Liquor Licensing Commission: Presentation.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the issues raised in the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. As stated on the previous occasion on which the committee met, the abuse of alcohol by young people and enforcement measures to curb that abuse and alcohol-related crime is one of the areas on which the joint committee has decided to focus in its new work programme. The publication of the report of the commission has been timely in assisting the committee in its deliberations on the legislative reforms which may be required to address the current situation.

I am delighted to welcome representatives of the National Youth Council of Ireland, the National Youth Federation, Pavee Point, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and the Irish Nightclub Industry Association. A presentation may be made by each group in the order in which I have listed them. At the conclusion of the presentations, if everybody is in agreement, the members of the committee will ask questions as they see fit and the delegates might answer them or provide clarification. I would appreciate it if the groups could keep their presentations to under ten minutes. This would be helpful because there are other meetings scheduled.

While members of this committee have absolute privilege, this same privilege does not apply to the delegates. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him identifiable.

Will the delegates introduce themselves?

Ms Mary Cunningham

I am director of the National Youth Council of Ireland. I am accompanied by my colleague Colm Ó Mongáin, who represents the NYCI on the Liquor Licensing Commission.

Mr. Diarmuid Kearney

I am the chief executive officer of the National Youth Federation, and I am accompanied by my colleague Mr. Gearóid Ó Maoilmhichíl.

Ms Caoimhe McCabe

I am information co-ordinator of Pavee Point, and I am accompanied by my colleagues Bríd O'Brien and Martin Collins.

Mr. Padraic Naughton

I am chief executive officer of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. I am accompanied by Mrs. Margaret Gaffney, president of the Dublin Diocesan Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, and Mrs. Mary Brady, development officer of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

I also welcome the Irish Nightclub Industry Association and its chairman, Mr. Patrick Prendergast.

Mr. Patrick Prendergast

I am chairman of the Irish Nightclub Industry Association and a member of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. Mr. Robbie Fox, the PRO of the association, joins me.

Thank you.

Mr. Colm Ó Mongáin

I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to meet it and make this presentation. This is certainly welcome in light of the report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. The National Youth Council is a recognised social partner representing young people. It represents almost 50 voluntary youth organisations with a combined membership of staff, volunteers and young people of 750,000. We seek to increase youth participation in society and give young people an active part in it.

The council has had an alcohol policy for many years. The council is aware that alcohol is the drug of choice for the majority of citizens. International and local research has shown that some prevention strategies for damage level drinking are more effective than others. The ones perceived to be the most effective, such as those in the areas of education and publicity campaigns, often have quite limited success as the behaviour of society has the greatest impact on young people. As a result, the limitation of the availability of alcohol and controlling access to it are seen from international research and the work of the strategic task force on alcohol to be the most effective measures.

People are largely aware of the overall increase in drinking. Between 1989 and 1999, alcohol consumption rose by 41%, the economic impact of which cost the Exchequer €2.4 billion in 1999. Anecdotal evidence and the evidence of Garda reports show an increase of public order offences since 1999. Alcohol is a large factor in road accidents and has significant impact on public health and public order.

NYCI has ten recommendations to limit harm resulting from drinking. We provide information and education and do not dismiss the importance of these. It is extremely important, but only in the context of other measures such as limiting alcohol availability. The public and private working environment should be protected from undue promotion of alcohol. Drink driving should be discouraged and we would be interested in reducing the legal blood alcohol limit for all drivers. It should not result in one group of drivers being allowed to drink more than another group. The availability of alcohol should be regulated. Promotions should be controlled and we welcome the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and the strategic task force on alcohol in this regard as they are in line with the position of the WHO. Treatment should be provided for people suffering from alcohol problems and problems related to alcohol. We are interested in fostering responsibility in the alcohol beverage industry. Whether that is self-regulating or has to be imposed from outside should be monitored on an ongoing basis, particularly with the messages sent out in advertising. We should enhance the capacity of society to respond and information plays a large role in this. Support for non-governmental organisations is extremely important in providing alternatives to drinking, including making interventions at a young age so that young people can make an informed choice with regard to their socialising. We would also hope to see that people would support health promoting youth organisations. This is a practice NYCI is engaged in through the national youth health programme. We are also interested in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policy. There should be due consultation given on the formulation of policy and on its implementation.

Given that we are discussing the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing, the main thrust is the regulation of the availability of products. NYCI has particular concerns in this area. Research in several international case studies showed harm relating to alcohol consumption increased when availability increased. The Commission on Liquor Licensing has specifically recommended that new café style bars be brought about. The problem with this is it seeks to provide a different form of drinking as an alternative to drinking and does not think about what else can be done. Taking this proposal as it stands, the idea of providing such bars follows on from the other recommendation of the commission such as special restaurant licences, the increased availability of off-sales and the granting of licences to interpretative centres and museums. We are seeing a large rise in the availability of alcohol without the granting of licences to café bars. There is no research to back up the idea that the creation of such bars will have any positive effect on drinking levels in this country. By contrast to this, the strategic task force on alcohol showed the increase in availability of alcohol to have a damaging effect.

Our other concerns relate not to availability but to the increased value of the marketplace and market share. As a result, marketing would become more aggressive and the problems we see in the gamesmanship in the ethics of alcohol advertising would only increase. We also have problems with the issue of enforcement. We are aware the Garda is finding it difficult enough to cope with the existing number of outlets. If there is an increase in the number of outlets the Garda will have a more difficult job in enforcing the law.

We have grave concerns about the recommendations on the Commission on Liquor Licensing, particularly as its first interim report recommended a strategic task force on alcohol be set up. The commission specifically said that the recommendations of the task force should be accepted by Government and implemented as policy. However, the task force recommended that availability should be limited. The commission has gone back on this and proposes increased availability in direct contravention of what the task force recommended.

The idea of a café bar providing an alternative to a super pub in a suburban area is aspirational. However, the community infrastructure and town centres do not exist in many such areas and could not support a café bar. These bars will spring up in areas where there already are super pubs and a huge amount of drinking as it stands. This will create significant problems. There would probably be objections from current licence holders to such bars opening.

The idea of breaking up a perceived cartel, if that is the logic behind it, falls flat on its face given that the owners of café bars would be likely to join the existing trade associations. It will not do anything to create increased competition. The idea of deregulation is to secure a better deal for the consumer by increasing competition, lowering prices and making consumption better value. However, if prices are lowered and consumption increases, the consumer is unlikely to get a better deal on the product in the short-term because of the tax expenditure. When we last checked, the figure was €2.4 billion. Therefore, the consumer is losing out on this recommendation too. There is no research to back up this move. If we were to mirror the continental model, and if the continental model of drinking was the way to go, we would have recommendations to make alcohol available from vending machines and garages 24 hours a day and as cheap as 30 cent a bottle. We have problems in this regard.

We are concerned with the other proposals of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. Presumably they are in line to be implemented, now that legislation is being discussed on the back of its report. We have problems with mandatory identification and the idea that the Garda ID would be the sole acceptable form of identification because this could be used to circumvent the Equal Status Act. The real reason for service refusal could be hidden behind the idea that the Garda ID was not produced. There is also a practical problem with the enforcement of this proposal. If a foreign national is to come into a pub and be told they can only be sold alcohol on the basis that they have a Garda age card, they are being discriminated against on the grounds of their nationality. If, on the other hand, someone has a foreign passport accepted, but an Irish person is refused on the basis of using a passport, the Irish person is being discriminated against on the basis of their nationality.

We have a number of other problems with the commission's recommendations with regard to access to licensed premises and the rights of licence holders to refuse service, in particular the right to refuse groups. We are all aware that, with a few exceptions, drinking is a social activity and takes place in a group context. Giving licence-holders the right to refuse people purely on the basis that they are drinking in a group is giving people carte blanche to refuse people for whatever reason on the basis that they are in a group, which could act as a disguise for prejudicial reasons for refusal.

