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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 2022

Vol. 287 No. 6

Night-time Economy: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

welcomes:

- the Report of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce published in September 2021;

- the Programme for Government commitment to reform licensing laws, application processes and to conduct a full review of policies governing night-time culture;

commends:

- 'Give Us The Night' and all campaigners advocating for positive changes to nightlife in Ireland;

recognises that:

- there has been a failure to sufficiently update licensing laws;

- night-life and night-time entertainment in cities and towns is under severe threat;

- property costs, prohibitive insurance premiums, restrictive licensing laws and associated fees have a crippling effect on businesses and cultural activity;

- of the 522 nightclubs in operation in the year 2000, only 85 remain;

- the policy focus relating to nightlife and the night-time economy has revolved solely around alcohol rather than the holistic, community and societal benefits of night-time culture;

- night-life is about communities and culture, for people of all ages, those who consume alcohol and those who don't;

- public transport and taxi services are essential components of the night-time economy;

- since 2019, 2,562 taxis have been lost from the transport system with the resulting shortage of taxis now impacting the night-time economy;

notes that:

- night-life and the night-time economy are vital to the growth and development of the arts and culture sector;

- existing licensing laws prevent not-for-profit arts centres, cultural buildings, theatres and galleries from diversifying their programming and income streams and deny greater employment opportunities to artists and arts workers and valuable cultural offerings to audiences and local communities;

further notes:

- the workers' rights issues that exist in the night-time economy, including unpaid wages, lack of collective bargaining, the denial of legal breaks and an expectation that workers perform duties unpaid, such as cleaning-up after closing;

calls for:

- the update and modernisation of licensing laws and costs;

- the reform of trading hours;

- a new annual nightclub licence;

- an end to early closing on Sundays;

- the abolition of Special Exemption Orders;

- greater access to the night-time market for arts centres, theatres and galleries with an appropriate licence renewed annually;

- the increased use of the National Cultural Institutions Licence;

- a new licence for not-for-profits, including for one-off events;

- greater use of existing State-owned indoor and outdoor spaces, including cultural buildings and heritage sites for entertainment and events;

- new locations and districts to be identified where nightlife can thrive;

- a scheme to support late night entertainment in cafés and more options for alcohol-free events;

- licences to be moved to a new online portal that would connect stakeholders, including the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána, Local Authorities and Fire Officers;

- new models of consultation and innovative measures that mitigate adverse effects of nightlife on local residents;

- the provision of premium pay for staff working beyond 11.30 p.m;

- the granting and renewal of a licence to be contingent on compliance with employment law and the name of the employer and premises to be published where breaches of employment law occur;

- the increased roll out of 24-hour bus routes in Dublin city, extended operating hours for Luas and DART and an extension of the ten-year rule for taxis;

- increased harm reduction interventions and initiatives in the night-time economy to build on recent HSE campaigns.

I am sharing time with Senator Boylan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister. I also welcome our guests in the Public Gallery. They have been patiently waiting for this debate to begin and I hope that it lives up to their expectations.

Nightlife and the night-time economy are under a severe threat in our towns and cities. Rising property costs, rip-off insurance, extortionate licensing fees and archaic licensing are crippling business and cultural activity. We acknowledge the work that the Government has done in terms of the night-time economy task force. We also acknowledge the campaigners who put hundreds of hours of work into this issue for decades until it reached the point of the Government taking it seriously enough to set up a task force. All of that said, we call on the Government to reform licensing laws and fees and implement the raft of more than 30 actions that the task force recommended to it as soon as possible.

I would not have the knowledge of this issue that I do without campaigns like Give Us The Night and campaigners like Mr. Robbie Kitt and Mr. Sunil Sharpe, although I do not know if they will thank them for mentioning them. There are hundreds of campaigners. In 2019, a call went out for a public meeting at the Sugar Club and more than 500 people attended that night. Young, middle-aged and old, they came from all backgrounds and were representative of the nightlife industry. They were the people you would meet in a nightclub's queue or smoking area or on the dance floor. They were there to share their ideas about what nightlife in this country should look like and how their country could live up to its reputation for music, song and dance. I would not have my current level of knowledge about this area without them. Every day is a school day and I am continually learning, with their help. The Minister probably feels the same way, and the night-time economy task force is probably informed by the ideas that were raised at the Sugar Club that night.

The review of the Sale of Alcohol Bill undertaken by the Minister's Department experienced one of the highest levels of submissions of any legislation under the remit of the Department of Justice. I believe there were 5,000 submissions. There is a demand, so we are calling on the Government to publish its legislation. We cannot fall into the same trap that we have fallen into over many years of telling the industry to wait. There were 522 nightclubs in this country in 2000, but only 85 are left now. That is an alarming loss of cultural space, music venues and nightclubs. With them go jobs for musicians, sound engineers, lighting designers, bouncers and hospitality staff. I see young people, including some of my oldest friends, choosing to move away because the type of career they have engaged in from job to job does not support their survival in Dublin. They are going to Berlin or Glasgow to pursue their trade. This country rolls out the red carpet for technology and innovation, but not for young artists and collectives that want to put on nights or events. We need to do better.

In referencing art centres and theatres in the motion, I am making a specific point about this time of the day being important to the arts and culture sector. Existing licensing laws prevent not-for-profit art centres, theatres and galleries from diversifying their programming and income streams, thus denying artists and arts workers greater opportunities and denying audiences and communities valuable cultural experiences.

Many young entrepreneurs are opening cafes and getting into hospitality that way, but no new night-time venues have opened in the past decade. It is no longer sustainable for us to prohibit young business people who want to open such venues. There is a lack of licences, each of which can cost between €40,000 to €60,000 on the open market. It was never intended for licences to be bought and sold on the open market and fluctuate in price. People should get licences from the State at a reasonable cost. Young business people should be allowed access to them.

For years, I have been attending a club in Dublin on Sunday nights. Recently, the operator said that enough was enough and that it was no longer sustainable to pay €400 plus in special exemption orders to open for just two hours each Sunday night until 1 a.m. This is a European city, yet we close everything down at 1 a.m. on a Sunday night. The people who go out on Sunday nights are hospitality workers, barbers and hairdressers, the people we applauded in recent years. That is their night out, but we shut it down at 1 a.m.

The Minister is working on these issues and we are tabling this motion in good faith. I am disappointed by some of the elements of the amendment, for example, the removal of the reference to workers' rights.

Our team will deal with some of those issues. I am disappointed the arts references were taken out.

However, I welcome the fact that the Government Senators are calling on the Government to enact a new sale of alcohol Bill as soon as possible to ensure that we have a modern fit for purposes alcohol licensing law. I regret that the policy focus around the issue around night life and the night-time economy can often revolve solely around alcohol and ignores the holistic, community and societal benefits of night-time culture during which we meet people from all backgrounds, like I mentioned. Magic happens in the night and you would talk to people you would never talk to in the middle of the day. I was at an Iveagh Gardens gig and there was a noticeable difference in the energy as the sun went down. The energy and magic of the night is what this city is lacking.

The city is lacking many things at the moment and it is not working as it should. However, these are simple things that after 20 years we need to now get right. The problems have been called out and the solutions provided by campaigners. The night-time economy task force fleshed those out. It is an important piece of work that we welcome.

We welcome the programme for Government commitment for action. We need to get this over the line now. I know the Minister is up for that. I hope tonight she might be able to give a us a timeline of when we will see a general scheme. I know she has made a commitment that we will have legislation this year. I do not want it go past Christmas.

