Intoxicating Liquor (National Convention Centre) Bill 2010: Second and Subsequent Stages

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

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.

I agree that the national conference centre should have an intoxicating liquor licence. I support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister. As I believe this is the first time she has been to the House since taking up her new portfolio, I wish her every luck and success with it and have no doubt she will acquit herself with great aplomb, as she has done in other briefs she has held.

As my colleague said, I welcome the context for this legislation. It is a short Bill to deal with a specific item. It is essential that a national conference centre have an intoxicating liquor licence. As one who does not have a great deal of experience of having travelled abroad, although I have travelled abroad on a few occasions, most developed countries have a convention centre. This centre will be a huge asset to Dublin city and the nation. The facility in Spencer Dock is one from which future generations will reap the rewards.

This is a technical Bill, in respect of which I have one query. I welcome the legislation and thank my colleagues for giving it a speedy passage through the House. Would a debacle similar to that which happened on the occasion of the rugby match in Limerick on Good Friday be likely to occur in the case of this centre if a convention were to extend over the Easter period? Does the Bill cover situations such as a banquet, conference or some such set up? If so, the situation would not arise where somebody could say the convention centre in Dublin was able to serve drink on Good Friday when the matter would refer, obviously, to a particular event, convention or banquet. That is a general query, although perhaps it is inappropriate to ask it of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, when it may be one for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That issue caused widespread furore and national interest. Some tell me they see nothing wrong with such a measure, provided it is controlled, and that Good Friday drinking should be reintroduced. I have a different view but, that said, it was a topical debate some weeks ago. Perhaps the Minister might respond to this. It may not affect the Bill in any way.

I welcome the Bill and have nothing further to say on it.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Hanafin. I believe it is the first time she has been in this Chamber since she received her new portfolio, one I am delighted to see she has. Listening to the figures she gave today, it is clear how important tourism is to us. Some of the figures surprised me. I had not realised that business tourists spent so much. I know from Fáilte Ireland that tourists spend some four hours per day either eating or drinking. One's food and drink are important and that provides an opportunity for food tourism. The fact that Irish pubs have been so successful around the world gives some reason for this.

I grew up in the tourism industry. My father ran Red Island holiday camp back in the 1940s. Five hundred guests came every week in the summer, from May to September. They came by boat, later by aeroplane and we met them with buses. It had a very big impact on a town like Skerries at the time. My father's objective was not to make as much money as possible on people's first visit but to ensure they had such a good experience they would come back again and again. That is one message I would love the Minister to instill in the tourism business in Ireland. We call it the boomerang principle, namely, getting tourists to come back repeatedly. It seems to me this is forgotten at times. There was criticism of Irish tourism in recent years. When we had the golden calf, or perhaps it was the golden hen that laid an egg, we did not avail of it to ensure we took the long-term view.

This is a necessary Bill given the amount of revenue generated by conferences in Ireland. The national convention centre is a very striking building. Is it not impressive to look at it from outside? It will be a massive addition in helping to attract new visitors to Ireland and I am sure it will be very successful. More than 236,000 delegate days have been booked already at the NCC, including events such as the international conference of emergency medicine. One of the largest events will be the International Bar Association conference which hopes to attract 4,500 legal delegates in October 2012.

I very much look forward to Dublin's hosting of the City of Science in 2012, having been on the committee that helped put it together. This is a major international event held every two years in a leading European city and Dublin won it against stiff competition. It will be a showcase for the best and most relevant European sciences which it aims to bring to the widest possible audience. Up to 8,000 international delegates and 50,000 members of the public are expected to attend and participate. Research by the Fáilte Ireland business tourism forum suggests that the total expenditure by delegates will be €14.3 million, which is expected to support more than 270 jobs in the tourism sector.

It is very interesting to consider that the average overseas conference delegate attending an event in this country last year spent almost €1,000 in addition to his or her official outlay, according to Fáilte Ireland. This figure excludes expenses for conference fees, accommodation or other items paid for by a delegate's company or other organisation. It is very big money which makes clear that business conferences and business tourism are very important.

Business tourism is vital to Dublin and Ireland as a whole. Fáilte Ireland states the average international delegate spent 6.3 days in Ireland, of which 3.6 were spent at the actual event. Almost double the amount of event time is spent elsewhere. Individuals from more distant locations naturally tended to stay a little longer but the biggest proportion of their out-of-pocket spend went on further accommodation, followed by food and drink. The overall spend is boosted by more than a quarter of delegates mixing business with leisure during their trip. The attraction of coming to Ireland provided by the national convention centre obviously will improve those figures. We can picture what will happen now that we have such an impressive convention centre.

I was very surprised by the point made by Deputy Charles Flanagan in the other House who estimated that an intoxicating liquor licensing Bill had been introduced almost every second year since the initial body of law had been agreed in 1635. That is the figure I have but wonder if it can possibly be correct. Perhaps it should be 1835.

I welcome and support the intention of the Minister, Deputy Ahern, shortly to bring forward the sale of alcohol Bill which will consolidate more than 70 pieces of alcohol related legislation in one Bill. I am delighted that Deputy Hanafin has the seat of Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture and I am delighted with the Bill which will help the tourism industry. I encourage the Minister in the new task she has of urging a long-term rather than a short-term approach. I offer her congratulations.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her new role. On behalf of the Labour Party, I express our support for the Bill with its limited aim of providing for the facility to sell alcohol at the national convention centre when necessary. Deputy Rabbitte expressed his support for it in the other House which I reiterate in this Chamber. On Second Stage of the Bill in the Dáil, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Ahern, stated that under the agreement for the construction of the centre between the State and the public private partnership company, there was provision for the possibility of selling alcohol at the centre and that legislation to permit this sale should be enacted not later than 30 working days prior to the target commencement date of the centre, namely, 24 June. Given that timescale, there was agreement among the Whips in both Houses that all Stages of the Bill would be taken in one day. I have no difficulty with this, as it is not a contentious Bill. We accept the need for urgency in passing it, as explained by the the Government.