That concludes the presentation of the National Youth Council of Ireland. I am grateful for having been able to make it and welcome questions. Our fundamental point is that there is no research to back up the proposals of the commission with regard to café bars. On the other hand, there is a huge amount of research to back up the findings of the strategic task force on alcohol which the commission has recommended the Government should implement. This is a rowing back on what was originally recommended purely because the findings of the strategic task force were not to the Government's liking.

I thank Mr. Ó Mongáin for his presentation and the document which has been circulated to members. I now call Mr. Diarmuid Kearney of the National Youth Federation to make his presentation.

Mr. Kearney

The National Youth Federation is the umbrella body for 20 regional youth services which operate throughout the country. Collectively, we employ over 300 staff and work with in excess of 5,000 volunteers and countless young people so as members will appreciate, we have some things to say about this issue and we welcome the opportunity to comment on the recent report from the Commission for Liquor Licensing and the pending legislation.

We are all guilty of allowing the situation in which we find ourselves - the Government; the political parties; the private sector, in particular the drinks industry; State agencies; NGOs and voluntary organisations, communities, families and individuals. We are collectively responsible for violence, sexual assault, rape and murder, physical assault, domestic violence, unacceptable burdens on the health service, drink related injuries and fatalities on the road, damaged and broken relationships and high levels of work absence. Who do we blame? It seems that society is blaming young people. They have become the scapegoats for a situation that we have been collectively responsible for creating.

How do we respond to the situation in which we find ourselves? It seems like we are about to respond by proposing the introduction of legislation which is in many respects discriminatory, unimaginative, inoperable and illogical, and which has been described by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as draconian. There are a few notable exceptions in the proposals that are being made but we take issue with quite a number. We have collectively created a difficult and ugly situation which we must address. It did not spontaneously land on our doorsteps - it is about a culture where drink is central to how we celebrate births, exams, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, christenings, weddings and even deaths. It is about socially accepting that getting drunk is okay. I suggest that the Irish have as many words for describing different states of inebriation as the Eskimos have for snow. It is about marketing our culture through drink. We export pubs and Bord Fáilte advertises our country with pictures of the insides of pubs. It is about, until recently, accepting that drink is an excuse for offending. It is about turning a blind eye when drunk men arrive home and beat their wives and children. It is about, until recently, accepting drinking and driving as being okay. It is about an industry that has designed alcopops with the sole intention of enticing young people to drink. It is about aggressive marketing where we say that drinking makes you sexually attractive, socially acceptable and somehow enhances your sporting activities, which we all know to be false. It is about vested interests having undue influence on the framing and implementation of legislation. This is about vested interests, power and money. It is about unscrupulous individuals exploiting vulnerable young people and an economy which affords a mushrooming in disposable income, especially for young people and it is about generations of deficient education on the impact of alcohol in our lives. It is about the absence of public information on the damage of alcohol and it is about more and bigger pubs than we know what to do with. It is about low self-esteem, individually and culturally. It is about disaffection, anger, resentment, sorrow and depression and it is about Irish society. Yet we blame young people for it.

Let us look at some of the proposals that have been suggested. We are going to transform Friday and Saturday evenings in Irish town centres from "Ibiza Uncovered" to café society. How are we going to bring that about? By increasing access to alcohol. There have been no other suggestions about how we might affect the psyche of the nation, we are simply going to increase access to alcohol. The second proposal is to reduce access to bars by young people under 18 years of age through the introduction of punitive and discriminatory legislation. However, we are not implementing the existing legislation. Of the pubs found guilty of selling alcohol to people under age, 32% of them have not been subject to closure. The application of legislation is patchy across the country and we all know the pubs in which young people drink. I have friends who are teachers who will not go into certain pubs because they know they will meet their students there. We know that is the case, so the Garda must know it is the case. We need to apply existing legislation.

We must provide alternatives for young people. The State is not building on the already successful Garda voluntary identification system, but is suggesting mandatory ID for young people between the ages of 18 and 25. We have a voluntary system in place at the moment to which almost 90,000 people have already subscribed which does not say that if one is between 18 and 25, the State believes one is more likely to commit an offence. The State does not trust people who are between 18 and 25 years old. What do we do about people over 25 who are responsible for domestic violence and who are guilty of drinking and driving, a category of offence for which young people are becoming less and less responsible?

We must take some sort of action. We need a comprehensive, cross-sectoral, cross-departmental response to this problem. Unfortunately, the sort of proposals about which we have heard have been knee-jerk reactions, ill thought through and not founded on adequate research. I have already said that we need to implement existing legislation, but we must also develop the Garda ID scheme and invest in education. There have been some improvements recently in schools, but mostly there is a large deficit in the education of young people about the impact drink can have. This needs resources, expertise and research and a willingness to make a difference.

We need to control advertising. The Health Promotion Agency, in a recent survey, found that 80% of 12 to 18 year olds found advertisements for drink the most attractive of all advertisements. That flies in the face of any agreements dealing with the advertising of alcohol. It needs to be seriously controlled. We need to increase public information. We have slowly begun to do this in the area of smoking. We know that alcohol can cause serious damage to the lives of young people and the community as a whole. It is time we started getting that message across.

We need to reduce access to alcohol. It seems nonsensical to me that the commission's report suggests an increase in access to alcohol. This flies in the face of the task force report. We need to tackle secondary purchasing, where people over 18 buy drink for younger people. That can be done quite easily. There is a publican in my family, and I remember as a young man bottling Guinness that had the pub's name on the label. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that labels on alcohol sold from off-licences could identify the particular premises that sold it, enabling the Garda to trace it. We need parenting education. We must support parents in a difficult task. Very often they do not know what to do: we must provide them with the information they need to address the difficulties their young children are facing.

We need to recoup somehow the €2.4 billion that drink is costing the health service. We must invest in alternatives. The Youth Work Act, passed at the end of 2001, has been sitting on the shelf gathering dust, as has the national youth work development plan. The youth service, collectively, cannot attract young people because of a lack of resources. It would cost €19 million to implement the Youth Work Act and the development plan. About €90 million per year is brought in through excise on the sale of alcopops alone. The money is there to address this problem. We are dealing with the symptoms, not the cause. In essence, we need a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy to address this problem, not knee-jerk reactions - rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic - but something that brings together all Government Departments, all aspects of public and private life, the community and families so that we can seriously address this problem. We need to win hearts and minds and then possibly introduce legislation. We can use existing legislation, but we must win hearts and minds.

We are pleased to be here this afternoon. The issues we want to deal with are quite different to those focused on by the previous two speakers, namely, issues raised in the last report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing issued before Christmas which dealt with admission and service in licensed premises. In chapter 4 of the report the equality infrastructure was investigated and it was stated that the commission in general advocated recourse to the District Courts when dealing with all licensing issues. In the final report, this became a recommendation from the commission that all licensing issues be dealt with through the District Courts. We are particularly concerned about such developments and we wanted to raise our concerns with the committee this afternoon. It has implications for the work of the committee today and its work in the future, dealing with the incorporation of EU directives in the area of equality and their implications for the two pieces of equality legislation.

Traveller organisations and others have been working on equality issues for a long time. These organisations were the ones who sought the Employment Equality Acts 1977 and 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000. We felt that the fact that an equality infrastructure had been established to deal with the issue was particularly welcome and it was necessary to build up a body of expertise to deal with discrimination and its effects upon people's daily lives. We were concerned about some of the criticisms levelled at the equality infrastructure by the licensed trade. These criticisms have carried through to the reports of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. We would like to discuss these issues today.

