Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

A previous speaker noted that people are being disgorged onto the streets at 4 a.m. Given that the Minister indicated this should not be happening, I ask him to consider a requirement to display opening hours on a plaque which would be mounted outside pubs.

It was also suggested that a certification process similar to the good food guides should be developed for pubs and nightclubs. The majority of pubs observe the rules but, even if people do not see the equivalent of Egon Ronay's guides, at least they will be able to make an informed decision. I note that another voluntary code will be introduced to regulate the provision of separate areas for alcohol. I ask the Minister to ensure the review mechanism is strong and that the voluntary code is seen to be not only something to which people have signed up but which they will enact.

While closed circuit television systems are great, I am told CCTV footage is not admissible as evidence in court. Perhaps the Minister will consider tightening up the provisions in this regard. It is said that the camera never lies; if that is so, surely such CCTV footage should be admissible as evidence.

It is important people engaged in general supermarket work and in the sale of alcohol receive training in respect of the new provisions. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure employers train their staff in this regard. This will ensure they understand they will be dismissed if they sell alcohol to minors. This is the standard we should seek to achieve. I have been told that tills are so sophisticated nowadays they will not register the bar code on alcohol products being sold on Sundays. While technology can assist in regard to the timing of the sale of alcohol, staff need to be trained and to be made aware of the consequences of their actions in this regard.

Theatre licences are to be abolished under this legislation. The licensing year commences in September. Will current theatre licences be valid until September or will they expire on enactment of this legislation? Perhaps the Minister will address, in his concluding remarks, the uncertainty in this regard. We are all aware of the situation in regard to polydrug abuse.

There are two further issues I wish to raise in the time available. I live in a Border area. If it remains possible that people can purchase alcohol cheaper in the North by way of clubcard points or the practise of below-cost selling then many people on the Border will buy in the North. This will further undermine the industry. I ask that the Minister work with his colleagues in the North, who are also struggling to address the issue of alcohol misuse and abuse, to ensure the two sides are working towards the same goal. If this does not happen, publicans will suffer because cheaper alcohol will be bought and consumed elsewhere.

I accept provision is made in the legislation for the Garda to take alcohol from persons under 18 years of age. However, a number of gardaí to whom I have spoken do not believe this measure is as effective as ensuring persons under 18 years of age know they should not be consuming alcohol. I welcome that it will be an offence for persons under 18 years of age caught with alcohol in their possession to pass that alcohol to an adult or other person over 18 years of age. However, I believe we must ensure the penalty in this regard is more severe than his or her simply being referred to the juvenile liaison system, the administrative cost of which is enormous. It should be possible to provide in the Children's Act, for example, that parents may be fined when a child commits such an offence.

Every Saturday, people in my area are left to clean up the mess of broken glass and bottles left behind by under-age drinkers. If the people who make the mess were required under the criminal justice system, by way of community service, to clean up after them they might encourage their peers not to get involved in this type of activity. We could utilise the penalty of community service in respect of boy-racing and other offences. This could be supervised by FÁS scheme supervisors who are already trying to address some of these issues. I am aware there are insurance implications in respect of the collection of broken glass. However, citizens and members of Tidy Towns organisations have to do it while those responsible get off scot-free.

I wish to share time with Senator Ross.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the House. In my view, the alcohol problem in Ireland is very much the result of supply side issues such as advertising. I will commence by addressing the issue of immoral promotions to drive footfall in shops, in particular at holiday times, and the advertising of alcopops which are designed specifically for young people.

We have witnessed some cynical advertising strategies in recent years. It is all very well to say, as representatives of the drinks industry often do, that alcohol is not targeted at young people and that they are not attempting to send out to young people the message that the consumption of alcohol is associated with social success. However, people who have examined these advertising strategies have concluded that the advertising of alcohol is targeted to a considerable degree at young people, and in quite a cynical way.

The Bill, as many will say, has a relative lack of importance compared with what is actually needed and in terms of the promised legislation next term. It is timely for us to welcome it in so far as it goes and to consider what is needed if we are to deal in a serious fashion with our alcohol problem. We need to put in place serious restrictions on the advertising of alcoholic drink and its total ban in terms of its association with sport. I would like to see the printing of a health warning on all bottles, cans and advertisements for alcoholic drinks.

We need to address the proliferation of outlets for the sale of alcoholic drink. Supermarkets and filling stations facilitate the over-consumption and abuse of alcohol and make it easier for minors to access alcoholic drinks. I drive regularly from Dublin to Galway and back again and have stopped at filling stations which are shrines to alcohol in terms of how it is stocked, the prominence it is given behind the counter and so on. We are all aware of the huge increase in the number of off-licences and the increased number of areas where alcohol can be purchased. A question arises as to whether we want to tackle the issue of supply and-or demand.