Another thing is that we need interim budgetary measures. It is great that we waived court fees during the pandemic and I think we need to do that again until we implement legislative change. I hope the Minister can give timelines on when the Government hopes to publish the general scheme, when the committee will get through it and when we will have a Bill on the books in this State. I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

I second the motion.

I also commend my colleague, Senator Warfield, who has been a passionate advocate for the give us the night scheme and the night-time economy. He is right that Dublin is lacking so much. I know this not just about Dublin tonight, but as a proud Dub, I find it very sad to see the direction that Dublin is going in at the moment with, for example, art spaces closing down, murals being painted over and the lack of respect for the Moore Street area.

However, as tonight is about the night-time economy, I will focus on some of the points that were made at the briefing today by the representatives of Give Us The Night, namely, Sunil Sharpe and Robbie Kitt. They spoke passionately about the Doomsday scenario that is before unless radical action is taken. We are already on course for a wipe out of the cultural spaces. As was highlighted, there were 522 nightclubs in 2000 and only 85 remain. The market circumstances mean that only the most profitable nightclubs can survive. That is not a diverse and healthy night scene. It means an increasingly greater concentration of night venues in bigger, more central locations and the decline of smaller venues in the periphery.

I am from Tallaght and I remember the numerous night clubs that we had, such as The Spawell, Club Sarah and Coco’s, apparently where the gang goes. However, today, even with a population of 80,000 people, it does not have a single club. That is just madness that a place the size of Tallaght does not have a club. When we ask why on the top of the list of reasons is the failure to reform the licensing laws by successive governments from the late 1990s to today. As the economist, Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev, stated clearly, in his economic assessment of the Irish nightclub industry from 2009, that the nightclub industry sells approximately 5% of all alcohol retailed in Ireland by value, less by volume, yet it shoulders almost 70% of the total annual licensing costs levied at the on and off-trade combined. His statement came directly after the increase in the price of special exemption orders, SEOs. I think we will agree that special exemption order system is an embarrassment and a good example of how little the State has respected the industry and the hardworking venues that are trying to keep their doors open. It is €410 per night plus legal fees for any venue, regardless of the size. That price was fixed back in 2008 by Fianna Fáil and has been continued by Fine Gael.

No other night businesses have to make monthly court appearances to obtain SEOs. I cannot fathom any rationalisation for making operators go through the process every single month. Also, forcing operators to nominate what days they will be open a month in advance is also absurd. As Robbie Kitt from Give Us The Night pointed out at the briefing earlier, there is not a provision to roll over or change the date in the case where the event must be postponed, even for community groups or DIY events.

The other problem we see forcing the closure of cultural spaces in the capital is the encroachment of the soulless hotels. We saw it with the Cobblestone pub and we are seeing it again at Fibber Magees, Murray’s and The Living Room. This is a development that must be resisted. It was great to see so many people take to the streets on the back of the Cobblestone to protest against its closure. The hotel issues are also linked to the transport issues because we need 24-hour services for the cities. That is absolutely a given. However, the last train to Waterford on a Saturday night is at 6.35 p.m. The last train to Galway is 7.35 p.m. If anybody wants to go to a gig in Dublin, they have no choice but to stay here or else drive home.

The outlook for nightlife can often be bleak. However, other cities have found themselves in this situation before and with the right leadership have been able to turn the ship around. Give Us The Night has gotten us this far, but, as Senator Warfield said, we have to stop telling people to wait. We have to start enacting. We have to save Dublin from becoming the soulless city that it rapidly is becoming.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “notes that” and substitute the following:

- the Night-Time Economy is a hugely important sector, contributing to the economy and Ireland’s cultural and creative sectors, which can bring vibrancy to city and town centres and that it is important to protect, support and sustain this part of the economy by attracting people into our towns and cities later in the evening and night-time by offering a range of cultural activities, in a variety of venues;

- on foot of a commitment in the Programme for Government, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media established the Night-Time Economy Taskforce in July 2020, brought its report to Government in September 2021 and published it thereafter;

- the Programme for Government and the Justice Plan 2022, commits to modernising licensing laws and application processes and the Minister for Justice has committed to publishing and enacting new laws as part of this modernisation process;

- extensive work is underway in the Department of Justice to prepare the Heads of a General Scheme of a Sale of Alcohol Bill 2022 which will replace existing legislation, including the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018, the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008, and the Public Dance Hall Act 1935, with updated and streamlined provisions more suited to the 21st century;

- any changes in alcohol licensing laws must be balanced with the need for regulation in the public interest, in particular, public health and public order, and that reforms must be developed with a supportive approach to businesses and the communities in which they operate; codifying alcohol licensing law into a single Act will make it more accessible and user-friendly for the general public, the licensed trade, courts, and An Garda Síochána;

- extensive public consultation has taken place in relation to the modernisation of Ireland’s licencing laws and also in relation to the development of the Night-Time Economy, both in relation to activities involving the sale of alcohol and those which do not;

- the Night-time Economy Taskforce Report contains 36 actions which aims to address a broad range of challenges facing the development of a vibrant night-time culture and economy, including regulations, licencing laws, transport, diversity of cultural activities,and to finding practical solutions to help cities, towns and villages, find and develop new opportunities;

- a range of actions have been agreed to ensure that every opportunity to support the sector and remove obstacles to growth is explored and maximised, including facilitating more use of publicly-owned cultural buildings and heritage sites for events and later night activity, including in national cultural institutions;

- a new Scheme was recently launched by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to support entertainment in off-peak times to increase footfall in our cities and towns later in the evening, and night-time pubs, nightclubs, cafes and other suitable licensed and unlicensed premises may apply;

- arising out of the Taskforce Report, a workshop has been held on planning and development-related actions to support the Night-Time Economy which include discussions on noise management and how best to mitigate adverse effects of night-life on local residents and that a report is being prepared for further consideration;

- the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport were key members of the Taskforce and are committed to improving the public transport offering in the Night-Time Economy to facilitate both workers and those enjoying a night out in our cities and towns;

- the Government is committed to ensuring that people who are enjoying the Night-Time Economy are doing so safely, with the Taskforce Implementation Group working closely with the HSE National Social Inclusion Office on harm reduction strategies in the Night-time Economy, with the support of the industry, local authorities and An Garda Síochána;

- the Government is committed to improving night-time safety for audiences, venues, performers and staff, creating a safe space in which everyone feels welcome, respected and comfortable while promoting Ireland’s culture on the national and international stage; to this end, the Department of Justice is developing a Night-Time Economy Charter which will, inter alia, commit industry to ensure protection for staff, freelancers, volunteers and patrons, staff training and awareness on these issues and protection for the particularly vulnerable;

and calls on the Government:

- to enact a new Sale of Alcohol Bill as soon as possible to ensure that we have a modern and fit-for-purpose alcohol licensing law.

I will share my time with Senator Dolan. I heard what has been said and I agree. I know just how difficult it can be for people in the entertainment space, be they artists, people who own premises or whatever it might be. We all recognise the huge importance of maintaining the cultural sustainability of the nigh-time economy, which benefits us all. It does not just benefit us as patrons, but as a community. It obviously benefits the economy as well. That is why I welcome the Minister’s commitment to reforming the law here. Of course, when it is recognised that law reform is necessary, it can never come quickly enough. I certainly support the notion that we would modernise our licensing laws.