Some of the criticisms aired and recommendations made in the second report, we feel, gave additional powers to licence holders, particularly related to refusing groups, which has already been raised. We are particularly concerned about giving additional discretionary powers to people in the trade while criticising the two established bodies of the equality infrastructure based on their current procedures and mechanisms.

When we were seeking the equality legislation, many Travellers told us that they felt they would never see it. When it was finally introduced, they felt that although it was here it would be no use. We had many concerns about section 15 of the Equal Status Act, which allowed for discrimination in certain circumstances. People were concerned that it would be interpreted in a very broad fashion. We have been pleasantly surprised to see the equality officers interpret it in a fair and tight manner. In particular, they have proved themselves willing to take on board only the behaviour of the person who has been discriminated against and not presumptions made about them because of their ethnic or other identity. We feel that has been particularly useful. It has come about from a body of knowledge that people have been given the time and space to develop. We would be concerned, if the work moved to the District Courts, that some of that expertise and knowledge would be lost.

The report of the task force on the Travelling Community in the mid-1990s explored this issue. Evidence from Britain and other jurisdictions indicated that this was not the way to go: that it would be better to set up specific infrastructures to deal with these issues rather than having recourse to existing court systems and structures. It is interesting to note that when the Labour Court and the employment appeals tribunal were established the District Court was already there, but people felt that new mechanisms needed to be established. One of the options of the current equality infrastructure is to use mediation. That option would not be there if these issues were moved to the District Courts.

There are also the broader implications in terms of EU directives. Particularly relevant for the Equal Status Act 2000 is the EU directive on equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. Equal treatment means no direct or indirect discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin. That is how the directive is being interpreted. A number of articles within that directive have particular implications for the whole area of equality and even bigger implications for the proposed move of all licensing issues to the District Court. The whole area of burden of proof is relevant here.

When we originally sought equality legislation we were informed at the time that the authorities were unwilling to look at the whole issue of burden of proof in a formal sense but that, in practice, once a complainant had established that he or she had a case, the onus then shifted to the respondent to prove that he or she had not acted in a discriminatory way. The incorporation of the EU directive, article 8 of which deals with the whole area of burden of proof, will help to strengthen that. Once a person establishes that he or she has a case, the responsibility then shifts to the respondent. That would be an extremely useful and important development in the whole area of equality.

One of the other issues we wish to raise with the committee is that at times when the State is looking at incorporating directives like this, it is not supposed to use it as an opportunity to reduce levels of protection. We feel very strongly that if these issues move to the District Court the levels of protection offered to Travellers and others who are discriminated against could be greatly reduced. Our concern is that if this concession is made to vintners, a very powerful group in our society, which group will such a concession be made to next? In time we fear the whole equality structure will be unravelled and that the Equal Status Act 2000 and Employment Equality Act 1998 will be unable to deliver upon what they set out to do and what the State expects them to do because they will have been undermined by these developments.

I thank Ms Bríd O'Brien for the very clear and concise points she has made. I now call upon the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and Mr. Padraic Naughton.

Mr. Naughton

Father Micheál McGreil should have been here but cannot because of a family death. He wishes to thank the commission for inviting us here. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association welcomes the publication of the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and is grateful to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for the opportunity to reply orally to its recommendations.

We in the pioneer movement recognise the benefits of alcoholic drink in moderation. Abstention from alcoholic drink is totally voluntary on the part of our members. We do not have anything against people drinking in moderation. The association's main aims centre around sober use of alcohol in society and the rehabilitation of the victims of alcohol abuse and its excessive use. I will talk a bit more about that later.

The PTAA holds the view that the State has as part of its responsibility for the promotion of public welfare an obligation to control the public sale and consumption of alcohol and its promotion in society. Like many other groups of concerned citizens, our members are becoming alarmed by the social, personal and cultural effects of the excessive use of drink by people of all ages, not just teenagers. We are particularly worried by the drinking habits now being adopted by young people.

It is in the light of these aims and concerns that we make the following comments on the report. Recognising that the terms of reference limit the scope of this report, it is nevertheless the responsibility of the State to legislate in a more comprehensive context, that is, giving primary consideration to the protection of the young and the promotion of a social environment that is free of alcohol dependence. The concerns of the PTAA - the promotion of sobriety in the use of alcohol by adults and the protection of youth from its use - are not adequately covered in the terms of reference on which this report is based. However, in so far as it addresses the adequacy of the current licensing system and makes a number of important recommendations, the PTAA welcomes the report.

We welcome the discouraging of the development of the "super pub". We also welcome the restoration of the normal closing time, especially on Thursday. We hear on a daily basis of the number of people who cannot turn up for work on a Friday morning and of the number of school children who cannot turn up for school on a Friday morning. We would be delighted to see that recommendation being implemented and a return to the 11.30 p.m. closing time on Thursday nights.

We are also very happy with the strict local control of exemption orders. This is being abused at the moment and we see great value in the recommendation. We also welcome control of mixed trading premises and control of distance sales and delivery of alcohol, a very worrying issue for the association. Our grassroots remind us on an almost daily basis about the abuse of distant sales whereby wine, for example, can now be ordered and delivered by just a phone call.

We welcome the tightening of control of registered clubs, about which I will have more to say later; the positive recommendations in relation to children and young people; and the outlawing of vending machines used for the sale of alcoholic drink. We sincerely hope that drink is never sold from vending machines. We are also pleased with more involvement of the Garda in monitoring and controlling of the present situation.

However, we find the report weak and deficient in certain areas and would like to highlight some of them. First, the barring of the promotion and advertising of alcohol at sports related activities, even though it is a recommendation, should be acted upon immediately. Most of our young may become involved in sports and if there is advertising of alcohol on premises or promotion by particular teams, clubs or whatever, it provides a strong incentive for young people to take up drinking because they hero-worship sports stars. During the recent rugby match between Ireland and England, even the referee was able to advertise the name of a certain drinks company on his back. The referee is permanently before the camera and can be seen at all times, so it was very nice for the drinks industry to avail of that form of advertising.

We seek a prohibition on advertisement of alcohol products in public media likely to influence young people, especially on websites, magazines and papers to which young people have access. As already stated by the first two speakers, the advertising industry has a huge influence on young people and they are more likely to drink if such advertising is put before them. We also seek the printing of a health warning on all advertisements and containers of alcoholic drink. That is a very serious point and we go along with what has already been stated on it. We see no reason why a health warning should not be put on all advertisements and containers of alcoholic drink because many people are not aware of the dangers. Young girls who become pregnant and who drink do not realise how dangerous it is for them to continue drinking or to continue binge drinking. Their should be a health warning on all drinks.

It is our desire that the repeal of the late night, early morning extensions in opening hours permitted under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 would be reverted to and implemented. Since the new laws permitting extensions to the opening hours were introduced, there has been an increase in violence and in abuse of all kinds, such as sexual abuse and harassment. People now have a fear of going out at night. The pioneers have found that people, young and old, coming home under the influence of drink are more likely to commit abuse of a violent nature.

We recommend much greater curtailment of off-licence outlets and the separation of part of a premises which sells alcoholic drink from the general grocery store. It is too easy to obtain drink where both food and drink are on the same floor or on the same premises and, in some cases, are mixed together. We strongly recommend that the alcohol being sold on these premises should now be sold in a separate room, with a separate entrance and that it be monitored in the same way as a licensed pub. We have grave misgivings about the monitoring of the selling of that drink. We also have serious information about the pilfering of drink from such premises, where very young people, and not so very young people who are already addicted to alcohol, can go in, cause a disturbance or get somebody else to cause a disturbance and then go out with their pockets full of containers of alcohol. We recommend that the building be completely separate from where other items are being sold.