Chun an fhírinne a rá, tá an rud fite fuaite. Tógfaimid faoi deara an chaoi ina bhíonn alcól ar fáil sna siopaí. Má tá sé sofheicthe ó thaobh láithriú de, is cinnte go mbíonn tionchar aige sin ar an meon agus an dearcadh a bhíonn ag daoine ina leith. Má tá sé le feiceáil, beidh sé á cheannach ag daoine.

As I said, supermarkets and filling stations are of particular concern precisely because they facilitate over-consumption of alcohol. I believe there must be strict regulation and restriction of the sale of alcoholic drinks outside licensed premises, namely, public houses, hotels and clubs. There should be restrictions on the time and day on which alcoholic drink may be sold. Cans and bottles containing alcoholic drink should be indelibly marked with the name and address of the off-licence or supermarket at which they were sold. This provision has been already passed into law but is not being implemented.

There must be restrictions on window displays of alcoholic drinks in off-licences, supermarkets and filling stations. We need to consider banning the sale of alcoholic drink at cut prices or as a loss leader. There should be an absolute ban on below-cost selling of alcohol. I am aware the legislation provides that the Minister may make regulations to ban the advertising of reduced price or free drink with the purchase of any other drink or to prohibit the sale of reduced price drink or the giving of free drink with the purchase of any other drinks or products. It is all very well to provide that the Minister may make regulations in this regard but I believe we need to go much further and ban below-cost selling of alcohol.

Everybody knows there is serious abuse of alcohol by young people who drink in parks, sheds, graveyards, along riverbanks and in other discreet places. The consequences of this practise of uncontrolled drinking of alcohol are misbehaviour, inter-personal violence, public order offences and so on. I was taken by the recommendations of the Pioneer Association in this regard. The Pioneer Association picks up on a great and noble tradition in Irish society in trying to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse through moral leadership. We should take seriously its recommendation that we outlaw the consumption of alcoholic drink outside licensed premises and its suggestion that local authorities be requested to monitor the practice of public drinking in towns and villages. I could go on but I wish to yield to my colleague Senator Ross. I look forward to further discussion on Committee Stage and urge a more serious approach to the drink problem in our society than has been the case to date.

I want to ask the Minister a single question. I do not share the outright opposition to the Bill which seems to be prevalent in many parts of the House. There are good parts and bad parts to it. I do not like the fact that the fingerprints of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland are all over it. However, I applaud the Minister for his change of mind on early houses. It showed common sense that was not necessarily the result of lobby group activity. Why is it necessary to have every premises close at the same time in the early hours of the morning? Why is it necessary to withdraw the distinction of theatre licences? I would have thought the Minister would give serious consideration to introducing staggered closing hours late at night as it would make the streets somewhat safer and would ensure that certain privileges could be given to premises which have different requirements at different times. It would be appropriate for the Minister to reconsider this clause.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister and his officials on the comprehensive response they have given to much of the debate that has taken place, not just in this House but in public. Whenever there are high-profile cases of anti-social behaviour, ending in some cases not just in violence but in death, this House invariably has long discussions on the Order of Business. Each time we had such a discussion it was based on a specific incident, but it always seemed to disappear quickly into the ether. I watched a series of television programmes about the streets of Britain, on which people are shown spilling out from nightclubs and engaging in thuggish behaviour. There is also violence, much of which, I am sure, ends in the destruction of individuals. Against that background we have had a similar "Prime Time" programme in Ireland, showing that abuse of alcohol — and, I presume, other substances — does not take place only in Britain or in other countries. While we might be accused of restricting the rights of people to enjoy themselves, we must also remember the rights of those who are on the receiving end of such anti-social behaviour, which represents the majority of people. Old people have had to lock themselves into their homes as into a prison. They have no sense of security or safety. When this issue is raised, people sometimes make fun of it. It is vital that we come forward and take a stand in this regard.

I reiterate what Senator Mullen said with regard to advertising. We are dealing with a drug; it is as simple as that. We also know that alcohol is harmful to health. I have discussed the consequences in terms of safety but there is no doubt that it also destroys people's health. We know this from the hospital records and reports. It is strange that while we have health warnings on cigarettes, we do not have such warnings for alcohol. Cigarettes cannot be advertised in certain circumstances. Likewise, why should alcohol advertising be allowed? I do not think that in this way we are demonising the publicans or the outlets. We cannot generalise in this regard. If we take a small pub in rural Ireland, it is a place where people gather for a social evening. Often it is the only social outlet. However, this cannot be compared to a nightclub in the city which allows people after hours of drinking, to come out on to the streets at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Generalisation is not always helpful.

