I listened to Senator Howard moving his amendment and thank him for his observations. However, I cannot accept such an amendment to the Irish Whiskey Bill, 1980. Under existing legislation, that is the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1969 administered by the Revenue Commissioners, whiskey produced in Ireland must be warehoused for at least three years before it can be delivered for home consumption. What is being proposed in section 1 (3)(b) of this Bill is completely in line with that requirement. In other words, this Bill does not propose anything new in regard to the minimum maturation period for Irish whiskey; it merely re-states what has been the law for the past 11 years. The requirements about maturation are now being included in this Bill solely because it is considered for completeness sake that such requirements should form an integral part of the legislation relating to Irish whiskey. The inclusion of the requirement about maturation in this Bill does not affect the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1969.
I do not propose to go into the full history of the legislation relating to the maturation of whiskey. However, I should like to point out that between 1926 and 1969 the minimum maturation period was five years, but that, in the latter year, the minimum maturation period was reduced from five to three years under the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act, 1969. The latter Act was promoted by the then Minister for Finance who, in the course of his speech on Second Stage in the Dáil stated as follows:
The proposed change in the law is being introduced at the request of the Irish distillers in order to provide them with greater flexibility in meeting the requirements of export markets. Whilst the law we are discussing applies only to spirits sold on the home market it has an indirect effect on exports. This happens because in an important export market like the USA imported spirits cannot be released for consumption unless they are eligible for sale in their country of origin. In the United Kingdom the general minimum age limit is three years. The result is that Scotch whisky and indeed Irish whiskey produced in Northern Ireland may be sold in the USA at three years whilst our whiskey must be five years old.
That is what the Minister said at columns 614 and 615 of the Dáil Debates dated 11 November 1969.
I should like to emphasise that the considerations which applied in 1969 still apply today and also that the request of the industry in 1969 was influenced by their realisation that public taste at home and abroad had switched to milder types of whiskey which did not necessarily require a lengthy period of maturation to maintain its quality. The maturation requirements set out in this Bill will not alter the character or reputation of Irish whiskey. All the Bill proposes to do is to specify the minimum maturation period which is, in fact, already laid down under other existing legislation. Of course, it should be borne in mind that while the minimum maturation period being specified is three years, many whiskies are, at the discretion of the industry, matured for far longer periods.
In considering this matter we should also bear in mind that the reciprocal legislation which the UK has enacted provides for a minimum maturation period of three years for both Scotch and Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey will, of course, henceforth cover whiskey produced here or in Northern Ireland. Senators will, I am sure, readily appreciate that in these circumstances it would be illogical to have different minimum maturation periods proposed for Irish whiskey in the South and Irish whiskey produced in the North.
Finally, I should like to say that in a definition of "whiskey" proposed by the EEC Commission some time ago, a minimum maturation period of two years only was suggested. While such a maturation period is not acceptable to the Irish distilling industry it reflects the trend of EEC thinking in this matter.