Our next recommendation involves the strict price control of alcoholic drink to avoid underpricing and we cite here the pub which offered an entrance fee, or that one paid a certain amount to go in and drink all one wanted for the rest of the night. We feel that this is very serious and should be strictly controlled. There should be a total ban on drinking in public places, parks, footpaths of towns and cities and other areas, such as sports stadia, popular concert locations and racecourses, outside the licensed premises. This is not just to ban drinking, but to help public order by stopping the violence and aggression shown by groups who sit on footpaths, collect together and get violently drunk and disturb passing members of the public. Then we see all the aggression pouring out which may be the cause of recent attacks such as, for example, the most recent incident where a seemingly innocent person going home was suddenly attacked by others.

The fourth point we would like to make is that greater State investment is required in support of leisure and recreational opportunities in local communities and we strongly recommend that the Government look at this in a serious way. The drinks industry is costing the State more than €2.4 billion a year. Proper facilities could be provided in local communities for less. We are constantly hearing the old cry that people have nothing else to do and that the only place to go is the pub. We cite here a number of issues. For example, it is very simple to set up skateboarding facilities because skateboarders seem to be banned everywhere they go but people can spend a lot of time on skateboards or whatever. The same applies to go-karting and small things of that nature. We would leave the clubs to look after the major games, but alternatives should be provided.

The next thing that we want to recommend is the rehabilitation of victims of abuse of alcohol, including families. This must become a priority under the direction of the State and the capital and running costs should be carried jointly by the taxpayer and the drinks industry because this has serious implications. If the drinks industry is the cause of people having drink problems, it should also be the cure.

There is a need for greater monitoring by the State of the personal, social and cultural effects of alcohol consumption in Irish society. This would require an independent and comprehensive multidisciplinary research unit given the task of informing the Government and the public of the effects of alcoholic drink in the population of all ages and classes. The funding of such a unit should be levied, at least in part, on the drinks industry and it would have to be independent. If we get the drinks industry involved in funding an independent and comprehensive multidisciplinary unit, the State, not the industry, should own it. Finally, the special unit should be set up by the Garda to police the abuse of alcohol and prevent underage drinking.

I thank Mr. Naughten. I ask Mr. Patrick Prendergast, to make a presentation on behalf of the Irish Nightclub Industry Association.

Mr. Prendergast

I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee for giving us an opportunity to put some of our points of view to them. Being a member of the Commission on Liquor Licensing was extremely informative, but our industry has some points of view on matters of concern that we would like to express.

The Irish Nightclub Industry Association was formed in the mid-1980s as the national representative body for nightclub owners and operators. We estimate that there are over 250 recognisable nightclubs operating in the Republic. This number is down from almost 350 in the early 1990s. The Irish Nightclub Industry Association has 130 full members who own approximately 170 to 180 clubs. The Irish Hotels Federation also represents many of the hotel owners whose premises have nightclubs attached. Both associations co-operate closely with each other. Our association has sought to raise industry standards in terms of facilities and management.

Nightclub owners and managers are professional, responsible and respectable business people who provide a quality service in a demanding and competitive market. Nightclubs throughout the country have been investing in state-of-the-art facilities and some of these nightclubs are of international standard. Approximately every two years, each nightclub has to go through a major refurbishment so there is an immense investment in each of these premises. We have cultivated a mature and responsible club culture based on entertainment and safety. The amount of legislation to which we have to adhere is far greater than that governing some other sectors in the licensing trade. We shall continue to encourage further professionalism and shed the negative image that has been visited upon our industry.

Nightclub operators seek to provide safe and friendly venues and as the industry is about entertainment and enjoyment, it is not in any operator's interests for a venue or locality to be identified with public order offences. We fully accept our responsibilities as business people and as citizens and we recognise that, as a professional association, we must play our part in reducing public order problems late at night. We are engaged with a mature enjoyment of alcohol in society poster initiative which we fully support. We suggest establishing local forums where representatives of nightclubs and senior Garda officers could meet periodically to discuss and exchange information. The Garda could arrange information seminars on issues such as drugs, crime prevention and so on for nightclub staff. There already has been an informal arrangement in Cork city.

In cities in Britain, such as Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool, the authorities have put in place several different initiatives which seem to work. In Belfast, there is the safe home programme, an initiative to which we would like to give more consideration. Many of the cities have seen both later hours of trading and decreases in public order offences. We also recommend the passage of Door Supervisors Bill 1997. In the commission's report, we support the national alcohol strategy.

Our primary concern is that the report's recommendations, if they are accepted, will force the closure of many premises in the nightclub industry. Our specific concerns, which we set out in detail in a letter circulated to the committee, is that any new legislation should provide for the District Court to issue nightclub licenses each year. This would remove the grey area that exists at present, whereby anyone who operates a nightclub is operating two or more licences. We feel this should be dealt with. Such a licence would recognise the different business and trading hours of nightclubs as opposed to pubs.

We are committed to ensuring that the nightclub industry is properly regulated and the best way to achieve this is to enshrine it in legislation as a nightclub licence. There would be a standard which any nightclub owner would be bound to respect or, otherwise, they would lose their licence. The current situation, where nightclubs apply monthly for special exemption orders, is far too ad hoc, is not cost-efficient and unnecessarily takes up time in the District Court. Proper regulation could be achieved through the creation of a nightclub licence.

Differentiating the nightclub business from the pub business would recognise later opening hours for nightclubs in a strictly controlled environment where dancing, not drinking, is the primary activity. Legislation for an annual nightclub licence should also include an ancillary recommendation that the licence entitles nightclubs to sell alcohol for at least two additional hours after other licensed premises have closed. This is essential because nightclubs only operate for an average of 2.5 hours per night, well below pub opening hours. In certain metropolitan areas, these licenses may be extended for later hours, subject to local zoning criteria. If nightclubs do not get recognition for the different nature of their business, especially their later opening hours, then they will cease exist or be driven underground. That is not a situation we would like.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 set out Government policy on opening hours. On the back of this certainty, many of our members invested heavily in improving their premises. That investment was based on the reasonable expectation that the Government would not reverse its policy on opening hours, especially as many factors, other than opening hours, have given rise to situations of public disorder. These factors include: underage drinking; increased alcohol consumption; more disposable income; an under-resourced Garda presence on the streets; poor enforcement of existing laws; pubs and clubs closing at the same time, a lack of available public transport when both pubs and clubs close; and the Equal Status Act, under which we have to admit 18-year olds where previously we had a policy of over-21s or over-23s.

We also believe the powers the Garda will have when the Criminal Justice Public Order Bill is passed will do more to solve the problem of public disorder than any restriction on the opening hours of nightclubs. We broadly support this legislation, as we look forward to developing our co-operative approach with the Garda in the interests of our business. The interest of public order would be ensured by nightclub licences and would be better protected.

We strongly disagree with the recommendation that dancing cannot continue during the 30 minutes allowed for drinking-up time. Customers dancing instead of drinking are far less likely to have the energy or the insobriety to create any public disorder. The reason given for prohibiting entertainment during drinking-up time is that the premises are not cleared. It fails to recognise the positive contribution of nightclubs in providing a forum for dancing.

We recommend that legislation be changed to allow the Garda to prosecute persons with false identification cards. Unless the legislation in this area is strengthened, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for nightclubs to effectively police their premises. Although not falling within the remit of the commission report, we will be pressing for a limited and a specific change to the Equal Status Act to permit nightclubs to restrict access to persons above a higher age limit, perhaps 21 or 23 years of age. This would be brought forward as part of a wider package of measures that we will be proposing.

In general, persons in nightclubs behave themselves, are educated in the exercise of dancing and, as a corollary, do not consume the volume of alcohol that they would in other locations where the emphasis is on drinking and not dancing. There is no evidence that points to the patrons of nightclubs causing major public disorder.