As long as you treat people like children when it comes to alcohol, they will continue to behave like children. When you tell people they must go home at 11 p.m. or leave at a certain time or whatever it is, what you then have is an outpouring of people from venues onto the street at the same time. That is what leads to difficulties and public order problems and things such as that. I lived in France for a number of years and I always found that the staggered closing of places, when they decided it was the right time for them to close, meant that there was not that sudden outpouring of people onto the street. It meant that people had a much more mature approach to alcohol. Looking at the jurisdictions around Europe that do not appear to have public drunkenness problems we appear have, particularly in city centres, they are jurisdictions that have a much more – I was going to say permissive but that is not what I mean – relaxed approach to licensing laws. I know that efforts have been made in the past to make changes that have been resisted by different sectors of the industry and I understand that. I think if we tell people that they, as adults and citizens, can make decisions themselves about when it is time to stop drinking and go home, they then are much more likely to behave in a way that we would expect of adults who can make those decisions themselves.

There are so many aspects to this and I will not have time to go through them all. However, I would like to address the issue of transport, because I know that is part of what the task force has recommended and the National Transport Authority, NTA, is a stakeholder in that. Transport has been mentioned by speakers and how it stops at a certain time so people, for example, need to leave the pub at 9 p.m. That is not sustainable; it just means people stay on longer or find themselves in a difficult position.

That applies whether you are in a rural area and there is no transport link to speak of to bring you to your rural home; in a suburb, as I am in Dún Laoghaire where we need a 24-hour 46A, which I know is coming but not quickly enough; or in a city centre. In all those circumstances you need adequate 24-hour transport services. The Nitelink is great in Dublin but it only operates in one direction. You need a proper to-and-fro so that people can move around, patronise one place and then patronise another on the same night. If we approach this with the idea that people are adults and capable of making these decisions for themselves, I believe these reforms will be much more effective.

I want to see more of the night-time economy so I welcome this motion. I know there was a briefing today. I apologise because I was unable to make it. I take on board Senator Warfield's point that there were hundreds of nightclubs in this country in previous years. In Ballinasloe, we had three nightclubs when I was growing up, which was fantastic. Unfortunately, that is not the case now. There are many reasons for that, such as changes in the population. I must admit it was fantastic to have that, so I very much support the need for the night-time economy. Everyone agrees that the licensing laws are outdated. The Minister will look at the licensing laws in the justice plan that she will be bringing forward. We are part of Europe. We want to be a European nation that stands tall in terms of all the things we do in this country, including our night-time economy. I would be very supportive of that, especially for the arts. Senator Warfield mentioned that musicians, DJs and others make a living in the night-time economy.

When it comes to transport, we have buses back to Galway that would go until about 10 p.m., but it is tough. There were great gigs all over Dublin in the last while. Everything came back to life again after the lockdown of two years. It was great to see. I saw one of the gigs in Trinity College which was brilliant. I missed the one in Malahide. Unfortunately our times that we spend in the Seanad mean that sometimes we do not get to see the great gigs that are going on. Even here in the Dublin City Council area, there were events in Fairview, Dublin, as well.

The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is also looking at pilots in a number of towns throughout the country. How we do that is going to be important. We need to consider how we can open up the country for our night-time economy, for example by using some of our galleries and State institutions, such as museums. They are there and we can use them. I would be supportive of the amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s update on the timeline for this and the aspects of it that relate to the Department of Justice. We need to see this happen. It can only lead to a more vibrant Ireland. Looking at the safety aspects, these are crucial, such as large numbers of people coming onto the streets at the same time.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I commend Senator Warfield on bringing forward this motion. He has been a strong advocate on this issue for quite some time. I also commend the team from Give Us The Night. I was not able to make the briefing this afternoon, although my intern went to it. Certainly, those involved with Give Us The Night have been very active on this issue for a long time. During the Covid period, we missed so many aspects of our lives that we took for granted. Young people, in particular, lost two years out of their lives when the opportunity to go out and enjoy themselves was denied to them. Now is the time when we have to be particularly creative and imaginative. We should be able to guarantee not just to young people but particularly to young people that we can ensure that Ireland is the best place in the world to go out late at night, that it is the safest place to go out and that people will be able to get home at the end of the night. As Senator Ward said, that applies as much in an urban environment as in a rural environment. In the case of the Minister, people in east or north Meath need to be able to get home. In my case, it should be the case that people in north Wexford have opportunities. As the motion says, it is not just about being able to go out to nightclubs or late-night dance venues; it is also about cultural and other alternative activities.

I hope that in the discussion on this matter, we are imaginative and there is engagement with those involved in the industry and with artists. The Government’s commitment to the arts, particularly in the introduction of the basic income scheme for artists and some of the pilot initiatives to try to support the late-night economy, is very welcome. However, these are only starter steps. We have to look at ways in which we can be far more imaginative. We have to get people talking outside Ireland about how Ireland is the best place to go out late at night and ensure people feel safe when they so do. It is essential that the transport issue - and this applies as much in urban areas as in rural areas – is addressed. Unfortunately, there remains a problem with regard to transport late at night in the cities and suburbs, as Senator Ward said, and particularly in rural towns where it is as important that there is a vibrant night life. We need a complete overhaul of the licensing system as well. That is essential and I know the Minister is committed to it. I hope that in her response, the Minister will address the issue.

I welcome the Minister back into the House. I thank Senator Warfield for his continued work over the past number of months. The night-time economy is an important part of our economy. It supports tens of thousands of jobs throughout the country. The vast majority of it is made up of SMEs. As we are all aware, SMEs are the backbone of the Irish economy. The industry is coming out of the toughest couple of years it has ever encountered. Many sectors were hit hard by Covid-19 but none more so than the night-time economy which for obvious reasons was devastated by restrictions and closures. The establishment of the night-time economy task force was a vital step by the Government. We must continue to work with stakeholders in the night-time economy. I am well aware from my own background that businesses in this area know how the Government has supported them. It is important to point out that the report delivered by the task force included many actions which will boost the night-time economy. We are starting to see those come into action. As we are aware, the establishment of night-time advisers in six pilot towns and cities will be a significant step towards boosting and securing a vibrant and sustainable night-time culture, of which my colleague Senator Malcolm Byrne also spoke, for all our citizens. The pilot grant scheme, which is allocating €2.6 million to support entertainment in off-peak times to increase footfall later in the evening in our cities, including my own city of Galway, is currently open for applications. That is another important step. We still need to do more, naturally. We need to ramp up the pilot programmes at the earliest possible opportunity and I am confident that the Government will do so. Overall, it is welcome that we are having this discussion. We are all aware of the issue of licensing laws. Continued work needs to be done.

The night-time economy task force report was published in September 2021. It contained 36 actions across a broad range of issues associated with the night-time economy, all with the aim of increasing the diversity of events, increasing cultural opportunities for families and other age groups into the evening, and looking at new ways of encouraging innovation and creativity in the night-time economy. An implementation group made up of key Departments, agencies and sectoral representation has been established to ensure the recommendations contained in the report are implemented. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has allocated €4 million of her budget towards the implementation of the actions contained in the night-time economy report in areas which her Department is leading or has a supporting role. Significant progress has been made in regard to a number of task force recommendations. For example, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media supported a new series of late-night events across the country as part of Culture Night last year on foot of a task force recommendation in this area. Further events are planned for this year's Culture Night, including a number of national cultural institutions hosting later night events. The National Museum of Ireland, the National Concert Hall and the Irish Museum of Modern Art are all hosting pilot late-night events this year. A number of national cultural institutions are planning late openings on foot of the recommendations of the night-time economy task force report. I am always worried about reports that gather dust on the shelf but it is clear that there is an intent to implement this one.

