differences in the law and there can be arguments about interpretation and so on. It is difficult to foresee every problem but what is much more inexcusable is to not deal with a problem once it has arisen. I say fair play to the Minister, this issue has been dealt with expeditiously, will bring certainty to this issue and allow us to close this chapter of the book. It is a very minor ripple that has been dealt with expeditiously and we should not get overexcited about it because it is now solved, or will be once the Minister gets the Bill through the Houses.

The Bill before the House is legislation that will place parameters on outdoor dining and drinking. It also outlines what constitutes an area for the provision of outdoor dining and drinking and what street furniture is permitted.

We do not oppose this Bill but I must mention the fiasco of the Government announcement yesterday that has caused so much anger and concern about the proposed resumption of indoor hospitality. The idea that indoor hospitality services will only open to those who have been vaccinated will create a two-tier society. As matters stand, a 20-year-old can eat and drink in an outdoor setting but cannot do so in an indoor setting. It is like a perverse Lanigan's Ball - she stepped out but she cannot step in again. The same 20-year-old can work in an indoor setting, serving food and drink, but God forbid she might want to socialise in the same indoor setting outside working hours. Our young people have been to the forefront in this pandemic and although I can give them a round of applause in this Chamber, I cannot buy them a round of drinks in their local pub. This is just bonkers. Members of the public have played their part in suppressing this virus but the Government must repay this hard work with common sense and pragmatic solutions. The facade of a mantra that we are all in this together has just gone out of the window over the past couple of days.

I welcome the legislation and acknowledge the urgency with which it is being brought forward. We did not object to the waiving of pre-legislative scrutiny for that reason but I agree with Deputy Howlin on the tacking on of other matters. It is not the right way to proceed and it is disingenuous to presume we would even know this would happen.

The urgency needed to pass this Bill is indicative of the absolute lack of preparation for an outdoor summer. It should not have taken businesses and gardaí raising the matter for the problem to become obvious. The licences are granted based on the floor space of a premises and in some places around the country, there are by-laws. I was involved in the making of by-laws in one of the local authorities of which I was a member for some years. Making such by-laws is about trying to achieve a particular outcome in public parks, etc. I do not understand why there would have been confusion about that as such by-laws are not in operation everywhere. I am not sure why it was not considered that the issue is with liquor or licensing laws when such a large investment was being made from the public purse, welcome as that was.

There was confusion among those who were trying to manage the open spaces and there was also understandable confusion caused for gardaí as to what discretion could be used. It can cause all sorts of problems when the law is not clear and gardaí are expected to enforce the law. This legislation has been introduced to cover a particular period, which is understandable, but until everybody is vaccinated, nobody is safe. We know variants can appear and I suspect this is something that could become an established pattern. We should consider this for the foreseeable future at least, which may stretch to the next few years.

As long as outdoor seating is done safely, it does not obstruct footpaths but consideration must be given to people with disabilities and those pushing prams, I see no reason why the improvements in our cities and towns might not have some degree of permanence about them. I have gone to places such as Germany in the winter where there is much dining al fresco despite the fact that the climate is not particularly warm then. We should think this out a little bit.

Section 2(3) appears to ban the sale of takeaway alcohol in outdoor seating areas. It states, "in respect of a licensed premises, 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." What is the thinking behind this? Would people be able to buy drink around the corner in a supermarket, for example? Some of the pubs, for example, have been providing takeaway drinks for months without issue. Do people now have to go inside or is that banned as well?

There was advice from NPHET yesterday on indoor drinking. The Government has made a very big mistake here. What is proposed is impossible on a practical level. I will not even call it a plan because the Government does not really have a plan. This is creating an unacceptable division and the plan is unethical. I wonder if it is lawful. That kind of division in society is completely unwarranted. We were all in this together 15 months ago and now, a considerable period down this road and after learning much, we are dividing society in a very dramatic way. The Taoiseach had previously ruled out the use of domestic vaccine passports on civil liberty grounds but the idea is now meant to be introduced. How prescriptive was the advice from NPHET? I have been reluctant to criticise NPHET because it has given much good and well-thought-out advice. This seems to be so prescriptive, however, that it strays into the political sphere in a very dramatic way. It is very problematic.

On the proposed addition of a number of judges to the High Court, I accept there is likely to be a backlog of cases, which is not desirable. Is it likely this number will be required into the future? Do we know that? The Minister indicated in her speech that it could be noted the work of the independent judicial planning working group is under way and the group is considering the number and type of judges that would ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years. Is this likely to be a temporary addition? These are permanent posts but it would have been very useful to have had a discussion in advance of legislation and an outline of what will happen. It is not the way this should be done.