The Irish Nightclub Industry Association is preparing to put in place a voluntary code of conduct for its members. This will be based on the best practice in the industry and will be produced following consultations with the Garda and local representatives. This is part of a package of measures underpinning our proposal that our industry deserves the recognition and the regulation which would follow from legislation creating nightclub licences.

I thank the committee and any questions will be answered by me and my colleague, Robbie Fox.

I thank Mr. Prendergast I want to thank everyone for making those contributions. We will now have questions from Members, starting with the vice-chairman of the committee, Deputy Paul McGrath.

I welcome the groups. It has been a learning exercise for the past hour to hear the various groups make their presentations. We also engaged in a similar exercise last week.

It is interesting to note the various presentations from the different groupings. Three of the five groups made strong cases that there need to be restrictions in the opening hours and in the availability of alcohol. Pavee Point represents a particular group and has a particular point of view on a different issue.

We then had the nightclub owners, who come from another perspective. I smile when I hear the representatives of nightclub owners speaking about their situation and suggesting that people who dance the night away will go straight home and not cause any problems on the streets. If that is the case, why are there such problems on the streets, in many instances outside nightclubs? Have these people not been dancing on the nightclub premises? Is this not what nightclub premises are for? If they have not been dancing, what have they been doing? I presume that they have been drinking. If the alternative is that people have been dancing, would it be possible to run a nightclub where the opening hours are the same as a pub and stop serving alcohol at 11.30 p.m. but allow people to continue dancing thereafter? Would that be an alternative and would it work?

The nightclub owners are also asking that the availability of a licence means one gets automatic exemptions. Do they see this as being healthy for society, particularly when one hears the groups here today, which are representative, in two cases, of young people, and feel there needs to be a rowing back on opening hours rather than anything else? Do the nightclub owners think it good and healthy that they get automatic exemptions, without having to go into the public arena and, at least, make their case as to why they should get exemptions?

The committee previously discussed the question of closed-circuit television and cameras and the availability of cameras inside and outside nightclubs. A suggestion was put forward recently to the effect that, linked with the granting of licences to nightclubs, there should be a provision whereby people must provide video cameras inside and outside their premises. Would Mr. Prendergast have a particular view on that matter and how would club owners react to it?

A great deal of what the representatives have been suggesting is that the Garda needs to do more and the legislation must be introduced and enforced. However, they did not indicate that they were willing to do a great deal themselves. They seem to be putting the blame on everybody else. Do they not have a responsibility to their customers to see that they are safe, that they enjoy themselves in a safe atmosphere and, most importantly, that they do not leave the place absolutely footless? Is that not the problem, namely, that so many young people are leaving nightclubs and pubs as well - I am not exempting the latter - absolutely footless?

I am digressing slightly, but there is an event involving people from my constituency tomorrow night which is being held in a nightclub. The individuals in question are leaving certificate students, 90% of whom are under 18 years of age. The big question will be the availability of alcohol at the counter for these people. Is there going to be a restriction, how will it be policed or will it be policed at all?

With whom should the responsibility lie for organising such an event and seeing it through? We can say that the parents and the schools should be responsible, but the nightclub also has responsibilities. If Mr. Prendergast accepted a booking from a group of that sort, knowing that it comprised leaving certificate students, many of whom would be underage, what would he say to the people booking it and what special provision would he make for those under the age of 18?

What I intend to do now with the permission of the meeting is to bank these questions. I know that the questions which Deputy McGrath raised are mainly in connection with nightclubs and public houses in general and relate to public order responsibilities, CCTV, underage drinking. I am sure that there are other people who have an input as well, so we will just bank those questions for the time being. I call Deputy Costello, who is the Labour Party spokesperson on justice, equality and law reform.

Thankfully I have to deal only with justice.

I welcome and thank the groups that have attended the committee today. This is a worthwhile exercise for us because this is a matter that resides in the minds of members of the public and it is an issue in respect of which we will again have to legislate.

We have received the final report of the Liquor Licensing Commission, the members of which came before the committee last week to make a presentation. It is absolutely essential that we get as wide a variety of opinions as possible to assist us in our deliberations. I am thankful for the contributions made by the delegations attending today's meeting.

To get into the specifics of the issues, we have two youth bodies, the National Youth Council of Ireland and the National Youth Federation, and I suppose that, by and large, similar types of concerns have been expressed by both. There is a concern in regard to the new licences and the increased access to alcohol they are likely to bring about. Both organisations expressed that concern. As I understand it, the intention expressed by the Liquor Licensing Commission was to try to undermine in some way the phenomenon of super-pubs and to try to bring the situation back to the traditional Irish pub that is such a loveable institution and marketed abroad with leprechauns. In the early days of the State, such pubs acted as social settings, where everybody knew each other and where the proprietor knew all the clientele. Obviously, public order offences in those circumstances would have been at a minimum.

The commission seems to have gone a step further in not only seeking to reduce the capacity of the super-pubs, but also in seeking to creating a new model of pub, the café bar. Let us say that the commission members were to go down the other road and were not to move on their new "creature", but were to encourage any future licensed pubs to have a certain regard for square footage and capacity and promote the building of these premises in areas of burgeoning population and new estates, rather than repeating the phenomenon that occurred in all the suburbs of the city. How would the witnesses envisage that situation, as distinct from already existing inner-city areas where the café bar phenomenon is likely to catch on? How would they envisage that working out as a mechanism of getting away from the super-pubs? The latter usually measure some 18,000 to 20,000 sq. ft. in size, which is phenomenal, and can accommodate literally thousands of people.

I rather like the idea put forward by the National Youth Council regarding one of the Ministers of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform having a particular responsibility for dealing with alcohol. Perhaps the reason I am enamoured of it is because I would like responsibility for this area transferred from the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in terms of his approach to dealing with it, because while he may talk very tough, I do not believe he is a great man for the action. Perhaps a Minister of State might give it the focus and promotion that it deserves.

The Minister is not here to defend himself.

I am not asking the Chairman to comment on that.

I wish to ask both organisations about mandatory ID cards. This is what the industry has been bleating and shouting about from the rooftops in recent years. Its members believe that everything would be hunky-dory if we could have mandatory ID cards for young people from the age of 18 to 23 or 25 and that such a move would solve all the problems. We recognise that virtually every area of society is covered by some form of identification. One can hardly move around any longer, whether driving or flying, without being asked for some form of identification. How do the witnesses see that? The general indication so far is that they were not wonderfully warm to the idea. Perhaps I would obtain a more forceful response from both representatives on that matter

Does Deputy Costello support the concept of ID cards?

I have been thinking about it in those terms. There is so much identification required in terms of passports when travelling abroad. A person even needs to produce a passport and a driver's licence with a photograph when travelling to England. At present, everybody in the State automatically gets an RSI card at the age of 60, so people have identification whether they like it or not. That is a broader issue of identification for every citizen, as distinct from identification for one particular targeted group of young people. I am concerned about targeting particular groups.

My preference would be - I am answering my own questions here - that the voluntary identification card, of which I think Mr. Kearney said there were something like 90,000 in place at present and in respect of which there is a cost, would be provided free of charge and would be promoted for all young people. Many young people who go to nightclubs have to bring passports, which are very unwieldy. If one loses one's passport, it can be used for forgery and all sorts of purposes. Many young people state that they would like something on which they could rely. The voluntary identification card, if it were promoted properly and supplied free of charge, would, perhaps, be my preference.

I was pleased to hear about the comprehensive approach to education, information, etc. The question of enforcement was mentioned by a couple of people, particularly those representing the youth organisations. There seems to be patchy enforcement of legislation relating to underage drinkers and publicans, whether in off-licence or on-licence outlets. Publicans are not taking on their responsibilities, on one hand, and the Garda does not appear to be enforcing the law, on the other. The prosecution figures for Mayo are colossal. Mayo, which is a law-abiding county, has widespread enforcement, while Dublin, which has all the public order offences, seems to have no enforcement.