Crucially, the Department of Justice is progressing the modernisation of licensing laws. This was another recommendation of the task force report. Anyone who has worked in the sector knows how crucial it is. I was a student union leader for one year and I had ultimate responsibility for a pub and nightclub. There was the expense of lawyers to seek bar extensions. We almost missed rag week. We had to plan it in advance. It was an unnecessary challenge for the students. The licensing laws are archaic and have to be radically reformed.

Progress has been made on the pilot initiative establishing new night-time advisers in six cities and towns to develop new night-time economy opportunities. This initiative will be supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. A valuation committee with membership from the Department, the County and City Management Association, CCMA, and an external independent member will review each application. Towns and cities in two categories will be selected by the evaluation committee. Three towns with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 will be selected, as will three towns and cities with populations of more than 10,000. Once the selection process has been completed and announced a night-time adviser will be appointed to each of the selected areas.

Most recently the Minister with responsibility for culture and arts announced a new €2.6 million pilot night-time economy support scheme and this has proved very popular. It will support venues such as pubs, cafes and alcohol-free venues to trial new events, activities and initiatives at night, with a particular focus on off-peak times to encourage an increased variety of night-time entertainment offerings, increased footfall in our towns and cities in the evenings and the creation of employment for artists and performers, with a particular focus on new and emerging acts.

The task force report also recognises a need for increased diversification and inclusivity. These are two very important words that should underpin everything. They are essential and should be centre and front of our night-time economy. Having a balance between alcohol and alcohol-free activities is important. I note the pilot night-time economy support scheme will encourage coffee shops to stay open later and encourage licensed premises to go for arts from Monday to Friday. It is all good and very important. It will actively engage a wider demographic in the night-time economy.

To the stakeholders I say that apart from it being their livelihood I know it is their love and passion. Most importantly, the tens of thousands of people who love the night-time life and being patrons should rest assured because while I do not like making predictions, I know for sure that the crucial two Ministers involved, the Minister for Justice and the Minister with responsibility for culture and arts, are travelling in the right direction. They have a good, constructive and focused agenda to ensure this happens. I look forward to radical reform of the archaic licensing laws. It behoves the two Ministers to deliver. I have total confidence this will be a seismic moment and a groundbreaking day. I thank and commend Senator Warfield on tabling this for the agenda. It is highly appropriate that it has received centre-stage attention in Seanad Éireann.

I acknowledge and welcome the campaigners in the Gallery. In particular I welcome Sunil Sharpe from the Give Us The Night campaign. Since my time on Dublin City Council, he has been highlighting and putting on the agenda the decline in the sector and the challenges that have faced the night-time economy. I also pay tribute to Councillor Claire Byrne of the Green Party. For a long time she has been an advocate for the night-time economy at city level. I also thank Senator Warfield for doing so at national level.

The night-time economy task force was set up to try to help revive the sector, which was decimated over the course of the pandemic. The reality is that many of the issues precede Covid. The Minister has conducted public consultation on reform of the licensing laws. During the two years of the pandemic, however, we could have been preparing for the revival of the night-time economy. Instead there has been a revert back to the old system. Popular club nights such as Sunday Social have had to close. One of the most innovative club promoters in the city, Buzz O'Neill, has said it is not possible to run a club night for two hours a day. It is a great loss to the city. Twenty years ago we had the POD, the Kitchen and Rí-Rá. There was a vibrant nightclub scene in Dublin. That is not there. They are closing down.

Lillie's and Renards as well.

I do not mourn them so much. RIP Renards.

Senator Martin is showing his age.

Nightlife in our city is under massive threat and hundreds of nightclubs have closed in the past two decades. This does not just impact our night-time tourist offering but also affects the cultural life we have in the city as a place for young people to go where they feel they belong in a vibrant European city. When people speak about what is on offer in Dublin, they speak about blandness and sameness. There are places people go to pay for overpriced cocktails and put photos on Instagram. We need to bring the vibrancy, rawness and diversity back to the club nights we used to have.

Late licences cost venues more than €400 a night. This can stack up for some venues. This fee is staggering when compared to the UK where it is €2,000 a year for an annual late licence fee. The UK has begun to take steps on this, employing night tsars in big cities such as London, Manchester and Liverpool. It is worth £66 billion per year. Imagine the benefits we could reap, particularly in Dublin, if we focused on rethinking our night-time economy.

One of the areas we need to look at is mentorship of people who want to run club nights. We have mentorship in the Courts Service. Why do we not put it into local authorities? Why do we not have local employment offices mentor people who want to set up pop-up club nights? We need to think outside the box and support young people to bring vibrant and different club nights. It is not only about those that are there. We have to have pop-ups. They could contribute hugely. We must allow the vibrancy of a city that changes its tastes.

Building our night-time economy and diversifying the range of offerings would help to fill our streets with vibrancy and nurture the cultural and creative arts. I would hate to see a situation after we reform our licensing laws whereby we just stop at 2 a.m. or 2.30 a.m. In other European cities, people can find places after this time. There is no reason we cannot have a 24-hour club economy. Different people have different tastes. Not everybody works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Not everybody works Monday to Friday. Different people want different offerings. Allowing people to have this vibrancy would be worthwhile. It would also benefit those living in the areas because it would offer employment opportunities for those working in the industry. We do not want our cities to become bland and lifeless.

We also need to allow for the expansion of cultural spaces such as galleries, theatres and exhibition spaces to offer alternatives outside of their core hours. Our urban areas are being dominated by investor-led development. Nightlife culture is being pushed out. We saw the Tivoli Theatre on Francis Street demolished.

The people of the Liberties are still grieving the loss of this cultural hub - though I used to get some complaints about noise from it. There are no plans to fill the space with something cultural. At the moment a planning application is going through for steel gates to be put up at what should, or could, be a great public space in order to limit communal access to it.

The night-time economy task force highlighted that public transport usually stops at 11 p.m. or midnight and in some rural areas stops before 6 p.m. I echo the calls of other people to ensure we have a proper night-time public transport system. We are seeing a crisis in safety at the moment because of a lack of taxis and there needs to be a co-ordinated Government response to that lack of night-time transport to get people home.

The Minister is very welcome to the House. I am delighted to be here to support this motion. I thank Senator Warfield and his colleagues in Sinn Féin for tabling the motion and allowing us to debate a crucial issue.

There is no doubt nightlife is a central part of our cultural life. It brings vibrancy to our cities and towns and provides a much-needed release from the pressures and drudgery of the working week. The importance of nightlife, cultural institutions and socialising with friends and loved ones was emphasised by the pandemic, for sure. Sometimes being deprived of something makes one realise how essential it is. As we return to some semblance of normality it is the perfect time to discuss the challenges now facing the night-time economy and how we can work as legislators to revitalise the sector.

I also appreciate the motion includes reference to the existing alcohol-centred view of nightlife and proposes a more holistic view that includes broader cultural events accessible to those who do not consume alcohol, like myself.