The same cannot be said about our intoxicating liquor legislation more generally. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a sense of urgency on the part of the Government to bring forward the long-promised legislation to consolidate the myriad existing legislation in respect of liquor licensing which dates back to 1833, as mentioned by Deputy Flanagan and the Minister, Deputy Ahern. The Government promised to introduce a sale of alcohol Bill soon, a consolidation Bill aimed at replacing the Liquor Licensing Acts brought in between 1833 and 2008 and the Registration of Clubs Acts between 1904 and 2008. I understand there are more than 700 statutory provisions spread across 60 to 70 statutes which, ultimately, will be consolidated in a single Bill. That will be very welcome and lead to a complete simplification of the processes in regard to licensing laws. The piecemeal nature of amendments to our licensing code is a real source of frustration for many. Too many arbitrary or whimsical changes have been made during the years to the laws governing the sale of alcohol and this has led to some real difficulties for those trying to operate licensed premises. In some cases, for example, when nightclub opening hours were curtailed, it led to job losses. That legislation came through this House 12 months ago and caused a great deal of consternation and much confusion for the people involved.

There are clear implications for tourism resulting from such confusion, especially when it defies rational logic. We all know of many cases of tourists coming to our shores who, as families eating late at night in licensed premises, find out their children cannot be with them because of the time of day at which they choose to eat. That is not helpful in encouraging people to come to the country or, as Senator Quinn observed, in ensuring they return. We must ensure the experience they have is a very positive one. Consolidation of the legislation is needed, therefore, and I appeal to the Minister to introduce a consolidating Bill as soon as possible, as we have been waiting for it a long time.

We welcome the legislation before the House and also the completion of the national convention centre which is likely to provide substantial numbers of employment opportunities when it opens, as it employed many hundreds during its construction stage. I know it is scheduled to open very soon and we look forward to the jobs it will produce when it does. The company must find as many potential delegates as possible and currently there are approximately 200,000 delegates signed up. The main target is international delegates and business but it is hoped the centre will also be open for business to domestic organisations. As I understand it, it can cater for smaller conferences which up to now would have taken place in hotels.

The centre will provide an important new facility for all those engaged in organising conferences and contribute to the regeneration of the docklands region. It will undoubtedly lead to an increased number of tourists from outside Dublin and abroad. We welcome the legislation.

There seems to be an unnatural reticence in speaking about alcohol in the House today but it shows there is a widespread welcome for this legislation and the belief it must be progressed through the House in a largely untouched state. I welcome that the national conference centre will offer opportunities and I hope that eventually there will be others forming a network of convention centres around the country to meet wider needs, especially for international conferences. The fact that a national centre is up and running is to be welcomed.

The Bill gives the right for usual licensing hours, with a start no earlier than 10.30 a.m. and a finish time of an hour after the end of events or 2 a.m., whichever is earlier. If a political party convention was to be held in the centre, the idea of people being allowed to drink at 10.30 a.m. might have grave political ramifications on what might be decided at the party conference. It is also important for the convention centre to be given an opportunity to operate profitably, and I am sure the management will run the facility in an upright and responsible manner.

At the last major review of intoxicating liquor in this House approximately 18 months ago, I addressed a small difficulty which remains on the Statute Book. An opportunity was given to convert licences of the original early day houses into full seven-day licences on the basis they operated under the licensing hours of between 10.30 a.m. and no later than midnight. There seems to be an anomaly now in that there are only six early day houses left in the country, and for some reason three of them are in Cork city. I am not concerned about any of those institutions as they have a particular history and cultural resonance where they are.

One establishment has more of a reputation as a prime eating facility in the west and it finds itself in a strange position because it cannot offer alcoholic beverages with food on a Sunday. It is a conundrum because of the law. Although it is probably not right to use the Bill as a vehicle for that change, I ask the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport to communicate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has responsibility in this area to see if the anomaly affecting that institution — one of only half a dozen left — might be overcome. It is a very prominent and successful institution which has key tourism links in the west.

Other than that there is not much to say about the Bill. The agreement of the House has been outlined in previous contributions and it would be welcome if the national convention centre would operate in the most effective manner possible. It has all our good wishes to ensure it does.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a gabháil leis na Seanadóirí for their support of the Bill which will add to the facilities on offer and enhance the tourism product available. On the specific issues raised, Senator O'Donovan asked about the Good Friday position. If a convention event takes place on a Sunday or Good Friday, the rules I outlined would apply rather than the normal licensing provisions. This would mean alcohol could be served until 2 a.m. or an hour after the conclusion of the event, whichever is earlier.

With regard to the consolidation Act, as I noted, it is my intention to provide for the publication of a sale of alcohol Bill by mid-2010 which will modernise and streamline all the laws relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol. A number of objectives will be set out.

I will relay to the appropriate Minister Deputy Boyle's concerns about the early day licences. Senator Quinn noted the principle which applied many years ago in Skerries of giving people good experience rather than making money immediately and that still applies. We saw how those in the tourism industry responded so positively to the problems experienced by people affected by the volcanic ash cloud recently. Where people got delayed, they were looked after well. The principle was that if a good message was sent abroad of a positive experience in Ireland, they would return. The boomerang principle applies today as it did in the 1940s. I thank Senators for their support of the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.