I agree with the point made in regard to Pavee Point. I do not believe the District Court is the proper forum for dealing with cases of access to public houses by any group of people, whether it is the Traveller community, any disability group or any other group in society. We should oppose the transfer of the issue to the District Court and retain it within the Equality Authority. That should be a strong message coming out of this committee. That is the reason the Equality Authority was established and it is extremely important that we insist on retaining it. Representatives of the authority recently came before the joint committee and were quite vocal on that issue.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association made a firm and clear presentation of the points. On one hand, it seems to have a hotline to the Liquor Licensing Commission on the areas with which it agreed and there were also the areas in respect of which it found a deficit. I agree entirely with it on the areas of sport, youth, health, the misfocusing of advertising and the promotion of these areas, which are totally false. There is no connection between alcohol and performance in sports or anything else. That was a worthwhile point and I agree with it.

The question of differentiating between public houses and nightclubs is a live issue. The problem is that the licensing laws have been extended for public houses so that they are open three days per week until 12.30 a.m., followed by closing-up time. People subsequently go to nightclubs where there are exemptions. It is not a question of people going there to dance. They have already got tanked up in public houses and go there for more alcohol, which they certain obtain. I cannot accept the assertion that dancing is the major activity that takes place in nightclubs. Such clubs are often so crowded that it is impossible to dance. I am familiar with many of the areas in Dublin in which nightclubs are located and I have spoken to many people. Music is provided, but very little dancing takes place because there is no room for people to do so. There is a question mark over the differentiation.

Given the extended drinking hours, people come out at the same time as previously, namely, 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. but at the weekend they remain on until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and go on from the public houses to nightclubs. If we go down the road of granting separate licences for nightclubs, how can the current public order problems be avoided, in pubs, particularly super-pubs? There is another set of public order problems in that most nightclubs close their doors at the same time. If a voluntary code of conduct could deal with that, would there be a case for the local authority having a say in regard to adjusting or staggering the hours in areas of the centre of Dublin, such as Temple Bar, where there are a large number of nightclubs?

Other members also wish to contribute. Perhaps they would just ask questions of the groups because there will be an opportunity to contribute to the general discussion at a later date. The representatives who are here today are ready to accept questions.

I welcome the representatives to the joint committee and thank them for providing us with much information for debate. It is a debate which will not conclude today. The more I hear, the fewer answers I possess.

An alcoholic who eventually admits to an addiction problem takes the first step to recovery. As a society, have we reached the first step in realising the serious problem that exists in terms of the abuse of alcohol? Unless we realise that and unless nightclub owners, parents, teachers and members of the medical profession are prepared to move, we will have an enormous task in trying to implement the cross-departmental proposal recommended by the commission. I am not certain whether we have acknowledged the extent of the problem.

I thank the delegations for their enlightening presentations. Colm Ó Mongáin from the National Youth Council referred to the café bars, but I am not convinced about the benefits of them. The Minister has referred to them and said that they have proved their worthiness on the European scale. In Europe, people deal differently with alcohol. I have travelled to various European countries that are highly renowned for their use of alcohol and I have not yet seen a drunken person, either young or old, on the street. We have a different society here which is anaesthetised to the use and abuse of alcohol. I am not certain, but I hope that we will have the opportunity to speak again with the Minister regarding the introduction of the café bars.

I was particularly impressed by Mr. Diarmuid Kearney who touched on the whole situation in regard to alcohol. Did I detect a resistance regarding the issuing of ID cards, given that he said that those who engage in domestic violence do not have to identify themselves? As a result of the flamboyant manner in which young people dress, there has to be some identification with regard to age. I would welcome a response from Mr. Kearney on that issue.

I welcome the delegation from Pavee Point. I welcome also the delegation from the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, of which I am a member. In regard to off-licence outlets and the separate buildings proposal by the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, we are back to the psyche of Irish society where young people readily admit, I know this as a teacher, that their first drink was given to them by an adult either at the 21st birthday party of their sister or the wedding of their brother. In addressing the recommendations of the commission, what has to be tackled is the education of an entire society. Wherever off-licence outlets are located, it is the adults who operate and visit them who have to be tackled rather than the location.

While we do not want to portray a negative image of the nightclub industry, we have to admit that the culture of the nightclub creates the environment in which violence occurs on the streets. Careful monitoring must be done by those in charge to ensure people do not leave nightclubs in an over-intoxicated state and become a danger to themselves and others.

My final question concerns the way that we, as an interested group made up of legislators and voluntary bodies, who do an excellent job - the vintners are not here today, but they may come in another day - can go about changing the Irish psyche in regard to alcohol. That will require a cross-departmental strategy, which is recommended in the report and the provision of funding to tackle the problem on a phased basis. Such a strategy would include the promotion of ID cards for those whose age is questionable, the promotion of awareness of the effects of the abuse of alcohol on people's lives and equipping parents to cope with the problem, which is possibly the most important aspect. Parents feel that they lose their children when they reach the teenage years and some become estranged from their children, which is a serious issue for them.

This is a mighty task to take on but there is goodwill all around, which is evident from the people here today. I am still not convinced, however, that we have woken up to the seriousness of the issue of alcohol abuse.

Many questions of a broad philosophical nature as well as those of a general nature have been raised. I ask each of the groups to put their main points in two to three minutes after Deputy Finian McGrath has spoken.

I welcome the representatives of the different groups. As a result of the recent death and destruction we have seen on our streets, particularly in recent days, it is appropriate that the groups are here today to discuss the issue of the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and also the broader issue of alcohol abuse.

I agree with much of the analysis made earlier by the different groups, particularly that of the National Youth Council of Ireland which put forward some constructive ideas in its submission. The bottom line, however, is that we are facing a crisis and alcohol abuse and other alcohol-related issues are costing the taxpayer €2.37 billion every year, particularly in terms of health care, crime and accidents. Are the representatives aware of this massive cost, both in human and financial terms? Is that a constructive way to spend taxpayers' money?

We have to change attitudes to dealing with the issue. There is much focus on young people, with which I disagree. Many people over the age of 35 are involved in violence, including that of a domestic nature. It is not just young people who are involved. We have to see how we can make a contribution to changing those attitudes. Have any of the groups carried out a detailed analysis of male aggression in society, particularly in terms of its link to alcohol abuse? That area should be investigated and thoroughly researched.

I strongly support Pavee Point on the option of the District Court and the view in its submission that it is a kick in the teeth for equality. I have witnessed discrimination against Travellers over the years and I am aware of how it takes away a person's dignity. It is not appropriate for the District Court to deal with these type of cases. Along with the other eight or nine civil liberties groups, I have strongly supported the view of Pavee Point, both inside and outside the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In recent months there has been a change in that the people involved in the vintners' industry are trying to dismiss Travellers' complaints as if they were irrelevant. If we discriminate against people we take away their dignity. That is not acceptable to me and if people do not like that, that is their problem. This is a Traveller problem. It is a citizens' problem and the people involved in Pavee Point have my full support.

With regard to the Government and public bodies, the 1995 task force came out against the use of the District Court. The people involved in the broader political system should examine their own task force reports from 1995.

I agree with the members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association on restrictions on the sale of alcohol and advertising in the drinks industry. I disagree, however, on the question of the liberal licensing laws. I am not convinced that this aspect has been fully examined. We should examine the debate that took place seven or eight years ago on the drugs problem and the drinks industry. The drinks industry realised that drugs were taking over the lives of young people and it aggressively marketed its product. The drinks industry has a responsibility. It saw the rise in drug abuse and it decided to take on the drugs industry. It also engaged in more aggressive marketing techniques. That is an aspect we should examine.