The off-licence area is one that must be constantly monitored. Often, when driving in a car, I have seen relatively young people carrying six-packs out of off-licences in large quantities and bring them to wherever they will drink. There is no supervision and no way to tell whether they are under age or over age. The consequences of that type of drinking include not just those I have mentioned but the debris and so on that is left behind. The only way we can tackle this is to remind ourselves of the seriousness of the situation. There have been several criticisms of certain sections of this legislation and some of that has come from the nightclubs. I would not generalise and criticise all nightclubs as I do not have much experience of them. I presume most of them are properly supervised. However, it is only fair that time restrictions be placed on them to ensure the rights of other people. Those who object to certain restrictions that have been mentioned here should think of that. There is sufficient time in which to sell and consume drink. I do not think we should spend too much time having to listen to such objections.

The issue of theatre licences has already been raised by Senator Ross. There is no doubt that such licences were being abused in certain circumstances and that there were loopholes. However, for well run theatres, particularly those with tiered seating, rather than those with huge areas that are not theatres in a real sense, the idea of being able to sell drink an hour before the performance and for a certain time after was a good one. I would like to think that the 90% of venues that run their facilities properly run them as a service rather than as a financial undertaking. I would not like this service to be hindered as it allows the consumption of alcohol in a controlled social situation.

Something we might consider for future legislation is a method of allowing bed and breakfast facilities to serve a drink at night. There is no doubt that bed and breakfasts are under severe pressure at the moment. In recent years 50% of them have gone out of business. We will be left with nothing but the major facilities that can accommodate 30 or 40 guests. Small bed and breakfasts are particularly attractive facilities for people who wish to engage with Irish people in the home, but one of the disadvantages they face is that they cannot sell drinks. There should be some way we can help in this regard because these facilities have been caught in the net of health and safety, bureaucracy and over-regulation. I hope we will consider this in the future, no matter how radical it might seem, because it is an important issue.

There are times when we should listen very carefully before we engage in generalisation. I remember when the number of drinks one could consume was gradually reduced due to anti-social behaviour in cities. However, this also affected older people in rural Ireland who went down to their local pubs two or three nights a week for one or two pints. To a large degree they have been prevented from doing this and have now become isolated in their own homes. In the past three or four months I have heard people talk about the isolation now being experienced in rural Ireland, although not always in this context. President McAleese spoke about this and said it is necessary for all community organisations to do something about it.

In fairness, we should keep an eye on the difficulty facing older people who cannot go into a social setting for a drink, however many nights per week that may be.

The debate around this legislation is about reducing the consumption of alcohol and, hopefully, reducing the negative social and medical effects that alcohol abuse causes Irish people. When I started college over 20 years ago there were holy hours, early closing on Sundays and restrictive times for nightclubs but even then there was a problem in this country with alcohol abuse. Holy hours and the like went by the wayside around ten years ago and extended hours were introduced but the past decade has seen a massive increase in the consumption of alcohol. Most of this increase has been driven by the availability of alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets to be taken home for consumption.

People have spoken of the need to stagger nightclub closing times, which is very sensible. We must be sensible about how people socialise in this country. Young people of college-going age like to stay out late at night and they have the ability to then get up early, go to college or work and do what must be done. We must be sensible and consider staggered hours.

It is more important, however, that the nightclubs are properly policed because we see what is happening on our streets. In many of the UK programmes referred to by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú it is clear that nightclubs are responsible because they pile people who are destroyed by alcohol onto the streets. It is clear that many of them were served alcohol long after they lost any capacity to make a sensible decision on what to do after leaving the nightclub. The problem is not so much to do with opening hours but with what happens regarding the distribution of alcohol in nightclubs.

The same problem applies to off-licences and the availability of alcohol to people who wish to take it home with them. There has been a huge explosion in accessibility to alcohol. Off-licences were difficult to find 20 years ago and it was harder to get alcohol in supermarkets. Alcohol was also far more expensive then — it is very cheap now and is promoted as just another grocery item in supermarkets. We must consider reducing accessibility to alcohol and changing attitudes to the consumption of alcohol and I do not know whether this legislation will do this or whether future legislation will be necessary in this regard.

The acceptance of alcohol abuse in this country is more complex than we admit. I do not believe that access to alcohol in public houses and nightclubs is the root of our problems. Alcohol consumption in Ireland has increased dramatically in the past decade and the ease and acceptability of taking alcohol home has caused this. When people make an effort and when the area is policed properly, alcohol consumption can be controlled.