If there is a possibility of bringing forward the administration of vaccines, it should be done. The situation with vaccines throughout the country is quite mixed. For example, a person aged 40 in my area is unlikely to have been vaccinated yet but people in their late 30s who live in other parts of the country have been vaccinated. There is much frustration about that and people do not know when they will be called. It may well be that there are insufficient vaccination centres or perhaps times must be extended to take account of discrepancies.

I spoke to a young woman with cystic fibrosis earlier today and she was really unhappy that the advice is not to mix the vaccines. Mixing vaccines would give her the best possible outcome. Her first dose was of the AstraZeneca vaccine and there was a good report last week, which was not really publicised in this jurisdiction, on the mixing of vaccines. We must find out what will happen in that regard.

It may be that we are exposing people who are more vulnerable to a double dose of a vaccine that is perhaps less valuable, even if it is only marginally less valuable. All the vaccines are very good and I am not trying to do it down but it seriously needs to be looked at urgently.

The decision yesterday also needs to be revisited and looked at urgently. There is a meeting today with some of the industry representatives, but this is not just an industry issue. This is a societal issue. We are in this together and we should come out of it together. We should not create that kind of discrimination. It is very difficult to even figure out how it would work. Families do not come in one size, they are mixed in ages. Many people will go on staycations here. The people in the caravan parks will be treated differently to those who can afford a hotel. The complications of this are widespread but the lack of social solidarity is a significant issue and the Government needs to go back urgently to look at this again. This is not acceptable on any level.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I commend the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on bringing forward the Bill. Many individuals thought that by An Garda Síochána exercising its discretion, we could overcome the problems that have been outlined in this legislation. It is preferable, however, to have certainty on the issue. When a publican or a restaurant is granted a licence to sell alcohol, the permission they are granted is to sell alcohol on their premises. This means that if a pub at the top of Harcourt Street has a licence to sell alcohol there, it does not mean that an individual can buy alcohol there and drink it at the bottom of Harcourt Street. What prohibits this are the by-laws in place in Dublin city that prohibit the drinking of alcohol in public places. The Bill is, therefore, highly appropriate. I commend the Minister on bringing certainty to the issue by enacting this legislation here today.

Great measures have been taken by local authorities around the country to ensure hospitality businesses can be conducted outside and the effect of the legislation will be to enable this business to be done legally and lawfully. It means that if a person has a licence to sell alcohol from a public house, then individuals can drink outside that public house on tables and chairs provided that they have been licensed by the local authority.

It is now more than three weeks since outdoor hospitality commenced. It has gone extremely well. It has been very effective in Dublin. The industry, the local authorities and the Government have replaced disorganised socialising with organised socialising. They need to be commended on the work they have done. One can see it any time when walking through the city. A great deal of the antisocial behaviour we saw in the city prior to the reopening of hospitality out of doors is now being reduced significantly.

We also need to recognise that the hospitality industry needs to have our support. It is getting support here by the enactment of this legislation. We have not had an opportunity to discuss and debate the issues that arose yesterday in respect of the hospitality industry but I would like to see that process expedited. It is important for the hospitality sector that it is not placed with all of the responsibility for any risk that arises with regard to the pandemic into the future.

I would like to deal with a specific issue raised with me repeatedly by constituents who have sent me emails yesterday and today, which concerns the cancellation or postponement of confirmations and communions. They had already been postponed on a number of occasions. I was speaking with one grandmother today who told me her granddaughter had to have clothes bought again for her since she had grown out of the clothes that had been bought for the previous planned communion. I would ask that the Government could look at this. There must be creative ways by which this matter can be resolved in order that we can facilitate such communions and confirmations. We are all aware of what we are told is the risk in respect of statistics and modelling by NPHET but it is the responsibility of the Government to come up with solutions for issues such as this. These are very important social development issues for people in our society and we must be seen to try to facilitate them

I commend the Minister on the Bill. It will bring great clarity to the area of the sale of licensed alcohol in the near future.

I commend the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. I also commend everybody involved in putting in place over recent weeks the infrastructure that has allowed outdoor hospitality and outdoor dining to become a reality. Any of us who have walked through the streets of Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Cork or any city, town or village, will have seen the pop-up infrastructure in place and people dining outdoors in a controlled environment, which is always better than uncontrolled environments. It is a very welcome addition and weather permitting, I would hope to see it become a permanent feature during the summer months over the next years. It brings a vibrancy to towns, villages and city centres that adds real value. This is something to be positive about.

I am concerned about the lack of certainty in respect of the wider reopenings for indoor hospitality. I fully accept that this is tough for everybody. I get it that the Government must make tough decisions. We in Opposition are also being asked hard questions. The people who are living with the consequences of a lack of action are the restaurateurs, the publicans, the staff, young people and people who might become victims of what could be a very unfair solution put in place. Every option has to be on the table. We need the Government to now come back with a plan that provides certainty on when we can see reopenings for everybody. Antigen testing should be on the table. The key to all of this is the vaccine roll-out. We need to see an updated vaccine roll-out plan delivered by the Government as quickly as possible. That is the key to unlocking all of this.

