Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to be in Seanad Éireann after a brief respite.

We are glad to have the Minister here.

I look forward to a positive and constructive engagement on this Bill this evening.

The filibusterers are leaving. Away they go.

The Senator is very unruly.

Is Senator Norris still here?

In the first instance, I wish to offer a full apology to the Leader of the House. I tweeted this morning when I was informed by him that he spent the night in Merrion Square. As he said, he loves waking up in Merrion Square on his way to the Seanad.

Such is the dedication and commitment of the Leader of the House-----

We will all be sleeping over there now.

-----that he almost slept in the confines of the House, or certainly in close proximity in Merrion Square. I hope he does not do the same tonight. I hope he is not kept as long tonight as I have been here the last few nights.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to introduce Second Stage of this Bill. Deputy Alan Kelly introduced this Bill as a Private Member's Bill in the Dáil where it received broad support from all sides of the House.

The principal purpose of the Bill is to create a new retail licence that will allow craft breweries and distilleries, many of which have sprung up in recent years, to sell intoxicating liquor manufactured on the premises to tourists and visitors who have participated in a guided tour of their facilities. These premises already hold a brewer's or distiller's excise licence, or a similar manufacturer’s licence, which authorises the licence holder to manufacture intoxicating liquor on the premises. The Revenue Commissioners have indicated there are approximately 165 such licences in the State at present.

We have seen a marked increase in the number of craft breweries and distilleries in recent years and this trend is set to continue. This is a dynamic and entrepreneurial sector with real growth potential. It goes without saying that the Government is fully committed to promoting regional and local development and, in that context, to fully supporting the job creation potential of artisan food production and local tourism initiatives.

Some craft breweries and distilleries already admit tourists and visitors for guided tours of their premises. This not only serves to increase tourism activity in local areas but also creates local employment opportunities. It also contributes to the local activity of an economic nature by generating demand for ancillary services such as accommodation, catering and transport. Having completed a tour of such premises it is only natural that tourists and visitors may wish to purchase some of the intoxicating liquor products being produced on the premises. They may wish to consume the products in a bar or café on the premises where such facilities exist, or to purchase the products for later consumption off the premises. Members will be aware that some of the larger breweries and distilleries have already obtained public house licences, which enable them to sell alcohol products, including those produced on the premises, to visitors. For smaller craft brewers or distillers, that may not be an option, not least because of the outlays required to extinguish an existing public house licence. The purpose of this short Bill is to cater for their needs.

I am pleased to welcome many such entrepreneurs to the Public Gallery this afternoon and also the sponsor of the Bill, Deputy Alan Kelly.

The Bill provides that a person who already holds a relevant manufacturer’s licence, namely, a brewer of beer for sale licence; a distiller of spirits licence; a maker of cider or perry for sale licence; a maker for sale of sweets licence or a rectifier or compounder of spirits licence, may apply to the Circuit or District Court for a certificate entitling him or her to receive a retail licence from the Revenue Commissioners. In order to apply for such a certificate the applicant must show to the court’s satisfaction that a manufacturing licence is in force in respect of the premises and that an appropriate mechanism is in place to limit the sale of intoxicating liquor produced on the premises to persons who have completed a guided tour of the premises. During the passage of the Bill through the Dail, this latter condition has been relaxed, and I will return to that point shortly.

The court will grant the requested certificate unless it prohibits the issuing of a licence on the grounds of the character, misconduct or unfitness of the applicant, the unfitness or inconvenience of the premises, or the unsuitability of the premises for the needs of persons residing in the neighbourhood.

The successful applicant must then apply to the Revenue Commissioners for a licence. This is the standard procedure for the granting of new retail licences under our Licensing Acts. A licence issued under this legislation will permit the sale of intoxicating liquor produced on the premises for consumption on or off the premises to persons who have completed a guided tour. Arising from an Opposition Report Stage amendment that was carried in the Dáil, the licence will also allow for the sale of intoxicating liquor for consumption off the premises to persons who have not completed a guided tour. The licence will authorise such sales between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on every day of the year except, 25 December, Christmas Day.