I am trying to be sensible. In a pure world nobody would drink alcohol, nobody would smoke, everyone would exercise regularly, nobody would be overweight and I would be out of a job but this, unfortunately, is not the reality. People will always abuse alcohol, though sometimes it will be an occasional thing. Some people abuse alcohol rarely but on the occasions they do they may put themselves in situations with terrible outcomes. I have seen people who have been seriously injured and who have died due to an inability to handle alcohol. However, somebody gave them the alcohol and put them in that situation. This is what we must go after.

This legislation will not address all of these concerns but if there is one big change the Minister might make it is to stagger the hours of nightclubs. This will make a huge difference and the rules should be enforced properly to ensure nightclubs are responsible for the people inside their four walls. The Minister of State, who is in the House, previously owned a pub and I know he would never serve alcohol to a person who is blind drunk and get a bad reputation for his establishment. This responsibility needs to be enforced — people must be held responsible for what happens in their nightclubs as this will help us protect people.

In the long term we must restrict access to alcohol and not make it so easily available, though this is not covered in this legislation and I do not know how it will be done. Buying alcohol today has become like buying milk and butter and, in many cases, people buy strong spirits that have a very negative effect, not only on their health but on the people in their houses. This is what we must focus on.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. More comprehensive legislation on the sale of alcohol is promised for the autumn but this Bill represents some important policy principles. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that I will go through, it is a missed opportunity in terms of tackling problems associated with alcohol abuse. This point was made on earlier occasions but it is a pity that the Bill is to be rushed through during the last week of this session. There is no case for urgency on the Bill, particularly as more comprehensive legislation is due in the autumn. It is a shame that we are to rush it like this.

Others have gone into the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol through public order issues and private heartache in relationships. The question is how best to tackle this from a legislative perspective and this Bill, unfortunately, represents no more than a knee-jerk, tokenistic attempt to tackle the problem. I do not believe that restricting pub and nightclub opening hours and creating more criminal justice public order offences will tackle problems associated with the abuse of alcohol. Nor will they tackle the culture of drinking in Ireland, which has tended to be a culture of binge drinking and which has been compounded by restrictive opening hours in the past. Laws relating to holy hour and so on are, thankfully, no longer part of the system. It would be far better to address the problems associated with alcohol abuse through preventative and educational means, rather than through criminal offences and the restriction of opening times.

If one looks at the history of licensing laws in Ireland one will see that from the 17th century the motivation behind them was to control excessive drinking by controlling what was described in an old statute as "the needless multitudes of ale houses". It was felt that these should be reduced "to fewer number, to more fit persons and to more convenient places". We can see that this rather paternalistic approach to controlling alcohol consumption is still borne out in our current system of licensing laws. While any person may open a sweet shop or, indeed, a massage parlour, a licence is still required for any person who wishes to sell alcohol. The granting of new publican licences was prohibited in 1902 in an attempt to reduce the number of pubs in the country.

The result of this original motivation has developed into the complex system of licensing laws we operate with today whereby nightclubs operate under a sort of theatre licence that is not really suited to the modern establishments they constitute. Changes routinely take place nowadays to the opening hours of pubs and nightclubs and exemptions are granted to provide for longer opening hours. This is a rather unsatisfactory approach to regulating alcohol consumption and it has resulted in the unfortunate presence of a very small number of large, so-called super pubs, particularly in the centre of Dublin. They tend to close at the same time, due to the current laws, and this involves large numbers of people spilling onto the street simultaneously. This causes many public order issues, public transport difficulties and so on. As others said, it would be far better to introduce a system of sequential closing times, enabling some venues to stay open later than others. This would ensure people do not come onto the street at the same time. Members have referred to "staggered closing times" but this is a somewhat unfortunate phrase in the context of alcohol consumption. "Sequential closing times" might be a more tactful way of putting it.

We must be careful not to fall into the trap of youth bashing.

Certain contributors have railed at length about the youth of today but I do not believe they are any more prone to excessive drinking than the youth of other generations. There always has been alcohol abuse, among all age groups, and it was a much more serious problem before drink driving legislation was enacted. Most Members will recognise that younger people are more likely not to drink than older generations if they are driving. There are obviously some exceptions but this is generally the case.

We need to consider the effect of licensing laws and look at a much bigger picture. I hope we can do so in the autumn. We should consider trying to create a more — dare I say — European or cosmopolitan culture of alcohol consumption. I agreed with the failed initiative on café bars of former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, who suggested liberalising the licensing regime to ensure places that sold food could also sell alcohol for longer durations. This would encourage smaller venues to open. I take on board Senator Ó Murchú's point on B&Bs. It would be welcome if small family-run establishments were allowed to serve alcohol in a civilised fashion, such that they would be very much in control of who was consuming on their premises. This would be preferable to the current approach.