I believe this to be a very poor approach by the Government. There is something quite undemocratic about an approach that takes a Bill to do with licensing, outdoor drinking and so on and that includes in that Bill an increase in the number of High Court judges. It means that it is not the focal point of the debate and discussion. Something that is not urgent and which should be part of a proper discussion is being stuck into urgent legislation. It is a very poor approach by the Government.

On the thrust and the main essence of this legislation, we agree that dealing with this issue is necessary. It is a sign of an extreme lack of preparation, not just pre-pandemic as this pandemic has been with us for more than one year, that we need legislation to deal with this to ensure there are no legal issues with people drinking in these extended outdoor areas. This legislation is necessary but we should have done it a year ago, in advance of summer 2020, as opposed to summer 2021. Here we are, yet again. We agree that this is welcome, it being an outdoor summer and all of that. There is a tendency, however, for this outdoor summer to be out of doors in privatised spaces where one must pay for an alcoholic drink, a coffee or whatever to be able to be there. There is a real lack of focus by the Government on providing public common spaces where anybody can go without payment to a private business. This has been encapsulated in quite an extreme way with the square at Portobello. I was also in St. Stephen's Green one day recently and all of the bandstands are currently closed up. These obvious and safe places for people to gather and to be outside are closed off for people. While I am in favour of facilitating businesses having the outdoor spaces, it is a very poor approach to facilitate only businesses that provide such outdoor public spaces and that the State would not provide quality public common spaces.

Such spaces include public parks. There have been some improvements in some parks but we still have issues relating to an ongoing lack of investment in capital facilities over an extended period and in the recruitment of staff, such as park rangers. We have issues with bins overflowing and an absence of toilets and public seating places in many of our parks. Over a year into a pandemic, this is not what we should be facing.

On the broader issue, which clearly is a focal point of this discussion, there has been much nonsense spoken both inside and outside the Dáil over the past 24 hours. People have been giving the impression that we should have just ploughed on and opened indoor hospitality on 5 July and everything would have been fine. Here, many backbench Government Deputies have been engaging in it as well as others. They have been saying we should have just ploughed ahead. If we check the record, we will see they are the same people who last October and November were saying it was outrageous and that we should have been opening up hospitality. The reopening happened at the end of November and in the early part of December and it had consequences. People can read the contribution sent by Deputy MacSharry to the Taoiseach in October, when there were 1,000 cases a day. Eventually, the advice given and pressure exerted by those to whom I refer was heeded by the Government. We opened up and 1,000 people died in January and a further 1,000 died in February. There is a correlation between these two things. The reopening of hospitality was a disastrous decision that resulted in many lives being lost.

It is true that it would not be the same if we reopened on 5 July. It would not be the same because vaccination would take the edge off it. However, we must also recognise where we are at. We are behind the North, England, Scotland and Wales in vaccinations. The majority of people in the South have either had one dose of vaccine or have not been vaccinated. This means they are quite vulnerable to the Delta variant. Again, the most vulnerable have been vaccinated but not all of them have been fully inoculated as a result of the gap between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Even if we are speaking about younger people, we are still talking about hospitalisation, long Covid and either hundreds or more than 1,000 deaths as a result of the decision to open up and let it rip.

This is not an abstract discussion. We can look north. In the North, we can look at the date that indoor hospitality was opened and ten days later we can see sharp increases, which are continuing, in the numbers of cases and hospitalisations. These will likely translate into increased deaths in the coming period. To have opened up on 5 July would have been a disastrous decision. We have no alternative but not to open up. The consequence of opening up would not only have increased the numbers of cases, long Covid, hospitalisations and deaths, but would also likely have caused a need to go into reverse and begin to close things down, not only indoor hospitality but probably also outdoor hospitality. This is the reality of what going down that road would have meant. It is not a road the vast majority of people would want to go down. People really could not stomach going into another lockdown.

I want to make a point on the outsized role played by business owners and the owners of restaurants and pubs in public debate. There is no question that they should be listened to and there is no question that they should be part of the debate. There is no question the Government should be taking measures to ensure small pub and restaurant owners are not impacted badly by this but I want to know where are the workers' representatives? Did the Government meet workers' representatives today? Where are the workers in the media? Where are the young workers who will be asked in the Government's scenario to come in and serve vaccinated and unvaccinated people and put themselves significantly at risk? The idea of opening, with unvaccinated young people being asked to serve the vaccinated, simply will not work. It is not a workable option.