There is no doubt the figures are stark. In the year 2000, there were 522 nightclubs and now there are only 85. That is quite shocking. It is an extraordinary loss to our cultural life. It is not only nightclubs we are losing but, as colleagues have said, also theatres like the Tivoli, which was a local of mine also, and other artistic and cultural spaces. There are many reasons for this loss. Chief among them is the extortionate cost of rent and insurance. The second is lopsided and out-of-control development. We are seeing the loss of places like The Globe and The Library Bar to be replaced by yet another hotel. As Dublin demolishes more and more cultural spaces to facilitate tourism, one worries that instead of being a cultural centre it will become a culturally-themed tourist attraction.

The licensing system as it stands is illogical and antiquated. The special exemption orders required to operate late hours are a massive, unwieldy burden placed on operators seeking to extend their hours. It is hard not to perceive them as almost a form of punishment.

I am glad the motion references the importance of developing a viable 24-hour public transportation network. That is fantastic. The roll-out of a 24-hour bus service is welcome but unfortunately progress has been rather slow. I note most of the new BusConnects spines have some 24-hour routes but the NTA should clarify whether it will introduce a 24-hour service on existing routes in the meantime. A 24-hour service has been on the agenda for years and the public deserve a roadmap for when they might be able to avail of it. Public transport that runs 24 hours a day is not only an essential ingredient of a vibrant night-time economy but it is also essential for providing workers and revellers with a safe an affordable way home. Taxis make up an important part of our public transportation ecosystem, especially at night, but unfortunately the shortage of taxis in the capital is evident and people are often left stranded and unable to get home, or are forced to walk long distances feeling unsafe.

One section of the motion that is particularly appealing is the granting and renewal of licences to operate being contingent on operators' adherence to employment law. Workers working in nightlife require real enforcement of their rights in an industry where issues such as precarious work, sexual harassment and illegal unpaid trial shifts are often common. Linking compliance to the ability to operate would give employment law real teeth.

I did not make it to Senator Warfield's briefing on the motion today, though my parliamentary assistant was there, but he noted Senator Higgins made an excellent suggestion that licences also be tied to compliance with anti-discrimination laws. I hope she will talk more about this. This would be really welcome, given the persistent issue with racist refusals of Travellers and other ethnic minorities at licensed premises. In their submission to the review of the equality Acts, the Free Legal Advice Centres and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission both highlighted that while the Workplace Relations Commission is supposed to handle anti-discrimination cases in the first instance, these refusals are dealt with in the District Court under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. This makes it more difficult for victims of discrimination of this type to access justice. This disparity needs to be reformed. Conditioning licensing on compliance with non-discrimination law would help reduce discrimination in the first instance.

I welcome that the Government has demonstrated a commitment to supporting artists and creatives. The basic income for artists pilot scheme is evidence of that and is very warmly welcomed but there needs to be a much more ambitious and forward-thinking approach to revitalising Irish nightlife and creating a vibrant, diverse and community-oriented cultural sector. This motion definitely presents a comprehensive and creative intervention into the debate on licensing reform and the revitalisation of nightlife. I say "Well done" again to Senator Warfield and welcome all our guests to the Chamber who have put lots of work into this motion. I have no doubts about it; this motion has my enthusiastic support.

The Minister is very welcome. I welcome all the campaigners. It is great to see so many people in the Gallery this evening. A couple of Senators from the Government side were at the meeting today but those who were not missed a hell of a meeting. The message was powerful. It was a very vibrant meeting but there was a very stark message at the same time. It was that people in arts and culture are choosing to leave our country at the moment. They are choosing to leave because there are no venues and no access to dance space. To quote one of the participants, we do not have social infrastructure. That is a pretty stark thing to say. He went on to say we are bound into the pub system and we need to diversify the social infrastructure. It is so right.

The great thing about our motion, which Senator Warfield deserves all credit for, is its broad nature. We are talking about a whole host of measures to try to change and expand our night-time economy and ensure there are protections built in there at the same time. In Limerick city centre we have no late-night cafes. We have no cinema in the city centre. We have very little in the way of nightclubs. When I came home 30 years ago we had all those things, so we have gone backwards in Limerick.

Late-night transport is a massive issue. Right now, to get out to Castleconnell from Limerick costs €25 to €30 in a taxi. That is one way. Going to Newport costs around €25. Therefore, the means of actually coming in to support nightlife in city centres is not there when it comes to transport. Again, that is why transport features so prominently in this motion.

I express some disappointment to the Minister about the amendment. Perhaps she can expand on why the Government has elected to drop so many of the really good points Senator Warfield makes in the motion. For example, he calls for the increased use of the national cultural institutions licence. He calls for a new licence for not-for-profits, including for one-off events. He calls for new locations in districts to be identified where nightlife can thrive, a scheme to support late-night entertainment in cafes and more options for alcohol-free events.

What is so disappointing about the Government amendment is it only calls for one thing, which is reform of the licensing laws. With the greatest respect, the Government is kind of missing the point. The people in the Gallery are saying the matter is much broader than that. I appeal to the Minister because it is a pity in the last day of term, if one has to divide the House. I cannot see anything in our motion any reasonable person would object to. I am sure the Minister is not going to object to the call for premium pay after 11.30 p.m. Surely, every one of us subscribes to that. I am sure she does not object to the call for compliance with employment law. Every one of us supports that. I am therefore genuinely at a loss. I was actually shocked. I spoke to my counterpart on the whip side in Fianna Fáil this morning. I said I cannot believe the Government tabled this amendment.

We are having a very good debate and there is not too much that divides us across the Chamber. Yet the Government has chosen to remove most of the important calls in the motion and I cannot for the life of me see why. In Limerick, we need to look at using our theatres, museums and State institutions and at how we can open them up in the evening, change our nightlife and broaden out how we deal with our economy and change it for the better. I am genuinely at a loss. I appeal to the Minister, genuinely and in all honesty. I presume she does not object to the increased roll-out of 24-hour bus routes in Dublin city, yet this was dropped in the amendment to the motion. What message does it give the people in the Gallery that the only measure she is calling for in the amendment to the motion is the reform of the licensing laws? It just does not make sense to me and I appeal to her. We are not here to have a row with the Minister this evening. We are here to try to build a consensus about how important it is to revive our night-time economy. I appeal to the Minister to join us in a cross-party way, as we often do in the Seanad, and ensure we get the right results for all of us.

It is important to address the issue of workers' rights. The Minister will know that in the food services industry, in 2020, there was a 32% level of breach of employment law and €327,000 in stolen wages in one year. That is before I add the amount on the beverage side of things. Therefore, we have a problem. We also have a problem in that seven out of ten workers in the broader hospitality area get paid less than €12 an hour. Let us use this opportunity, when we re-engage with and rebuild the night-time economy, and make it vibrant and fit for the 21st century, to make sure we do not leave the workers behind. That can be done in the same way the Government is trying to do it in the childcare sector via a joint labour committee. We can use sensible means of engagement with employers, trade unions, and young workers, and ensure we lift standards for all involved, because the night-time economy has to work for everyone, including the workers themselves.

In a spirit of genuine compromise and conciliation, I ask the Minister to have a good look at Senator Warfield's motion. I have to be honest; I have not heard anything from colleagues across the House with which I disagree. I ask the Minister to agree to the motion so that we can all walk out of the Chamber this evening on the one page with the one call and in support of the actions she will, hopefully, take to ensure we have a new, vibrant and energetic night-time economy. Please work with us, Minister.