It is regrettable that this legislation does not adopt alternative approaches and instead provides for tokenistic closure. I have spoken with representatives from the nightclub industry, for whom I hold no brief. As one who used to frequent nightclubs before having babies, I can comment from a punter's perspective on the rolling back of closing times, particularly on Sunday nights. At present, those premises with theatre licences and special exemptions can open until 2.30 a.m. on Sunday night. This is not a night on which many of us choose to go out but it is sometimes the only night on which many of those in the service industry, particularly staff in restaurants, hotels and bars, can go out. It is important that clubs can stay open until 2.30 a.m. and I will table an amendment to this effect.

These are only piecemeal issues as the main issue concerns trying to provide sequential closing times to address public disorder and create the more cosmopolitan culture of which I speak. It is time we considered more genuine reform of the rule that requires nightclubs to operate with unsuitable theatre licences. We need to introduce a nightclub licence of the sort debated in the Dáil.

When we introduce legislation such as this in the absence of more thorough reform of licensing and a more comprehensive address of the problems associated with drink culture, we risk being seen as nanny-state legislators. We are really trying to ensure people will behave in an adult and civilised fashion when consuming alcohol. If clubbers and those who frequent pubs are being treated like children, they will not be able to behave as adults. We need to address this very fundamental issue when addressing licensing laws. I welcome the opportunity for further debate on this.

The legislation has been discussed at length in both Houses. Many contributors have referred to a similar theme, namely, the culture associated with the alcohol industry. As a nation, we recognise we are fond of the drink. This stems from the fact that, over generations, the pub was the only place people used to go after baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmation ceremonies and matches. This has contributed to the view that alcohol consumption is the acceptable social response to any occasion for celebration. This is a sad reflection on our society and it is time we moved on.

As legislators, we are given responsibility to legislate for a modern, responsible society. Alcohol contributes significantly to depression and mental illness. Members have referred to this in various debates and Senator Mary White even mentions it in her document on suicide. Friends of mine died of suicide and were heavily intoxicated at the time. This is sad to say but there is no doubt but that the alcohol played a major part, and this is even acknowledged by the families.

More can be done in the field of education to promote moderation and responsibility in the consumption of alcohol. I am not sure the legislation before the House will address this. Will it create a pressure cooker phenomenon whereby people will start to buy extra rounds as closing time approaches? If so, a binge drinking culture will be created. We should try to curb that. In other countries, both in the European Union and further afield, people seem to have a more moderate approach to drinking. They can enter and leave licensed premises without time restrictions and do not seem to engage in the sort of disorderly behaviour we seem to have on our streets late at night when nightclubs are closing.

I was taken aback by the amount of contact I had from young people on this issue. They are not looking for more drink. If they want more, they can get it in the off-licences. Many are doing this already and the publicans will confirm they have lost much trade to the off-licences. Senator Ó Murchú and others referred to consumers buying six-packs on special offers and going to one another's houses, wherein they can have as much drink as they want. The young people who are contacting legislators are making the different and very valid point that if a closing time restriction is put in place, as proposed in the Bill, we will again create a pressure-cooker phenomenon on the streets. All the people will be pushed out at the one time. Fast food outlets overflow as a consequence of such policies and taxi drivers and the public transport system cannot deal with the demands put on them, which in turn create very unstable circumstances late at night. Parents then worry about how their kids will get home and this is the reality.

Some Senators state they are not familiar with the nightclub scene. It would be no harm if some of them checked out what the major cities and towns are like at 2.30 a.m. There is chaos and I am sure the Minister of State is aware of it. Fine Gael is proposing sequential closing hours, which would relieve the pressure on staff in food outlets and the transport sector and afford parents comfort in bringing home their children safely. Sequential closing hours would prevent crowds from converging in pressurised circumstances.

It is sad we are not listening to the young people. We often hear how they are disengaging from politics but they have engaged with politicians on this issue. We saw their demonstration in front of Leinster House last week and it provided some welcome colour and music. At least the young know we are here and are working but they want responses once they engage with us. They are not getting them on this occasion and this is a sad reflection on us as legislators. We should listen to the people, who are making very valid points. We are not seeking that doors be left open day and night just to provide drink but ways of providing adequate responses to the challenges that exist, especially in respect of public disorder.

Senators referred to the sale of alcopops. We do not realise their impact on the drinking culture of young people. I am one of the people who like to give the young responsibility and treat them with the respect they deserve as young adults but I realise alcopops are making it very easy for them to become hooked on drinking. I did not drink until I was nearly 23 but can always remember my first taste of a drink. It was very bitter and I did not like it. Now youths are tasting alcopops at the very young ages of 14, 15 and 16 and find they taste like summer drinks. They are drinking them and getting hooked on them because they are easy to consume and easy to obtain. These sweet drinks are creating a new culture of binge drinking and this is a serious issue we as legislators should consider.