There was an alternative. Nobody else in the Dáil or in politics was calling from it apart from the socialist left. More than one month ago, People Before Profit warned that we were in a race between the variant and the vaccine. Not only did we give a warning, we provided an alternative and a way of avoiding the situation and getting ahead in the race, which would have been to move to mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from England, Scotland and Wales a month ago. If we had done this we could have protected our reopening and we possibly could have gone ahead with 5 July. However, the Government did not go down that road. In effect, it accepted it was inevitable that the Delta variant would spread and that we could not even slow it down and give our vaccinators a chance to get on top of it.

This morning, I raised the following point with the Tánaiste at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is quite incredible that we are more than a year into a pandemic and that the Government's plan is to open up and compel unvaccinated young workers to go into hospitality settings and serve people while there are no legally enforceable guidelines on ventilation. The thing we have learned about Covid over the course of the past year is how airborne it is and how important ventilation is. The Tánaiste admitted that there are no enforcement mechanisms. We have voluntary guidelines for indoor hospitality issued by Fáilte Ireland and the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, in conjunction with the HSE. We have a new version of the work safely protocol. We have many references to good things that should be done in terms of ventilation but they have no legal basis. They are just a collection of voluntary public health advice. We should have maximum CO2 levels laid down in law and monitored. Let us provide or subsidise CO2 monitors for pubs, hotels, restaurants and all the rest, and then monitor them and state the levels have to be below a certain point and proper ventilation measures have to be put in place. It is somewhat incomprehensible that we have reached this point and we do not have a law on ventilation, particularly when one considers how important it is for workers' health and safety.

It is vital for communities throughout the country that the uncertainty around the lawful sale and consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas is addressed and clarified so this part of our hospitality sector can restart doing as much business as the rules allow. It is also important that the obligations of the licensees of these premises are upheld and the contents of the Bill also deal with this. It is also important that outdoor seating, whether for pubs, restaurants or cafes, is facilitated as much as possible, given the last minute upheaval the Government has started with this week's announcement.

In my locality of Cashel and Cahir in Tipperary, we have seen some of the vibrancy of these towns return. The continuation and support for this vibrancy is crucial given that the towns have a heavy reliance on the tourism industry, which has been severely curtailed and much uncertainty remains. I commend each and every business that is putting its best foot forward and going to great lengths to add colour and vitality to the towns. They are working in a highly responsible way and should be facilitated as much as possible. What we have seen this week has been nothing short of disgraceful and penalises the hospitality sector for the Government's failure to devise contingency plans. It also penalises the young people that the Government expects to work in the very premises in which they will be prevented from socialising. This is mixed and confused messaging to the maximum. So much has been asked of people over the past year and it is not good enough the Government failed to plan even though it knew of the growing threat of the Delta variant. The way the Government has treated these businesses and our young people the length and breadth of the country is nothing short of disgraceful and reinforces Sinn Féin's opinion that it is out of touch with how to deal with the pandemic.

I welcome the legislation. Yesterday, less than a week before the hospitality sector was due to open, the Government announced that reopening indoor dining would be postponed for an unknown period and that it would let people know in the next couple of weeks when it will reopen.

Does the Minister realise that people's livelihoods are at stake, including those of families? I have spoken to people today whose mental, financial and emotional health are in ruins as a result of the Government's decision. We are 15 months into a pandemic. We knew we would be faced with variants and vaccine delays. The Government should have had a plan B and a plan C but it did not have one. We could see what was happening in England with the Delta variant. Why were contingency plans not put in place? Why was more not done to prepare for this?

The hospitality sector does not want to hear about hypothetical Covid-19 passes. It does not want more flawed ideas. This Government should be ashamed of the way it has treated the sector and is treating the families and individuals involved. They deserve to be treated with respect and fairness. The lives of many of them lie in ruins today.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Kerry. The Government and the Minister are behind the curve again with this Bill to legalise outdoors drinking. I welcome that but the Government was wrong and not at the races when it advised people to drink outside when there was no law to ensure it was legal. I submitted a parliamentary question last October asking whether the law had changed or was going to be changed in relation to outside drinking. On our licence it states we are licensed to sell beer and tobacco to be consumed on the premises. Nothing could be clearer than that. Members of the Government were not aware of that until the Garda in Galway woke them up and they decided to do this. Now we are voting to appoint judges as well. Why could there not be a separate Bill for that?

I welcome what many pubs have done. They have spent a great deal of money to provide outdoor seating and umbrellas to keep people comfortable. I am glad what they are doing now will not be treated as illegal and they will be operating legally. However, I see this will mean off-licences will also be allowed to sell drink for consumption in public places. That is what is happening. At the same time, owners of indoor hospitality businesses will have to keep looking out the window and not letting anyone in. These are small pubs, restaurants and cafés that have given great service over the years, some going back three, four or five generations of families.

