This Bill is a pragmatic and urgent effort to address the ambiguity that requires clarification for businesses, local authorities and the gardaí to facilitate and support an outdoor summer. The Covid pandemic has seen businesses adapt to public health guidance in this unprecedented time. Today, we seek to ensure that the adaptions, which relate to outdoor seating areas for pubs, restaurants, and clubs, can be accommodated within this time-bound legislation.
As we are all acutely aware, due to the significant risk of the incidence of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the Government has decided that the next phase of reopening will be based on a cautious approach with an emphasis on lower-risk activities. This highlights the necessity for emergency legislation to bring clarity for licensed premises offering an outdoor seating area for their customers and members. We are here today because of the complex interactions between the licensing laws and, in many parts of the country, the various licences and permits issued by local authorities which were causing ambiguity. This Bill, as a temporary enactment, seeks to remove that uncertainty for permissible outdoor seating areas as defined in this Bill. It is important that An Garda Síochána has clarity on its powers for public order purposes, and that licensed premises operators understand their obligations to conduct business in a peaceable and orderly manner in outdoor seating areas where they are selling alcohol.
The Senators will note that it was considered a priority by this Government to include an urgent provision on matters dealing with an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. It had been the intention that this would be provided for in the forthcoming courts and civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. However, it is being facilitated in this Bill due to the quicker and more timely progression for the High Court to better manage the pressures faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I take the opportunity to thank the House for facilitating this urgent Bill.
I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is the interpretation section. It sets out the definitions of the Bill, and the key definition set out is that of the "outdoor seating area" of a licensed premises. Part A seeks to ensure that where a licensed premises is operating an outdoor seating area, such areas are lawfully permitted by the local authorities. Section 254 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is the most commonly relied on authorisation. Part B provides for outdoor seating areas on private land abutting a licensed premises with a number of further conditions, including ownership or other entitlement to use the land, and that it is not already the subject of a licence. The number of seated patrons - the customers or members who can be accommodated in the area - must not exceed the number of patrons who may be accommodated in the licensed premises. The area should contain sufficient seating to accommodate the number of patrons. In addition, this cannot contain any barring area across which intoxicating liquor can be served to the public.
The sale or supply of intoxicating liquor by the licensing of this outdoor seating area should not be the primary purpose of the business.
Section 2 covers the temporary licensing of an outdoor seating area. For the purposes of this legislation, the section facilitates the necessary linkage between the liquor licence and permission to operate an outdoor seating area. It proposes that for the period during which the section remains in operation, such areas are deemed to be part of the licensed premises. Section 2(1)A provides clarity that no new arrangements can be interpreted as now being in place. Section 2(1)B is an important provision to ensure the regulation of the license trade in the context of the annual renewal of licenses. It outlines that the failure to operate an outdoor area in accordance with the legislation shall be grounds for objection to the renewal of the licence or a certificate of registration in respect of clubs. This shall apply irrespective of whether at the time of the renewal the licensee ceased to operate the outdoor seating area. Section 2(3) sets out that notwithstanding the type of licence held, the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor in an outdoor seating area shall not be lawful, where the intoxicating liquor is sold or supplied for consumption off the premises or outdoor seating area. Section 2(4) seeks to bring clarity to the issue of operating hours, and to ensure that the use of these outdoor areas is in compliance with what has been authorised. This will allow the relevant local authorities to ensure the conditions of their permits are adhered to, where applicable. Section 2(5) is an important clarifying provision, that the temporary licensing of an outdoor seating area under this legislation shall not be taken to absolve the licensee from a probate authorisation under planning legislation. This provision also confirms that these temporary permissions do not allow for any activity in an outdoor seating area, which is otherwise unlawful.
Section 3 deals with directions for members of An Garda Síochána. It provides that in instances where a specified person on a licensed premises must comply with the direction of a member of An Garda Síochána. This power of direction operates in a similar manner to the powers provided under the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020. It also allows that where a member suspects with reasonable cause that a person is not complying with the licensing legislation, this legislation, or the authorisation, insofar as it relates to the outdoor seating area, a member of An Garda Síochána can direct the specified person to take the steps considered necessary to ensure compliance. A specified person who is a licensee, occupier, manager, or any other person in charge of the premises at the time who fails to comply, shall be guilty of an offence. Offences in this provision are liable on summary conviction to a class C fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.
Section 4 deals with the application of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 to the outdoor seating area in respect of the relevant enactment.
Section 5 deals with the extension of the application of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 to outdoor seating area. It is useful to understand that the section provides that the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 shall apply to an outdoor seating area as it applies to a relevant premises. This means that powers of An Garda Síochána under the Act to ensure compliance with the relevant Covid-19 health regulations, to an outdoor seating area. These powers will cease to apply when the Act ceases to operate.
Section 4 provides that the powers of a member of An Garda Síochána under the 2020 Act to enforce the enactment specified by that it, will apply to the enforcement of the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 2018, the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, the Bill authorisation, and directions made by a member under section 3(1), as they apply to an outdoor seating area. This facilitates the gardaí to ensure compliance with those Acts and with directions made under section 3(1) by availing of, among other things, the process outlined in the 2020 Act on a temporary closure order and repeal systems.
Section 4(2) expressly states that the enforcement powers under the 2020 Act will continue to apply in respect of the enactments referred to, and directions under section 3(1), notwithstanding that the Act ceases to be an operation, to ensure that there is no uncertainty on these Garda powers on the operation of this legislation.
Section 6 deals with the applications of Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.
Section 7 deals with regulations. It provides that the Minister may, by regulations, restrict a time period by which a licensee is permitted to sell or supply intoxicating liquor in an outdoor seating area.
Section 8 deals with amendment of section 9 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, which provides for an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court. It provides with a maximum number of ordinary judges of the High Court to be increased by five from 37 to 42. It also provides that the Government may by order allow for an additional judge of the High Court over the maximum number permitted. The Minister for Justice must consult the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform before requesting the Government to make such an order.
Section 9 deals with the Short Title, collective citation and commencement.
The importance and urgency of progressing this legislation without delay is obvious to everyone of us. It is an appropriate response to remove the ambiguity relating to the uncertainty that arises in the application of licensing matters to outdoor seating areas. It is also appropriate that it is time-bound, as we facilitate licensed premises to support the objective of outdoor socialising within the context of Covid-19. It ensures appropriate and proportionate oversight and enforcement within these circumstances. The co-operation of Senators on this legislation is greatly appreciated. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to engaging with Senators on its content and purpose.