We could really make inroads in this area if we concentrated on it. I hope we will have further opportunities to debate this in the months and years ahead, but I hope they will arise sooner rather than later. Members have a responsibility to create a moderate and responsible society that can drink alcohol in a mature fashion without causing chaos. Everyone has a role to play in this regard. I ask the Minister of State to take on board the concerns I have raised. While one could talk at greater length about other issues, I have identified areas that require attention with regard to alcohol and were they to be addressed, inroads would be made in the fight against binge and under age drinking and similar activities.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, and his officials to the House. I concur with many of the previous speakers. Although I missed much of the debate, I listened to the last few minutes in which a great deal of sense was spoken. One of Senator Coffey's concluding remarks made mention of advertising and alcopops. I understand proposals are in gestation at present to review the entire subject of alcohol advertising. I have discussed this matter previously and it should be reviewed. Similarly, alcohol sponsorship at sporting events should be reviewed. While I used to believe that such sponsorship should continue, I now consider a different stance should be taken.

Ireland has a problem in respect of the abuse of alcohol. I do not suggest everyone has such a problem as the majority of people do not. Some people, however, have a significant problem and this must be addressed. The Minister of State is familiar with this issue, given his family involvement in the pub business and he is familiar with the difficulties that arise from the abuse of alcohol. I will preface my remarks by stating I am not a killjoy. However, I concur with Senator Coffey's remarks regarding alcopops and have come to believe they should be banned outright because it is just like drinking lemonade. When I was younger, I was put off alcohol because I did not believe it tasted nice at the time. I may have moderated my view in this regard subsequently. However, alcopops are easily consumed and in some cases are targeted at extremely young people, including, I believe, under age drinkers. Recently, a former Member of this House, my colleague, Deputy Ulick Burke, presented me with a promotional pack from a UK-based company that sold alcohol in small sachets as a direct marketing product. It was directed at young people and it did not matter whether they were under or over the age at which one is allowed to consume alcohol. Serious work must be done in this regard.

I join with Members who have expressed concern regarding the rushed nature of this legislation. While the summer recess is approaching, it could have been staggered better, for want of a better term, in respect of Members' proposed amendments to the Bill. I also intend to touch on a number of issues. I have rarely, if ever, received a greater number of representations on any Bill during my time in the Oireachtas than was the case for this Bill. I am sure other Members are in the same boat. Senator Bacik is correct to note there is a danger, in the midst of this discussion regarding licensing laws, of bashing young people and Members should try to avoid this. However, I join my colleagues who expressed concern and regret that the legislation will change the opening hours for midweek and weekend nights, apart from Sundays. Moreover, it will limit opening hours on Sunday and on Saturday and Friday to 1 a.m. and 2.30 a.m., respectively. This constitutes a step backwards. From a public order perspective it is obvious that in any given town nationwide, the time at which nightclubs close and people disperse onto the streets is most dangerous and is the time at which one is most likely to see trouble on the streets. The proposal to oblige all nightclubs to close their doors on a Saturday night at 2.30 a.m. will worsen that problem. I urge the Minister of State to revisit the opening hours issue.

I also fail to understand the distinction that has been made between Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday nights. I have been contacted by a number of people who are involved in the business and a number of nightclubs, particularly in this city, cater on a Sunday night to people who work hours that do not allow them to have a drink on a Friday or Saturday night because they work on Saturdays or Sundays but who are in a position to go out on a Sunday evening. I do not see the point in that change either and urge the Minister of State to consider that aspect of the legislation as well.

Another matter that was brought to my attention in a number of e-mails I received concerns the licensing laws pertaining to nightclubs. There is a loophole regarding theatre licences at present. While I am open to correction by the Minister of State, I am led to believe that the licensing laws pertaining to nightclubs date from the Public Dance Halls Act 1935. Although I do not have an intimate knowledge of its contents, I imagine it now is a seriously outdated item of legislation, as drinking practices and the format of society has changed greatly since 1935. Serious measures must be taken in respect of nightclub licensing, rather than depending, as is the case at present, on an Act from 1935.