I start by welcoming the Minister to the House and indicating my support for the motion. I add my voice to that call. It was a pity to see a Government amendment to the motion being put forward, given that so much of what we have heard has been in agreement. Senator Warfield's motion opens by directly acknowledging the positive elements in the Government motion. It literally opens by welcoming the report of the night-time economy task force and welcomes the programme for Government commitments around licensing laws and the review of those policies. That is already openly welcomed in the Sinn Féin motion and it was a generous approach to acknowledge these positive elements. It then teases out what that might mean in a very constructive way. It is a real pity that the Government put forward an amendment to the motion that effectively replicates the first two lines of the Sinn Féin motion and then loses some of the other aspects, which I will not focus on because others have spoken so well on them. Other Senators have mentioned the important issues about workers' rights, discrimination and employment law in terms of licensing, and transport. I will pick up on a couple of aspects that are very important.

In terms of the licensing laws, it has been said that special exemption orders are really inappropriate, including the involvement with the court system. The Minister knows how often we talk about the overladen court system. The idea of having to move through the court system in terms of licensing is a wasteful measure. These exemption licences can cost €400 a night for only a couple of hours. What that means is that the kinds of activities for which licences are extended need to be such that they maximise the financial delivery of a business. The important and constructive suggestion that non-profit spaces could diversify and be able to have club nights and dancing as part of what they do was discussed. It is also important that nightclubs are able to put on events that do not have to maximally squeeze profits. There should be a diversification within nightclubs so that they may have, for example, youth evenings, DIY nights, and nights that represent niche musical interests that are important to people, their identity and their community. There should be an annual nightclub licence that gives nightclubs the flexibility to be imaginative and creative and to respond to the needs and ideas of the communities around them, which is very important. Within that, it is important that recognition is given to the need for space to be given to it being at a sufficiently affordable level whereby there can be night-time activity that is not up against the wire with costs and, as others mentioned, has flexibility in terms of hours so that it works to serve different communities. That is an important part of inclusivity, whereby everyone is included rather than everything pushing towards and only being pitched at the narrowest demographic with the maximum return.

I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, in the past and in great length about l'exception culturelle, the idea that cultural activity is in fact not solely commercial but is a right and part of participation. This aspect has been recognised by the EU. Nightlife is part of that cultural activity. There is something very particular about dancing because it leads to co-creation of a night. Those who are part of it create the experience together. We talk a lot about sport and its importance for mental and physical health. For me as a young person, dancing was - and still is - my physical activity which was crucial to my mental and physical health. It is important in the context of the body and consent, ownership and enjoyment of one's body and engagement in a community. We have, sadly, moved backwards in that regard. People talk about Coco's nightclub in Tallaght. Now, some 70,000 people are without a nightclub. People talk about The Castle nightclub in Galway and nightclubs in Ballinasloe. A strong point was made earlier in that we have moved backwards. People in the Chamber talk about how the geography of places that we share and in which we meet one another is an important form of communication that is now gone. It has not just moved backwards since the 1990s. It has moved backwards since the 1950s and 1960s when people could dance until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. in a small town in Ireland and that was where people met one another. This is a very important issue.

I will conclude on a crucial area of planning, which has not received as much focus. The Government amendment refers to the impact of clubs on residents. Let us also look at the impact of development and planning on nightclubs, dancing and cultural spaces. We need to look at the agent of change laws that have been introduced in other places, so that we do not have a situation in which a hotel goes up near an area that has cultural activity, starts complaining and trying to constrain it. The provisions of soundproofing grants for clubs is a positive measure but there also need to be requirements on those who build in an area with cultural activity so that they plan for, acknowledge and accept that cultural activity is part of the area.

When we think that the number of nightclubs has fallen from 522 to 85 and that nightclubs are no longer local, there is also a safety issue. People should not have to travel into Dublin city to go dancing if they live in Tallaght or north Dublin. They should not have to travel and pay money to an extraordinary degree. They should be able to access nightclubs. I remember walking home from a nightclub in Galway as a young person of 18 years of age. That is the kind of activity that people should be able to do. That is part of safety as well. I urge the Minister to consider not pressing the Government amendment.

If not, I hope at least that she will indicate in her response that she wants to take up the concrete, solid and well-thought-out proposals from Senator Warfield, the activists in Give Us The Night and all those across the country.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Cuirim fáilte roimpi agus cuirim fíorfháilte roimh an rún tábhachtach atá os ár gcomhair anocht. Tá an-áthas orm mo thacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo, a mholtar in ainm an Seanadóir Warfield agus in ainmneacha leath againn féin. I welcome the Minister to this important debate on this motion.

During his remarks, Senator Warfield said something that struck me. It might not be what people would expect it to be. He said that every day is a school day. We had quite the schooling at the briefing this afternoon. It was incredibly informative and beneficial in respect of what was presented to Members and staffers. It was not just in the context of the practical, mechanical and economic importance and benefits of what the night-time economy does, but also in respect of the societal, community and communal benefits, such as the health and well-being and prosperity that come from having vibrant, dynamic, healthy, supported, invested in and cherished cultural, artistic and creative sectors and communities. It does not matter where people happen to reside, whether in a large urban sprawl like Dublin, or in some of our towns and villages. Much of the time we come in here and talk about assets almost like commodities and simply through the prism of the capitalist economic construct, but one of our greatest assets is the breadth, depth and wealth of talent, creativity and cultural expression we have right across all our Thirty-two Counties.

While we have talked, and we will talk further, about the practical, mechanical things we need to get right yet in this regard, we must also understand and appreciate, as I know we do right across this House, that this endeavour is not just about those economic benefits; it is also about our broader collective, societal well-being. Let us, for example, look at the context of Covid-19. Let us look at when we could not go out, even if there had been the availability of the kind of night-time offerings we are advocating. What did people do then? People started to organise Zoom quizzes. They yearned for connectivity and not just connectivity through picking up the phone, checking in with other people and asking whether they were all right. People wanted to have a bit of craic and banter and to see their friends. If we could do that in abundance when we were essentially in lockdown, I cannot understand why we would not create the space to do so now. We know the benefits these activities brought all of us. Why would we not now create the space, the facilities and the ability to provide that kind of connectivity in the broadest possible context out there? We must create flexibility in licensing. There is no doubt about this aspect. We must also get the bedrock foundations right in this regard. When we do that, and I say "when" because I am confident there is a willingness across this Chamber to do it, and when we get those bedrock essentials and mechanics right, we must then have some trust and hand this process over to the creatives. This may seem hard, difficult and a bit scary to some people, but we must let things happen organically. We must allow things to grow and flourish.

While I have the time, I wish to try to make my contribution relevant. I will touch on some of my experiences in Belfast, where I was a councillor for several years. I sat on the licensing committee of Belfast City Council, which issued and granted entertainment licences. Until the recent advent of the reforms led by the Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, the administration of liquor licences primarily resided with the courts. That was okay because as people have rightly said, much of the time people were just looking for the ability to go somewhere. It did not have to do with drink. It was connected with a space being available beyond a certain set time, whether people wanted to dance, paint or whatever else. One of the big benefits I found when the licensing process resided at local government level was that the local councillors were accountable. They were not faceless or inaccessible. They also knew first-hand the benefits the cultural and artistic sectors brought to their communities. Therefore, they were invested in those sectors. They saw the economic benefits, of course, but they also saw the societal benefits. When Belfast hosted the MTV European Music Awards and brought the cultural and artistic world to the city, the global president and CEO of MTV told me that what had convinced him to come to Belfast over other cities was the fact that we had an edge. He valued that most and we must also value that facet. No matter where we are, whether in cities, towns or villages, it is so often our artists and creatives who give us that edge.