I do not understand where the Government was at. Where has the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, been for the past number of weeks? He was clearly absent and not at the wheel. It now seems that Dr. Tony Holohan and his outfit run the country and dictate what must happen.

Groups of people, even from Kerry, are travelling up the North of Ireland for stag parties and other occasions. What is different about the Six Counties? We are not going to Europe at all. The rest of Europe and the world is open but the Twenty-six Counties will not be open. According to George Lee, we will not be let open until after October. The Government is asking the vintners today to provide a plan. What good is asking them now when the decision has been made? The Government made the decision yesterday to keep small hospitality services closed indefinitely. That is wrong. There is a suggestion that young people have to be vaccinated but there are no vaccines to be got. It is very unfair.

People who owned pubs, restaurants and cafés for generations have their heads down today and are disappointed. Many people around the country are thinking the same way. They feel the Government is inept, not at the wheel and not in charge. I agree with them. It is a disaster to do this to hard-working people who were the pillars of society and gave to charities and provided sponsorships over the years. They have been totally let down. The longer they are kept closed - and it looks like the Government will keep them closed for a long time - the more of them will never reopen. It is a sad day for people in Scartaglen, Gneevegullia, Currow, all those fine places, back around Sneem and the Inny Tavern.

This is like playing Russian roulette. The last 15 months have been a torrid and horrible time. I listened to Deputy Howlin and other speakers. I bow to Deputy Howlin and his vast experience of doing legislation in this House. This is ham-fisted and a shambles. The Minister has been foisted on the Department of Justice as well as having her existing portfolio. Whether she sought it, I do not know. We wish the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and her family the best.

I was not foisted anywhere.

That is fine. I do not mean that literally but the Minister knows well what I am trying to say. It has been extraordinary. I said today when I left the Cabinet room - Deputy Howlin or Deputy Kelly may have been there - that at the first meeting we were called into when this happened, I staggered out of the room in fear because of the predictions from NPHET. Thank God and thanks to our HSE and front-line staff, they did not materialise. Every prediction NPHET has made has been like doomsday and has been proved utterly wrong, false and fake. The one it came up with this week beat all others out. It had a latitude in the middle of the scenarios of a multiple of ten. The worst case scenario was 7,500 cases and the most optimistic scenario was 800. There is a whole ocean in between, the distance from Mizen Head to Malin Head. What is NPHET playing at? It plays it safe, and takes a belt and braces approach. It has the nobblers on the Cabinet, the Taoiseach and the Government. That is good enough for them because they handed control over to NPHET. The former Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the current Taoiseach handed the reins of power to an unelected cabal. Now there is another cabal behind them, namely, the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC. They will probably think of another one when they try to cover their tracks and give it another acronym.

This legislation is needed. I have saluted and supported An Garda Síochána all my life but they have been put in an invidious position. The county councils were given grants. My daughter, who is a councillor, and many others helped businesses to get grants to take away parking spaces and provide outdoor eating spaces. The Garda was told to give a wink and a nod. I thought those days were gone. There was no legislation so members of the Government are fumbling, mumbling, stumbling and meandering from crisis to crisis. They do not have a clue what they are at. It is a shame; we are supposed to be legislators. We are legislating this evening after the fact, trying to close the door when the horse has bolted, gone around the racecourse five times and is ready to go off the race and maybe jump a few hurdles.

Members of the Government are jumping to whatever height NPHET tells them. Then they are asking to go higher and raise the bar. To make this legislation better, they throw in the middle of it a provision to increase the number of judges from 37 to 43. We are told they are ordinary judges. I do not know who the extraordinary judges are. I thought that in our democracy most of them were meant to be ordinary, and of and by the people.

It is scandalous that the Government would include in this legislation the appointment of extra judges in the middle of what I have called a "plandemic" since last April 12 months. No doubt, they will be thoroughly vetted and have good Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael genes. I am sure the Green Party will have a judge, too. I mean no disrespect to any of them and I hope they do a good job but, as we know, justice is not being served well by some judges. We saw the charade after "golfgate". I wish Mr. Justice Woulfe well. He was finally let in, but the others did not want him for so long it was as if they had said, "We are all in this together but we do not want you." Now he is sitting with them, though. I do not know how justice was being served by the stand-off with the others.

Do we have a complaints procedure now? As of tomorrow, 1 July, can we make a complaint about a judge? The procedure has been delayed and prevaricated about for nearly two years since the legislation was introduced by the then Minister, Mr. Shane Ross, and passed. Will we be able to make a complaint tomorrow if we feel there has been a miscarriage of justice? Obviously, it would have to be proved. Will that procedure finally be open or will the Government find some other cloak and dagger way of stifling it, and then to hell with it?