The remaining provisions in section 1 are standard provisions in the Licensing Acts. Subsection (3) provides that a licence issued under the Bill will expire on 30 September each year and may be renewed, while subsection (4) provides for the renewal of the licence by the Revenue Commissioners.

Under 1986 legislation, intoxicating liquor licences are renewed automatically by the Revenue Commissioners on payment of the appropriate excise duty unless an objection to renewal has been lodged with the District Court on the basis that the premises concerned have not been operated in a peaceable and orderly manner during the preceding year of the licence. Subsection (7) provides for the duty to be paid in respect of a licence issued under this section; subsection (8) contains the standard tax clearance provision, while subsections (9) and (10) provide for offences for breaches of licence conditions. Subsection (11) sets out definitions for the purposes of the Bill, including a definition of "guided tour". The essential features of the definition of guided tour are as follows: the tour must include an explanation of, or information on, the process whereby the intoxicating liquor is manufactured; it does not necessarily require a physical inspection of parts of premises that may present a risk to the health or safety of individuals; the tour may be led by a guide, or be self-guided; a ticket must be issued to participants in the tour, irrespective of whether an entrance fee is charged. It is not necessary, therefore, to charge an entrance fee for the tour. Inclusion of this definition will assist licence holders by clarifying the essential requirements of a guided tour and will enhance legal certainty for all concerned.

The purpose of section 2 is to prevent premises that obtain a licence under this legislation from benefiting from general exemption orders, special exemption orders and occasional licences. These limitations formed part of Deputy Kelly’s original Bill and are Intended to limit the risks of abuses.

Section 3 contains technical amendments to the Licensing (Ireland) Act 1833.

Section 4 amends the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and has been requested by the Revenue Commissioners in order to ensure tax compliance on the part of applicants for licences.

Section 5 is a standard provision in regard to the Short Title, commencement and collective citation of the Act. The Revenue Commissioners have advised that once the Bill is enacted, which I hope will happen very shortly, they will put the relevant information technology, IT, and administration requirements in place for the processing of applications and collection of the excise duty in respect of the licences. It will not be possible to commence the Bill until these measures are in place.

Before concluding, I want to refer briefly to the subject matter of the two Committee Stage amendments I have tabled with the approval of the Government. As I mentioned, Opposition amendments were carried in the Dáil which will permit off-sales to persons who have not participated in a guided tour of the premises. This represents something of a departure from the original purpose of the Bill, and it broadens its scope. I want to stress that the Committee Stage amendments I am proposing, which we will discuss shortly, are not intended to reverse the off-sales option but to address difficulties with the amended text that have been identified by the Office of the Attorney General. Unless these difficulties are addressed now, implementation of the Bill’s provisions may encounter some difficulties, and I do not want there to be such difficulties. I am very keen to ensure that we continue in this House with the all-party support for the Bill that we enjoyed in the Lower House.

I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Kelly. I was very pleased to accept his Bill on behalf of the Government and was very pleased to liaise with him both at my own level but also at the level of officials to ensure we have legislation that is fit for purpose and is compliant with his wishes in consultation with those persons involved in what is a very exciting and innovative industry, namely, craft brewers and craft distilleries. I also refer to cider and some Irish vineyards, with which we may not be particularly familiar. Having regard to the fact that the summer of 2018 is the start of new weather patterns in Ireland, the concept of the Irish vineyard may become very much a reality into the future. I am very keen to ensure that Irish vineyards and their products are included in this small but nevertheless important legislation.

In deference to observations, amendments and submissions that will be made by Senators over the course of the next while, I am really keen to ensure the passage of this Bill in its entirety between now and the end of term. We are already halfway through the summer season and are experiencing what is yet another record year in terms of tourism. The import of this Bill is to facilitate a tourism product that will be memorable on the part of everybody who wishes to experience at first hand the craft beer or craft distillery industry in Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to dealing with any questions Members may have in the course of its passage.