In the time afforded to me, I will speak briefly about Féile an Phobail and what a community, artists and creatives can do when they have drive and commitment. The year 1988 was a difficult one in respect of the conflict. It was a dark year. It was also a year when a community in the west of Belfast was branded as a terrorist community, as gangsters and as savages. That community said “No”. It said it was a community with a wealth of creativity and talent, including sportspeople, musicians, poets, writers, etc. Now, more than 30 years later, we have the largest community arts festival in Ireland in that part of Belfast. This is what communities and people can do. From 4 to 11 August, there will be thousands of events in that part of the city. The Minister will be very welcome to come and pay a visit to the west Belfast féile any time, as are our all colleagues right across the House.

I will finish on this point, because the Cathaoirleach is being very indulgent and I know we are over time. I do not want to get in the way of our visitors. I also do not want to get in the way of the vote in the Dáil for the Minister-----

Do not worry.

-----or indeed our visitors enjoying some nightlife. I am sure they could be doing better things than being here. They have been very good for sitting through this debate so patiently. To the Minister, I say this can be done. In the North, we have proved that steps can be taken. There must be harmonisation right across the country in respect of how we approach this topic. As other colleagues have encouraged the Minister, I ask her not to divide the House on this motion. Let us vote on it and get it through.

I ask the Acting Leader to propose the suspension of the House until the Dáil has completed its vote.

I propose the suspension.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 9.47 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 10.08 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 9.47 p.m. and resumed at 10.08 p.m.

It is my pleasure to call the House to order and to welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to address it on this important topic.

I will start by apologising. When I was walking out, somebody said to me that I was "saved by the bell", but anyone who knows me knows this is a topic I really want to talk about and respond to. In fact, I am really pleased that the last debate to which I will contribute in this term is on the night-time economy. I thank Senator Warfield for putting forward this motion, especially given the very difficult period the night-time economy has gone through, not just over the past number of years but in particular throughout Covid-19. While I am speaking on my own behalf and as Minister for Justice, I also want to stress as a member of this Government that this Government acknowledges the significant contribution the night-time plays in our economy as well as socially and culturally and how it can bring vibrancy to our towns and cities and how important it is to each and every one of us. I particularly acknowledge those in the Visitors Gallery, the Give Us The Night campaign. There are many in this sector who have campaigned tirelessly not just for this sector to survive but to thrive and grow. I support them in ensuring we get to that point.

I will respond to the questions around the countermotion. As Minister for Justice, I can only respond on the work I am doing in my Department and the work that is ongoing in other Departments and the platforms that have been put in place to try to deal with many of the issues Senator Warfield outlined in his motion. It is not that I do not agree with them; there are many that I fully support.

Speaking on behalf of all my colleagues, I cannot commit to each individual action but what I can commit to and what I set out in our countermotion are the mechanisms and the platforms and the ways in which we can achieve so much of what the Senator has set out and much of what I know many in the Visitors Gallery want us to achieve.

I say this as someone who has worked in a family bar, in a family restaurant and in late bars and nightclubs in town, many of which are, unfortunately, closed, including the Bernard Shaw and the Twisted Pepper.

I have worked in bars and clubs abroad. A considerable complement of my friends work in this sector, own their own businesses, are promoters or DJs, or artists, manage different events, or are otherwise involved. I have also attended many events. Similar to Senator Higgins, my only exercise for approximately ten years was dancing. It is, unfortunately, not the case anymore, but I get it. I get what this sector has been, what it is now and, really, what it could be.

We need to protect and support it. I mentioned the difficult few years through which everybody has gone in this sector. I acknowledge, in particular, Covid-19, because no sector was impacted more or closed for longer. We, as a Government, tried to respond to all businesses and individuals and support in whatever way that we could, through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS; the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS; the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS payments; or direct payments to individuals, businesses and owners.

There was the removal of the sectoral employment orders, SEOs. I get how disappointing it is that they have been reinstated. The reason for that is that every emergency measure that we put in place, except what is now for long-term illness of those with Covid working in the healthcare sector, has been revoked and removed because of the situation in which we find ourselves. That is not to say that we will not find ways to support the sector in this upcoming budget, and also in other ways that I will outline.

Our programme for Government includes the establishment of a night-time economy taskforce, something that many colleagues and I fought for but, because of our engagement with Mr. Sunil Sharpe and many who are here who have campaigned for this for many years. The Minister, Deputy Martin, established this in 2020. We also have a commitment in this to modernise our alcohol and licensing laws. I was very pleased to find myself in a situation, in the Department of Justice, where I have now have an opportunity to do that. It is a major priority for me and I am absolutely committed to it.

I will respond to one of the comments by the Senators about why we were not ready to go. A considerable amount of work has happened to even get us to this point. I remember, in publishing my justice plan 2021 last year, setting out the work that we were doing in reforming licensing laws to get us to that point. The question I was asked was why I was talking about later licensing when pubs were not even open. Considerable work has been done, even through a difficult period when bars and nightclubs were closed and there were no cultural offerings for anybody.

The general scheme of the new sale of alcohol Bill, which will put in place significant reforms, will be ready for submission to Government in September. The general scheme will be brought forward in one of the first Cabinet meetings when we return in September. The intention is to move it through the various stages as quickly as possible; it can go to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny, we can get that report back as quickly as possible and I can engage, not just with colleagues here, but in the Dáil and with the sector, which has been considerably engaged to date. I look forward to that discussion.

The changes that we are proposing invigorate the night-time economy. I will briefly touch on how we have gotten to this point and will get into some other areas of work that are being done and have been committed to by other Departments. We gave approval on 15 September 2021 for the drafting of the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill. I am happy to say that considerable work on consolidating and reforming the licensing laws is at an advanced stage. We hope to have the general scheme in September.

This is an area where there are many different views. There are many different opinions throughout society. Given that his has been attempted a number of times and was introduced almost 15 years ago, we need to make sure that we take different views and perspectives on board. However, this cannot just become a debate about how late some places open, serve alcohol, or other issues around which the debate so often revolves.

Last November, I launched a wide-ranging consultation to seek the views of the public on the modernising of Ireland's licensing laws. This ran until 21 January and looked at how we could update our licensing laws in the best way possible; governing the regulation of the sale of alcohol and, above all, making sure that we provide choice, options and opportunities, not just for those working in the sector, but those who want to avail of what it has to offer.

As Senator Warfield pointed out, this probably received one of the highest numbers of submissions in terms of public consultation or engagement. We received more than 5,000 responses. That points to the fact that this is a really important issue for many people who wanted to have their say. We have taken all of those views on board. We have had to take time to go through those submissions and we have taken them into account in developing the legislation.

In March, I hosted a consultation webinar to look at the reform of licensing laws. It brought together a number of key stakeholders, some of whom are represented in the room. I will not say it was a lively debate. It was a very informative and important discussion which took on board many different views from many different people in various sectors. The discussion is now feeding into the draft legislation that we are working on and which we will have ready coming into the autumn.