Justice is not being well served. I spoke to a constituent of the Minister's last week whose son had been mown down by a criminal with several convictions, carried 200 yd on his bicycle and killed. He was Shane in Monaghan. The Minister knows who that is. It will shortly be ten years since his death, but there has been no justice for his family. There has been no justice following the Omagh bombing, which happened beside the Minister's constituency. I worked with-----

We need justice and fairness, but putting the provisions in shambolic legislation like this is an extreme farce.

I thank the Deputy, but his time is up.

I appreciate being allowed the time to speak. I welcome this legislation. It is important and prudent that we put in place the necessary legal framework for outdoor dining. While I appreciate the efforts that have been made by businesses for outdoor dining and the rush that was put on, I always say that we must not lose the run of ourselves. It is a fine evening in Dublin, but we must remember that we are not in Puerto del Carmen in Lanzarote, the south of Spain or somewhere like that. Much of the time, it is too cold and wet to put out the cat. He would nearly get drowned outside. We must be mindful of that. What we are all aiming for is indoor dining being allowed again.

I represent the people of the tourism capital of Ireland and Europe. That is, of course, County Kerry. I have been inundated by publicans, café owners, restaurant owners and others from the hospitality sector who are bitterly disappointed. They were hoping that the Government would be able to keep to the reopening date of 5 July. They had rosters and everything else put in place. There is so much confusion out there. While this legislation is welcome, given that it puts in place a framework for the Garda to allow the outdoor serving of alcohol and so on to continue, it is a worrying time for these businesses. There is confusion over whether the person who owns the restaurant or pub will have to ask a person at the door whether he or she is vaccinated. People from the legal profession would be a long time scratching their heads over whether it was legal and constitutional to ask people private questions about their healthcare, whether they were vaccinated and whether their families, who would be dining as well, were vaccinated. What would the story be if a child in a family who wished to eat was not vaccinated? We have all these issues to contend with. We have such worries and problems. Coming from County Kerry, I am hearing this from early morning until late at night. There are people who are worried about whether their businesses will ever open. We are hearing people on the media saying that, in their opinion, it could be September or October. People are going through mental anguish. Not too long ago, I raised with the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions the issue of mental health, the problems that people have with suicide and so on. These matters are of real concern, and it is a concern that the Government and other decision makers must take on board. I am begging and pleading with them to give clarity and be authoritative about what they are doing. They should try to give clear answers to the problems, difficulties and worries that people have and avoid confusion. At the moment, things are extremely confused.

On a personal note, I thank the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, for the great efforts she has always made on issues surrounding County Kerry. She has never let County Kerry down when I have approached her with specific issues and problems. I am relying on people like her to continue helping us into the future.

I commend the Minister in general on this Bill and the intention behind it. I do not accept that we could have worked away and asked gardaí to exercise their discretion, particularly when we penalise gardaí when they do exercise their discretion. We cannot ask them not to apply the law in the manner that was proposed by some. I have no problem with the intention behind the Bill.

There is a provision relating to the appointment of extra High Court judges. While it does not necessarily fit well within this Bill, I do not have a problem with it. I actually welcome it because it is important that we have a functioning and properly resourced Judiciary in our democracy. A high-profile case was taken alleging that the right to the freedom of religion had been breached during the Covid restrictions but it was determined by the High Court Bench that there were insufficient judicial resources to hear the matter. That is worrying. If someone's rights can be breached and there are not sufficient judicial resources to hear the matter, we are teetering on the verge of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. I do not believe we necessarily are, but if the appointment of extra High Court judges takes us back from that precipice, then I greatly welcome it. Of course, there has been an inevitable large backlog in cases. While some types of case could be heard remotely, it was difficult for other types of case to be heard.

I wish to raise a specific matter concerning the Bill. The Bill defines an outdoor seating area "in relation to a licensed premises" and gives a long list of criteria. That is all well and good. However, section 6 reads: "For the avoidance of doubt, an outdoor seating area on private land is a public place for the purposes of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994." I have no problem with the general scheme of the Bill or the definition in respect of a licensed premises, but section 6 goes much further. It does not just extend the applicability of the 1994 Act to outdoor seating areas that are used in respect of a licensed premises, but to outdoor seating areas in general. Regardless of whether it is used in respect of a licensed premises, every outdoor seating area is now a public place for the purposes of the 1994 Act. While that might not be the Bill's intention, that is what it does. This is draconian and worrying. It effectively opens up the question of whether my yard at home or someone's patio becomes subject to the 1994 Act if it has a couple of seats, as mine does. I can see that this might not be the Minister's intention, and I certainly hope it is not, but it is the effect of section 6 as drafted. I hope that the Minister will clarify that this is not her intention and that she will commit to looking into the matter for the purposes of a possible amendment in the Seanad before it returns to the Dáil. I submitted an amendment, but I was too late because the Bill was rushed.