Much of this Bill is to be welcomed and I have no problem with most of it. While I do not wish to profess any massive knowledge of the industry, I have attended a good number of nightclubs in my time and the problem I have seen building up is what Senator Coffey referred to as the pressure cooker effect. Everyone will be aware that closing time is due to take place in half an hour's time, which results in bulk-buying of alcohol. I fail to perceive how a closing time of 2.30 a.m. will reduce under age or binge drinking because a huge proliferation of outlets sell alcohol. I refer in particular to off-licences, garages and a number of facilities that sell alcohol across the board. Changes are in gestation in respect of those outlets. In a nightclub or pub, a person is at least under supervision in his or her consumption of alcohol. This is a more positive position to be in than to be drinking excessively at home or in a ditch in a field on the outskirts of a town. I urge the Minister of State to consider some of the points made before Committee Stage.

I did not realise I would be coming into the Seanad until approximately one hour ago. I have heard most of the points raised by Members and broadly speaking, they are in agreement. I take into account some of the points made regarding the rushed nature of the legislation. In response, I note it is interim legislation. While it is quite ambitious, this matter must be dealt with right now. I take the points made by Senators John Paul Phelan and Coffey and I wish to comment on a number of issues.

At the outset, I must state that I had an interest in the industry. While I am long-departed from it, nevertheless I built up experience over the years. I have made the point consistently that alcohol legislation requires radical change. I had the experience of being a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for some time, which commissioned a report on the high levels of suicide in Ireland. More importantly, the report considered the linkages between alcohol consumption and high suicide incidence and demonstrated that in each European country, a rise in alcohol consumption was paralleled by a rise in suicide. In itself, this necessitates an early examination of the laws and regulations pertaining to alcohol. It also is fair to point out the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children made it quite clear that this was an issue, particularly as approximately 450 people take their lives by suicide. Consequently, I welcome this Bill.

I am glad the legislation deals with alcohol related harm and also issues of public disorder. Senator Twomey made a point about the evolving change in the licensing laws over the years. He clearly made the point that not too long ago we had the holy hour. That, in itself, shows the changing pattern of the availability of alcohol. I recall some years before that the nonsense in the early 1960s, so laughable in this day and age, referred to then as the bona fide laws where somebody would have to travel three miles to purchase alcohol. In my home town cyclists would travel from Mountmellick to Rosenallis and meet the Rosenallis lads travelling back to Mountmellick. All over the decades the pattern of availability has changed.

The issue now is the total availability, which is something that we have tried to deal with. It is important that even though this is interim legislation, nevertheless it goes on to deal with that. It is also important to note that the Government's alcohol advisory group made its recommendation shortly after Easter. All in all, it is a matter of an open discussion on the issue of alcohol availability, the side effects of the issue of public order and how we come up with ways and means of dealing with all of this.

I take the point made by Senator Bacik that during the lead-up to the debate there have been ongoing talks with the alcohol industry, with some organisations totally opposed to the availability of alcohol, while the vintners' groups and those who clearly do not want the effects of a nanny state imposed on them.

It is important not to rush to legislation. At the same time it is important to put down a marker that the issue will be dealt with but, more importantly, to state that we cannot continue with the level of easy availability. The point made about alcopops was that the campaign is toward easy availability by way of having sweet-tasting alcohol. All of that shows the nature of the industry in terms of targeting the drinking habits of the very young.

One of the areas I am particularly interested is how we come to deal with the issue of the advertising of alcohol. I am glad that Senator Twomey made the point that the rural or smaller pub cannot be given the same consideration as the nightclub. No publican wants his house to be considered a house of easy availability. It would do no publican any good if his name was associated either with under age drinking or easy availability. Even though it is the one product, we must devise ways and means of separating the type of distribution outlet. That is the challenge for the new, more comprehensive legislation.

It is simply not possible, however, within the tight time frame in which we are working to accommodate in this Bill the many proposals and suggestions which have been made during the contributions of Senators. While this is an ambitious Bill it is also an interim measure. I hope that Senators would not feel that it is not going far enough or is rushed. The main matter to consider here is that it is an interim measure.

The Government legislative programme provides for publication of a comprehensive sale of alcohol Bill later this year and this will provide the opportunity for a more thorough discussion of the role of alcohol in our society and, more importantly, how to regulate its sale while, at the same time, protecting the vulnerable groups. This Bill will modernise and streamline all the licensing laws by repealing the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004 and replacing them with a single updated statute. The law makers, the Garda and the industry welcome that there will be one statute rather than a gamut of legislation dating over 70 years.

Research published by the Health Research Board indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland increased by 17% between 1995 and 2006. In the report published by the Joint Committee on Health and Children, we correlated the rise in alcohol consumption and the incidence of depressive illnesses and suicide. It is important that we take that into consideration in the main legislation.

The resulting public disorder and health-related harm cannot be ignored or tolerated. While I generally accept the points made about the need for a change of culture regarding alcohol, I nevertheless believe that Government has a responsibility to ensure that licensing law and public order legislation are sufficiently robust to address these problems in an effective manner. That is the purpose of this interim Bill.