I do not agree that these problems are caused by the later pub closing times. If the pubs close at 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m., people will just stock up on the last two or three drinks. I would rather see people sitting in the pub sipping a pint or two rather than rushing to get more in. If we close the pubs at 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m., the people will flow on to the streets where we have seen much violence. Have the groups examined examples of good practice in other countries, such as France, which has a healthy attitude to alcohol?

In terms of the cause of all this hurt, violence and aggression, if we do not get involved in early intervention, we will not solve the problem. There is something radically wrong with people who become aggressive and violent with drink and we have to help these young people at an early age. As somebody who has worked in the inner city for 20 years, I knew the children in junior and senior infants who would end up in trouble in 20 years later. However, when we got help by way of projects such as Breaking the Cycle and Early Intervention, we were able to make a dent in the problem. It is also important that we examine those strategies.

I understand the difficulties being experienced by those in the nightclub industry, but members of the public have a negative image of that industry. They are concerned about overcrowding and fire safety. Are they right or wrong in that regard?

Did the liberal licensing laws seriously damage the nightclub business when they were introduced? The representatives said that if there was not supervision regulation, the whole business will be driven underground. What do they mean by that?

I agree with the representatives on the transport aspect and also in respect of dancing. If we close the bar and let people dance on for an extra hour, it will reduce their energy and result in fewer fights on the streets. I know that the cynics do not agree with that assertion, but they should consider the reality. How many serious attacks resulting in deaths have taken place in nightclubs over the past 12 months?

I have two brief questions, the first of which is to the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association representatives. Is the membership of their association increasing or decreasing?

Will the Pavee Point representatives indicate the number of complaints that have been made by Travellers to the equality tribunal? How many of those complaints have been upheld?

I will call speakers in reverse order and ask Mr. Prendergast to make his key points in two to three minutes.

Mr. Prendergast

With regard to the need for a licence, there was mention of the numbers of people who come out on to the streets. However, these individuals are coming out from late bars that did not previously exist. These are the late bars which got their dance licences without planning permission and they are competing against the proper nightclubs. They are the premises in which there is no room for dancing because they do not have a dancing area. We are concerned that they are being equated with us.

The association does not represent them.

Mr. Prendergast

No, we do not represent late bars. We represent only the nightclub industry. I refer here to stand-alone nightclubs where people go to be entertained, to dance and to enjoy themselves.

With regard to the CCTV issue, every nightclub has a CCTV camera purely and simply for insurance purposes. All our members have had to install CCTV cameras because they have been inundated with people making claims against their premises. CCTV, therefore, acts as an ally.

With regard to underage drinking, about which the Chairman asked me personally——

I want you to answer that question in a general sense.

Mr. Prendergast

I will.

I would prefer if it was not dealt with personally. Mr. Prendergast is representing the nightclub industry. I would be interested in the views of his members on this issue.

Mr. Prendergast

We do not condone underage drinking. Any proprietors who allow leaving certificate students on to their premises have to ensure that they are vetted. There are strict controls in place. We are absolutely behind the ID card system. We endorse the view that a mandatory ID card system should be put in place. I do not envisage operators ever wanting to put themselves in a position of having a mixed group where they would run the risk of having underage people on their premises.

With regard to law and order, we acknowledge that there is a problem. We came to this forum with suggestions that we would like to see put into force. Public order problems arise from the many people spilling out on to the streets from late bars and nightclubs, There is nothing wrong with a person being in a pub and going on to a nightclub. To answer Deputy Finian McGrath's question, there have been no deaths in nightclubs and while there have been deaths on the streets, they do not all stem from people leaving nightclubs.

There are other issues involved. When pub opening hours were extended by an extra hour at the weekends under the 2000 Act, nothing changed in respect of nightclubs. An exemption up to 2.30 a.m. always applied to them and nothing has changed. Public order was an issue then, but it has escalated with the proliferation of the number of premises that are open late. I have no problem with pubs being open until 12.30 a.m. on Friday or Saturday, but I have a difficulty with large late bars that have secured a dance licence by default and do not have, what we would like to see introduced, a nightclub licence.

I thank Mr. Prendergast for the report he sent to us. We will take on board and consider carefully the issues he discussed. I call Mr. Naughton.

Mr. Naughton

Our approximate number of members is 180,000, North and South. Outside Dublin, our membership is increasing. In one or two areas in Dublin we have strong youth centres and the number of those is increasing. Quite a number of centres are being formed in schools. The "Prime Time" programme had a major impact on parents, many of whom ring the association for help. I put it to the joint committee that we need help to promote education and support for parents in this regard because parents do not know what to do in certain situations.

Middle class or upper class parents can deal reasonably well this situation, although some are confused about why they cannot handle it, but lower class parents need a good deal of support. We advocate the promotion of education and strong support by way of the SPHE programme, which should be fully implemented in the schools. We put forward a strong demand to the committee to consider the uniform enforcement of the existing legislation. While Mr. Prendergast has made a plea, unfortunately the position is not viewed across the industry as he views it.

Reference was made to debs balls. Even when premises are informed in advanced that the debs students who will be on their premises will be under the age of 18, the staff still sell alcohol to those students. We ask for a uniform implementation of the existing legislation to ensure that its provisions are properly policed and followed up.

I go along with what everybody else here has said, namely, that battling against this problem requires a co-ordinated effort. Given that there are more than 180,000 pioneers, many moderate drinkers and so on, those who drink to excess must be in a minority.

I thank Mr. Naughton for that and for his presentation, which we will take on board. I welcome Mr. Martin Collins who is not unknown to this committee.

I want to respond to the question of the number of cases lodged with the equality tribunal by Travellers. Before doing so, however, on behalf of the Pavee Point Travellers Centre I thank Deputies for their support. If other Deputies could lend their support to our campaign not to have equality cases adjudicated by the District Court, that would be appreciated not only by the Traveller constituency or the Traveller community but also by other groups of people, such as those with disabilities and other categories of person, particularly those discriminated against on the grounds of race, who are also protected by the equality legislation.

We believe that if this change came to pass, it would represent a serious erosion of the Equal Status Act. The equality infrastructure, the Equality Authority, the equality tribunal and the legislation governing those bodies has only been in place for a short period. It needs to be given more time to operate in order to ascertain how it pans out and for it to be properly evaluated. It is premature, at this stage, to seek significant or radical changes in this area. The structures in place need to be given more time to operate and, after a period, a comprehensive evaluation of the structures and the equality legislation governing that area should be carried out.

The number of complaints of unlawful discrimination lodged by Travellers with the equality tribunal is significant. It represents the largest category of complaints under the Equal Status Act. Most of the complaints under the Equal Status Act are from members of the Traveller community.

People from the drinks industry, I refer in particular to the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, have put their own slant on that. Their interpretation is that there is an orchestrated campaign by the Traveller community to be refused drink in pubs and other drink outlets in order that they can seek compensation. That is pure fabrication; it is outrageous and without foundation. It is an attempt to undermine the Equal Status Act. If anybody is guilty of an orchestrated campaign, it is Vintners' Federation of Ireland by mounting such a campaign, taking out advertisements in regional newspapers, on provincial radio and so on, thereby undermining the Equal Status Act. Rather than it being an indication of an orchestrated campaign by Travellers or Traveller groups, it is quite the opposite. It is indicative of the imbedded discrimination in this society which Travellers have had to endure not only in the past ten to 15 years but throughout their history. We have never had to organise a campaign to be refused service. It happens as a matter of course. That is the reason that the number of complaints under the Equal Status Act in respect of Travellers is significant.

Last year, 837 cases were referred to the Director of Equality Investigations. Over 620 were on the Traveller community ground and 530 of those related to pubs, clubs and hotels. A total of 138 cases were dealt with - there is a difference between the number of cases lodged and the number dealt with - by the office of the director and 35 of those cases were missed by the deadlines in the Equal Status Act. A total of 39 cases were adjudicated and 32 of the adjudications were in favour of the Travellers. The equality tribunal adjudicated that 32 of the 39 complaints by Travellers were upheld.