I question the way in which legislation is rushed and guillotined. I appreciate this is important legislation but given that only one amendment is in, from Deputy Martin Kenny, it should not have been beyond the possibilities of the House to accommodate another amendment. Be that as it may, it was not accommodated. I would like the Minister to look into this.

I support the Bill and all that the Minister seeks to achieve in it, but not the extension of the public order Act to every outdoor seating area, if that includes a patio in somebody's garden.

I support the Bill, albeit most reluctantly. I thank the Minister for acting speedily on this because there was a necessity for speed. The situation that arose was brought to the attention of the public by the chief superintendent in Galway. He did us all a favour by raising the idiotic situation that arose on foot of the failure to prepare and the message that we were going to have an outdoor summer. In that regard, I heartily welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for her speed in doing so. I do not accept that it could not have gone through pre-legislative scrutiny and I will come back to this point.

I find it very difficult that, once again, we are including measures on other matters into this Bill. In this case it is a provision which I agree with, namely, an increase in the number of judges but it should not be in the same legislation. It is not a good precedent and nor is it good for our democracy to keep waiving pre-legislative scrutiny, albeit that the committee agreed with doing it.

I will explain why, because Galway is a very good example of what happened. We brought in by-laws on two occasions, the second set of which is still there, which prevented drinking on the streets. We did everything correctly in Galway. The reason those by-laws were brought in was because after a long period of consultation and significant issues arising in relation to out-of-control drinking in public areas, there was no balancing of rights in residential areas. After a very long time we brought in the by-laws. However, the by-laws prevent drinking in the streets. The message from the Government was to go out and literally get drunk, that it would be an outdoor summer. I see the Minister takes issue with that. I take that back; it was to have an outdoor summer. That message of an outdoor summer was extremely limited, was it not? The message was to go out and consume, eat and drink and the Government would provide funding of €18 million. I have no difficulty supporting businesses. I am in favour of a thriving city, but the message was one-dimensional. There was no message of an outdoor summer for canoes, sailing, windsurfing or any of the other wonderful activities we associate with summer or swimming. That one-dimensional message created huge problems.

That one dimensional message utterly ignored the Barcelona Declaration that we passed in Galway in 2002, with which the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, will be very familiar. I think she was there at the time. It guaranteed universal access to all residents to the city and enjoyment of its facilities, regardless of their age or ability. The mantra we all used at the time was good design enables and bad design disables, to get away from labels. That was ignored completely by management in Galway as it rushed to comply with the message from the Government to have an outdoor summer. I am glad that we are introducing this legislation. I am glad there is a sunset clause because I look on the taking over of public space as a restricted measure to help businesses to get over the Covid restrictions. That we would roll it on by way of a resolution is of great concern to me. I imagine I will be sitting in the Chair in due course when it comes before us without debate. I have serious concerns about that.

I return to yesterday's message that the Government now intends to allow only vaccinated people to be served indoors. I do not have enough words inside my brain to describe my reaction to that on both a gut and emotional level. It is divisive, disgusting and it is simply unacceptable. We brought the people of Ireland on and they led us by their example and now we are going to divide and conquer. It is unacceptable and sense must prevail regarding this matter. The Minister must stop this idiocy. There are three men in charge of the country who could do with some feminine help and practicality in this.

The message that we are all in this together has to mean something. Now we have a situation whereby someone who could stop me entering a premises, if I am not vaccinated, could themselves be unvaccinated. The person who might serve me could be unvaccinated and probably all the staff. The three wise men in charge of this country, who are most unwise on this issue, do not see a problem with this. They do not see a problem in sending out a message to go out, drink and consume and we will look after businesses. They have utterly failed to learn the lesson that we want to transform the way we do things. Due to Covid and climate change, we must have transformative action. We cannot go back to the way we were.

If the Minister has any influence at all, this should be a limited measure. She should talk to local authorities, Galway City Council, in particular, remind them of their obligations under the Barcelona Declaration and their commitment to provide access to everyone. Then she should stop this idiocy of divide and conquer. Let us work together. I say this as someone who supported a zero Covid approach. I believed we could have achieved that and we should have worked from that but we did not. We allowed more people to die in the third wave of Covid this year because of the complete lack of preparation by the Government in anticipation of this. If this is the advice NPHET gave, which I have not had the opportunity to see, it is unfit for purpose.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions over the course of the debate of this Bill and for the constructive engagement by the House to progress this matter as quickly as possible.

