Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teach as ucht an Bhille seo a thógaint go práinneach. The co-operation of the Seanad in taking this Bill as a matter of urgency is greatly appreciated.
The main purpose of this short Bill is to make provision for an intoxicating liquor licence for the new national conference centre at Spencer Dock in Dublin, which will be known as The Convention Centre, Dublin. The licence is necessary in order that the centre can offer the full range of facilities when it opens in September. Similar legislation was enacted in 1983 to provide a fit-for-purpose licence for the National Concert Hall at Earlsfort Terrace.
Before moving to the detail of the Bill, I want to highlight the importance of business tourism to the economy. The most recent data from the Central Statistics Office indicate that about 1 million business visits were made to Ireland in 2009 and evidence suggests the typical business tourist spends more during his or her stay here than the non-business tourist. Research carried out by Fáilte Ireland in 2009 indicates that, on average, each business tourist generates about €1,400 in revenue during his or her time spent in Ireland.
Conferences and events are an important part of our overall business tourism market. Last year Fáilte Ireland provided financial support for 122 conferences, with a combined value of more than €80 million. However, while we now have the required availability of high quality hotel accommodation, the absence of a dedicated national conference centre has for some years been identified as a shortcoming which restricted our ability to exploit fully the potential to expand business tourism. The agreed programme for Government in 2002 contained a commitment for construction of a modern national conference centre. In 2003, under the direction of a steering group, the Office of Public Works published a notice inviting expressions of interest for the provision of such a conference centre in the Dublin area.
Following a complex and detailed appraisal process, the contract for the provision of the national conference centre was awarded to Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin Limited in April 2007. Under a public private partnership arrangement, the company is required to design, build and finance the centre and operate and maintain it for a period of 25 years, after which the facility will revert to the State. In return, when construction of the centre is complete and open for business, the State will pay an annual charge, the maximum total cost of which over 25 years will be just under €380 million in present day values.
The new conference centre which will be known and marketed as The Convention Centre Dublin will be officially opened on 7 September next, although it will be in business for a month prior to that date. The centre will be capable of accommodating up to 2,000 delegates in plenary session and have 22 other multi-purpose meeting rooms. In addition, it will have about 4,500 m2 of flexible exhibition and banqueting space, with associated press and delegate support facilities and general utility spaces. Up to 8,000 delegates may be accommodated at any one time in the building.
It has been estimated that the convention centre, when fully operational, will generate about 30,000 extra visitors to Ireland per year and associated annual foreign revenue earnings of between €25 million and €50 million. I understand a total of 39 international events involving over 250,000 delegate days have already been secured for the centre. These include meetings of the International Bar Association, involving 4,000 delegates, the International Statistics Institute, involving 3,000 delegates, as well as the international conference of emergency medicine, with more than 2,000 delegates.
In order to compete on an equal footing with comparable convention venues in other countries, it will be important that a full range of convention facilities be available. The purpose of the Bill is to provide a fit-for-purpose intoxicating liquor licence for the new facility. In view of the opening of the centre for business in August, there is some urgency in getting the new licence in place and I am grateful to Senators for facilitating speedy consideration and enactment of the Bill.
In regard to broader alcohol licensing legislation, I should inform Senators that the Government legislation programme provides for publication of the sale of alcohol Bill in 2010. That Bill will modernise and streamline the law relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol by repealing the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2008, as well as the Registration of Club Acts 1904 to 2008, and replacing them with updated provisions.
Turning to the provisions of the Bill, section 1 provides for the issuing by the Revenue Commissioners of a licence which will permit the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor at events which will be held in the new convention centre. As my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, explained when presenting the Bill in the Dáil, the proposed licence is not the equivalent of an ordinary seven-day alcohol licence. Under the proposed licence, alcohol may only be sold to and consumed by those attending or taking part in an event in the centre. Sales of alcohol to members of the public will not be permitted. Moreover, subsection (4) provides that the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport will make regulations prescribing the actual areas within the building in which such sale and consumption may take place. I have a similar power in regard to the areas within designated national sporting arenas in which alcohol may be sold and consumed.
An important distinction is being made in the Bill between what is called a "convention event" and a "non-convention event". The convention event is defined as a conference, congress, convention, seminar or symposium, held in and involving the use of some or all of the conference facilities of the convention centre, and includes a reception, dinner, banquet or stage show held as part of such an event involving the use of some or all of the facilities of the convention centre. The Bill will permit the sale of alcohol to those attending or taking part in an event during the period beginning one hour before it commences, but not before 10.30 a.m., and ending one hour after it concludes or midnight, whichever is the earlier. However, where a reception, dinner, banquet or stage show is being held which is part of a conference, congress, convention, seminar or symposium, the sale and consumption of alcohol may continue until 2 a.m. In such cases, there will be no requirement to apply to the District Court for a special exemption order.
In order to facilitate use of the convention centre's facilities at times during which convention events are not taking place, the PPP agreement permits the holding of what the Bill refers to as a "non-convention event". A "non-convention event" is defined as a trade fair — this might be a fair open to members of the public or confined to a specific economic or services sector — a live sports event, or a reception, dinner, banquet or stage show which is not held as part of a conference, congress, convention, seminar or symposium. Where such a non-convention event is taking place in the convention centre, the sale and consumption of alcohol will be subject to the normal licensing hours set out in section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927, as amended. Moreover, any extension beyond normal licensing hours for a non-convention event will require a special exemption of the District Court and the normal conditions, for example, advance notice to the Garda, will apply. These provisions will ensure there is no distortion of competition between the convention centre and other venues capable of holding non-convention events.
Section 2 amends section 1094 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 by providing for tax clearance of the applicant as a condition for the issue of the licence. Section 3 contains the standard commencement and interpretation provisions. It is intended that the Bill shall come into operation immediately upon enactment.
The Senators' co-operation in facilitating discussion on this short but necessary Bill is much appreciated. I believe it will enhance the facilities we have to offer in this wonderful new national convention centre.