Parents also have responsibilities regarding their children, nor can we overlook the need for personal responsibility and the example that we, as adults, give to our children. I gather Senators are broadly supportive of the Bill. They made a number of detailed points which need to be clarified on Committee Stage and it is fair to give a commitment that they should be.

In the meantime, I want to take the opportunity to clarify a few points. As regards wine off-licences, section 6 provides that the requirement to obtain a District Court certificate will only apply to new applications made after the commencement of the section. The same applies to the new grounds for objection set out in section 7. In short, existing licences are not affected by the proposed changes.

With regard to the issue of the renewal of wine off-licences, the current legal position under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 is that an objection may be made to such renewal on stated grounds. Where an objection to renewal is made, a District Court certificate is required. That is the position under existing law and it will not change under the Bill.

The question of whether a temporary closure order applies to the entire premises or a part only has been raised following publication of the Bill. Under existing law, the District Court may make an order for the closure of the premises or any part thereof. The extent and duration of closure orders are, therefore, matters for the court to determine and the only change proposed in the Bill is that the minimum closure period will in future be two days.

I take the point made on the staggering of closing times — that is a word that needs to be changed. This was mentioned in several contributions. The Bill proposes no change whatever in the duration of special exemption orders. Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000, it will remain the case that special exemption orders expire at 2.30 a.m., and 1.00 a.m. on Sunday night-Monday morning. The Government's alcohol advisory group had recommended that 2.30 a.m. be brought forward to 2 a.m. but this was not accepted by the Minister or Government.

Recently, certain late-night venues, including some nightclubs and late bars, have sought to exploit a loophole which has opened up as a result of a High Court decision on theatre licences last year. This was referred to by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. The result has been a proliferation of theatre licences and a resulting circumvention of the special exemption order provisions. The proposals in the Bill will mean that this loophole, which is being unfairly exploited by some operators, will be closed. This will restore fair competition between all late night venues.

Alcohol promotions and price discounts cause considerable concern among advisory groups. As regards special promotions involving reduced prices and discounts, the advisory group acknowledged in its report that the increased affordability of alcohol is a result not only of reduced prices but also the increased disposable income levels that have resulted from the rapid economic progress and prosperity of recent years. The advisory group was satisfied, however, that the price at which alcohol is sold remains an important influence on purchasing patterns and that lower alcohol prices are being used as a means to attract customers. The group also concluded that reduced prices are being used to attract customers in the expectation that they will purchase other products as well as alcohol once inside the premises.

Section 16 provides for the making of future regulations prohibiting or restricting the advertising or promoting the sale or supply of alcohol at a reduced price, or free of charge, on the purchase of any quantity of alcohol or any other product or service. There is a broad definition of "reduced price" in subsection (6) which encompasses the award of bonus points, loyalty card points or other indirect benefits.

Preparatory work has commenced on the drafting of these regulations. In view of their potential impact on the EU internal market rules, it will be necessary to submit the proposed regulations in draft form to the European Commission for clearance. I do not foresee any specific difficulties with implementing such regulations at this stage but failure to follow specified procedures could lead to a legal challenge and the subsequent striking down of regulations on technical grounds.

On the issue of public order provisions, Senators from all sides of the House gave a favourable response to the proposals in the Bill that are aimed at tackling the public order problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption. It is fair to say we do not see this issue arising in rural pubs. There is a recognition that such consumption leads to severe public order problems. Apart from the upset and annoyance this causes to the public in general, it places the Garda under serious pressure. The proposals for the seizure of alcohol will be easier to enforce and will be effective in pre-empting and preventing public order offences being committed.

On the seizure of alcohol, I emphasise that the new powers to seize alcohol either in the case of persons under 18 years or from persons causing or likely to cause annoyance or a breach of the peace can be used even in the case where an offence has not been committed. These new powers are designed primarily to pre-empt and prevent the commission of an offence. The Garda will continue to have a wide variety of powers to deal with offences, but this new set of powers will add significantly to the range of options on which the Garda relies.

I thank all those who contributed to the debate. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his Department have taken note of all the points made. While it might not be possible to have regard to all of these points in this Bill, the Minister will consider them in the context of the Sale of Alcohol Bill he intends to bring forward in due course.

I oppose the Bill on Second Stage on the basis that the procedure and the Bill is flawed.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 14.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Fiona O’Malley and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Eugene Regan.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

At what time will that be?

That is a matter for tomorrow's Order of Business.

It will be after the Order of Business.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 10 July 2008.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 a.m. amárach.

Sitting suspended at 8.40 p.m. and resumed at 8.50 p.m.