The measures in this Bill provide that a licensee may sell alcohol to persons in an outdoor seating area not within their licensed premises and provide for an increase in the number of judges in the High Court, which has become acutely urgent in the circumstances of Covid-19. This is important legislation at a sensitive time, intended to clarify the position of licenceholders who wish to sell and serve alcohol adjacent to a licensed premises in an area approved by the relevant local authority. These premises have no remedy to amend their licence to include that area under current legislation. To ensure maximum equity with businesses that seek to comply with the Government's guidance and regulations for outdoor activity in the Covid context, it was considered prudent to provide some clarity and assurances for licensees who rely on private property immediately adjacent to their licensed premises to provide outdoor seating areas.

The Minster, Deputy Humphreys, outlined the main provisions of the Bill previously in this House. It is clear this effective measure to address this matter for licensees for the period ahead is appropriate. Together with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I am committed to delivering the Government's commitment to modernise alcohol legislation. The complexity of the law in this area and the challenges of this matter demonstrate the real impetus for this reform. We look forward to producing legislation and working with the House to codify the licensing laws and to bring a more permanent solution to the situation that has arisen here.

It is important to note that the creation of an offence and the application of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 pertain to these outdoor seating areas. The overwhelming majority of licensees complied with the provisions of the enforcement powers Act and it is anticipated that the provisions in this Bill will be similarly adhered to with very few exceptions. The Bill also provides for objections to renewals. 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 in regard to clubs. This shall apply irrespective of whether, at the time of renewal, the licensee has ceased to operate the outdoor seating area. It is also noted that there is sunset clause in place until 30 November. The House will have an opportunity to consider whether it is appropriate for this legislation to be renewed at that time.

I will refer to some of the issues raised by Deputies in the House this evening. Regarding yesterday's decision, which I acknowledge was a very difficult one, the Government has always stated that when we reopen sections of the economy, we want them to stay open. We are working to ensure we can reopen indoor hospitality. That work is currently under way on foot of NPHET advice. A number of other issues were raised by Deputies in regard to the Bill. Deputy McNamara referred to private lands and the outdoor seating areas. In the Bill, "private lands" means land other than State land within the meaning of the State Property Act 1954.

It is important to note that the permissive inclusion of outdoor seating areas on private lands for the purpose of this Bill is subject to a number of conditions. These conditions are set out in the definition of "outdoor seating area". The definition applies to land which is not already the subject of a licence. The number of seated patrons who can be accommodated in the area must not exceed the number of patrons who may be accommodated in the licensed premises and the areas 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.

With regard to outdoor recreational spaces, the Minister, in her other remit as Minister for Rural and Community Development, has provided a significant amount of funding to local authorities under the outdoor recreation scheme for the local authorities to invest in public realm facilities and infrastructure. It is also a commitment of the Government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure we can accommodate the public to enjoy an outdoor summer. This will have longer term benefits for towns and villages across the country.

Another issue raised which I wish to address related to the courts and the appointment of judges. As regards the propriety of the amendment to section 9 of the Courts and Courts Officers Act 1995 being progressed in section 8 of this Bill, it was originally intended to accommodate this provision in the forthcoming courts and civil law miscellaneous provisions Bill, but due to its urgency this Bill was viewed as an appropriate legislative opportunity given its urgency, which is also linked to Covid-19 matters. Despite measures taken by the Courts Service to meet the demands placed on it during the pandemic, including facilitating increased use of remote hearings, the courts and the 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 a significant demand for access to the courts once public health restrictions have lifted. Furthermore, the difficulties facing the court have been exacerbated by the appointment of a number of judges to various State bodies and tribunals of investigation. Section 8 is urgently required. It provides an opportunity to address the challenges facing the court. It is crucial to address the significant volume of work before the courts and the workload. Most importantly, it is in the interest of the administration of justice to do so.

Why is it necessary to include this amendment in section 8 now? It is urgently needed because, as I said, it provides an opportunity to address the challenges facing the courts in the pandemic, including the increase in backlogs of cases, increasing waiting times and the anticipated demand on the courts and the Courts Service. Currently, the maximum permitted number of ordinary judges of the High Court is 37. In total, there are 40 serving judges on the court. However, one of these is the President of the High Court and two have been assigned to the Law Reform Commission and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, respectively. The last time the number was increased was in 2015. Of the 37 ordinary judges of the court, three are currently appointed to tribunals of investigation and to Judicial Council commitments and one has recently been nominated for appointment to the Court of Appeal. Arrangements are being made for this appointment by the President. In real terms, therefore, the number of judges available to sit in the High Court in the coming months will be reduced to 36, which is less than the maximum currently provided for in law.

Finally, I thank Deputies for their engagement on this Bill. I look forward to progressing the legislation through the House.

Question put and agreed to.