Obviously, however, there are many cases pending. Not all of them involve financial compensation. The Director of Equality Investigations has other powers to direct other courses of action, such as equality training for staff in pubs, restaurants and hotels, developing codes of practice and so forth. There are many other discretionary powers available aside from directing a publican, restaurant owner or hotel owner to pay compensation and those powers have been used extensively.

The core issue we have come here to articulate is that it is not, to be technical about it, a recommendation of the Commission on Liquor Licensing that equality cases should be adjudicated by the District Court. It generally advocates it. However, it is unfortunate that the media has taken it to be a recommendation. It has found favour in many quarters within the political sphere, in the media and in the drinks industry. It was not a recommendation, it was couched in different language in that it was generally advocated. However, it was taken up as a recommendation and found favour in a number of quarters. People took it up that way and ran with it. That point should be clarified.

I thank Mr. Collins. I ask Mr. Kearney to address the matters that have arisen.

Mr. Kearney

I am a little disappointed that there still seems to be a predominant focus on young people. With regard to café bars, perhaps at some point in the future it may be appropriate to change the way, culturally, we approach drink so that they may form part of an effective strategy, but in the proposed legislation they are an addition. If café bars were replacing super-pubs, that might be possible, but when they are an addition they simply increase access and, ultimately, a pub is a pub. It means increasing access.

With regard to ID cards, we are not against the use of identification. Publicans have a responsibility to ensure that young people entering pubs are of legal age, but we oppose a mandatory ID card. That is particularly discriminatory. There is a voluntary scheme in place, so why not use it?

With regard to education and getting the information to young people, mention has been made of MEAS, an organisation which is sponsored by the drinks industry to provide information and campaign. However, I am reminded of research agencies developed by the tobacco industry to tell us that there is no association between tobacco and lung cancer. If the drinks industry is interested in education and research, we should take a levy from it and establish an independent agency that has no official or formal links with the industry.

There was a question about what is happening in terms of working with young people in research. The youth service across the country, through youth clubs, youth projects and youth information outlets, is working continually on these issues and providing information and, in an informal setting, the type of advice and discussion opportunities for young people to begin to tackle this. We are also looking at it on the basis of gender such as, for example, working with young men in terms of how their behaviour may be influenced by gender stereotypes and aggression. Those services need to be resourced. The fact that we have not yet implemented the Youth Work Act and the national youth work development plan is a sad indictment.

Mr. Ó Mongáin

The first question that was addressed was whether the new licences and the café bars would reduce the need for super-pubs or cut down on this trend. I do not believe so. Realistically, if the damage level drinking we have at present increases and if demand increases, the demand for super-pubs will increase. There is a way to deal with the size of pubs. If somebody gets a normal licence to establish a pub, it is incumbent on people to object, through the planning permission process, to the size of the premises. It is a matter of listing certain people as notice parties on the planning permission within a particular area, whether it is the Garda or local educational concerns. That is the way to limit the size of super-pubs with the existing number of licences.

If people want a café bar where they can have a croissant and a cup of coffee while their friend has a glass of beer, the special restaurant licence covers that. If we want a café society, such as that on the Continent, where people go out to eat and possibly have a drink as well, rather than go out with the sole aim of drinking, the special restaurant licence adequately takes care of that.

With regard to appointing a Minister of State with responsibility for alcohol, the health promotion unit in the Department of Health and Children is quite strong on the issue of alcohol at present. Unfortunately, however, when it makes recommendations as a result of research, such as that of the strategic task force on alcohol, they are not taken on board by bodies such as the commission on liquor licensing. Trojan work is being done, but it is not being adopted.

The problem with ID cards is that one can make them mandatory and, indeed, make 20 million forms of ID mandatory, but the question is whether the person behind the counter serving the drink will ask for the ID and scrutinise it when it is presented. The real problem is enforcement at the counter or at service level. With regard to creating a cross-departmental approach to include the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, deregulation in the form that is recommended by the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing is a barrier to this. The Department of Health and Children has specifically advocated limitations, but the commission reporting to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is going against that. It is a barrier to the cross-departmental approach.

The first step in a society dealing with this issue is to admit that there is a problem and then tackle it on many levels. One of the issues that must be dealt with is the cause of drinking and the reason people engage in excessive drinking. There must be a shift in the psyche in that regard. One of the encouraging things, from a youth work perspective, is the SPHE programme, which primarily entails facilitation by teachers of discussion within a classroom context and dissemination of information in that way. It is a recognition of how youth work methodology can be incorporated into formal education and used there. I fully support Diarmuid's comments on support for the youth services.

With regard to depression and suicide, everybody is aware of the poor state of mental health services generally and the need to address that. However, there are services available through the youth work services. The national youth health programme runs anger management courses and is engaging in alcohol education through its "Have you got the bottle" and "It's your choice" programme.

Pavee Point is a member organisation of ours through the young people within that organisation. When the Commission on Liquor Licensing released its report, it unfortunately only gave a minor mention to the cases regarding Travellers. When the Equality Authority went to the vintners against whom complaints were made and offered them the chance to mediate with the complaining parties, the vintners refused to co-operate. A real problem arose. There was a raft of complaints that were not being dealt with by the vintners and there was frustration when the complaints went further. Had mediation been utilised, there would not have been high profile cases. An understanding would have been reached at local level. That is unfortunate, but I reiterate that tremendous support is needed for the youth work services, not only from the point of view of providing an alternative but also for the non-formal education that is offered through them. It is indicative that the SPHE programme's methodology has been adopted from a youth work perspective. We need to take a holistic approach to that.

Is there any item that anybody feels should be mentioned before they leave?

Very quickly, because Mr. Prendergast has already made the points. However, if there is something Mr. Fox feels must be said then he should say it.

Deputy Finian McGrath raised a point about late bars. The waters have become very muddied since the 2000 Act and a lot of people do not understand the difference between a late bar and a nightclub. Late bars have obtained exemptions and can open at 10.30 a.m. and close at 3 a.m. the following day without any restriction on how much people drink or how long they stay there. Nightclubs operate for two to three hours from midnight. If somebody goes into a late bar and drinks all day, there is no security or check on them to see how much they are drinking or how intoxicated they become. If there were no late bars and they went back to closing at 11.30 p.m., those people would go to nightclubs, but they might be refused at the door because they would already be intoxicated. So, by introducing these late bars, we have taken away that vetting procedure that used exist. That is important to us, as an industry.

A question was raised about underage drinking and we would be in favour of raising the age limit throughout the country to 21. That may be in contravention of the Equal Status Act, but perhaps there is some way of placing restrictions on people aged 18 to 21 from attending certain premises.

Mr. Ó Mongáin

There is a variation of people aged 18 and it would be unfortunate if adults were refused access to nightclubs purely on the basis that they were under 21 years of age. Once one reaches 18, the age of majority in this State, one should be afforded rights under the Equal Status Act. If people arrive at the door intoxicated, it is up to those responsible for implementing the door policy to dictate that they do not get in or, if they do get in, that they are refused service for being intoxicated. Owners are obliged to do so under the law.

On that point of contention, we will conclude. I thank all our guests for coming before the committee. In all likelihood, the committee will hold at least one further meeting on this matter after Easter and will continue to focus on the question of alcohol abuse and the enforcement of the law relating to this area.

If there are any further comments or contributions that our guests feel that they would like to give to the committee, they should send them to the committee secretariat, which will circulate them to Members. I thank them again for coming before the committee. The presentations were very interesting and enlightening, and we appreciated them.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.34 p.m. and adjourned at 4.36 p.m. sine die.