There has also been intensive stakeholder engagement - and a process held by the night-time economy taskforce - with interested parties who had a significant role in the night-time economy. Some 100 stakeholders from different community organisations including businesses, industry, civic society, the cultural sector, sporting organisations and residents groups were invited to submit their views. A number of them presented their views to the taskforce in a series of meetings between December and February of this year.

Considerable work has happened to even get us to this point. While Covid was happening and it was a truly awful time for many in the sector, there was work being done to make sure, insofar as possible, that we would be making progress when we came through on the other side and would have structures in place and ideas, plans and reforms ready, or as near ready as possible, to try to support the sector to reinvigorate, re-energise, expand, grow and thrive.

The Minister, Deputy Martin, brought her report to Government in September last year and it was published pretty soon after. It pointed to a significant demand for diversity of offering and flexibility in the operating environment. It has 36 actions which look at quite a broad range of issues. It is not just about licensing. It looks at the challenges that are facing the development of a vibrant night-time culture and economy, including regulations, licensing laws, transport and the diversity of cultural activities. Most important, however, it looks at finding practical ways to try to put in place solutions to help cities, towns, villages and those working in the industry, to help our artists, entrepreneurs and young people, who are already facing multiple challenges to find and develop new opportunities. It is about supporting those in the sector, but opening up new opportunities for many others, as well.

A range of supports and measures from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and across other the Departments have been rolled out already for sectors which contribute to the night-time economy. The issues raised in this motion were all discussed. They were considered as part of the night-time economy taskforce. Many of these, as Senators and those in the gallery will appreciate, are complex issues. I am not saying that to say that we cannot do them, just because it is difficult - quite the opposite. Government, in working with industry, Departments and agencies, is absolutely committed to trying to deal with those issues, many of which have been outlined in Senator Warfield's motion. Those issues are part of the work of the taskforce and of other agencies, groups and bodies that have been set up to try to deliver on. We are absolutely committed to trying to deal with them.

Access to space and venues for accessing space and cultural activity at night was one of the key issues that was highlighted by the report. A number of actions have already been agreed to try to address this. The Arts Council is committed to facilitating arts and cultural event spaces to work together and to facilitate more use of publicly-owned cultural buildings and heritage sites for events and it will host a forum to encourage new initiatives and partnerships in that space.

Our national cultural institutions, NCIs, have already stepped up to the plate, on foot of the report. There are major new pilot events in the National Concert Hall, the National Museum of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, all of which are happening this year, which will open up these spaces to alternative events and later-night activity. There is a series of later openings across a number of the NCIs, which will see them open up their space to other different types of events, into the evening time.

With regard to alcohol-free events, Senators have touched on the fact that it should not be just about venues that serve alcohol. The Minister, Deputy Martin, recently announced, as colleagues have pointed out, a night-time-economy support scheme with a fund of €2.6 million. This is not specific to venues where there is no alcohol. It is about supporting and developing a thriving night-time economy and an environment in our cities and rural towns and in licensed and unlicensed premises. It is about attracting people into our towns and cities later at night and creating a range of cultural activities in various types of venues. Strand B of the scheme includes cafes. Dry bars, local galleries and other non-licensed premises are premises that would fit into that category.

A dedicated workshop was also held on 11 May, to understand and determine the range and practical scope of planning and development-related actions that can support the night-time economy.

Again, that speaks to Senator Higgins's point.

One of the issues examined was noise management, how to mitigate adverse effects on local residents. There were also discussions within the group on development of clusters or districts of night-time economy activities, and potential changes and opportunities associated with this. A report from that workshop is being prepared and will be submitted to the night-time economy implementation group, and will be considered after that. The National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport were also key members of the task force. In their actions and proposals they have committed to support different types of transport offering, where possible on a 24-hour basis, or expanding where transport is not available and making sure we have it not just in our capital city but in our rural towns and villages. As someone who comes from a rural area, I know that trying to get home from Kells at 2 a.m. is next to impossible. It is really important that this is not only about our major towns and cities but that it is also about our rural towns as well.

We need to improve safety. That is not just about transport although making sure people can get home safely is a huge part of it. We need to make sure that it is safe for audiences, venues, performers and staff. I refer to creating safe spaces in which people feel welcome first and foremost and where they are respected and comfortable, while also promoting our culture and what Ireland has to offer not just nationally but also on the international stage. This is a personal priority for me and something I have identified and included in a number of actions, having just brought forward the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Separate to that, we have a task force implementation group which recently invited the HSE's national social inclusion office to present on its harm reduction strategies in the night-time economy. There are further plans for practical collaboration, including in respect of specific events. Electric Picnic has been identified as one of these, but this is something that would then expand into other events and areas. In addition to this, we have over 380 venues across all sectors of the night-time economy that have registered their staff for vulnerability training this year, which is very welcome. This was supported by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Department. It is also supported by industry, local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice.

As I mentioned, we launched the Zero Tolerance strategy, our third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This is about making safe spaces for people as well as making sure that as a society, we do not tolerate any type of sexual, domestic or gender-based violence in any shape or form, be it at home, in the workplace or on a night out. The strategy commits to the development and resourcing of safety audits and action plans in line with the night-time economy task force. The intention here is to have safety audits embedded in the planning process and rules within our local authorities in the same way age-friendly plans are embedded in local authority plans for developing our towns and cities. This will most likely be done in partnership with the local community safety partnerships which we are developing and piloting. Assessment would be done by local authorities in consultation with industry and local communities to identify the need and implement what is needed. That would be decided locally. In addition, the strategy commits to continue to take steps to increase the availability of public transport, again linking up with the commitment through the night-time economy task force. This means more taxis and making travel at night safer and more accessible to women but also to people who are potentially vulnerable later at night.

The Department of Justice is also developing a night-time economy charter. This is building on work that has already been done in Cork and other areas, committing industry to ensure they protect not just their staff but freelancers, volunteers, artists and patrons, making sure people are aware of the issues and know where to go and how to get help, and ensuring there is support for people who would potentially be vulnerable. This is a snapshot of the work that is being done at the moment. As others have mentioned, we have our night-time advisers. We have work being put in place through the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to support artists specifically.

One of our Senators mentioned insurance. I have been developing amendments to the civil liability Bill to make sure there is an onus on individuals to take responsibility for anything that may happen to them on a premises so that the burden is not placed solely on the proprietor or business owner. That is very important for hospitality sector businesses. I have been given support by Government to progress that. I hope to have the Bill enacted by the end of the year.

There is a lot more we need to do. This is just the start although it is building on so much work that has happened in collaboration with many individuals in the sector. They do not just see this as their livelihood but as a way of life. This is a passion for so many people. It is really important that we do everything we can as a Government to make sure the supports and resources are there, and that we create an environment in which this can flourish and grow and we will one again see, whether it is three nightclubs in our rural towns or whatever it is, that the option is there for people to have those type of venues if that is what our entrepreneurs and younger people wish for, and that there are spaces for our artists to play and for people to dance, to offer those various experiences.

I thank those in the Visitors Gallery for their campaigning and the work they have done over many years. I thank those who are not here and those who have committed their lives and livelihoods in providing that option for people. I also thank those who have provided so many memories for so many people. I would be here all night if I was to outline my memories not just from working in the hospitality sector but at the various events and festivals. It is extremely important that we do not just see this from an economic perspective but also from a social and cultural perspective, which is important to so many of us.

Returning to the issue of licensing, I have not outlined the detail of what is in it as some Senators may have expected. It is important given that we have so many stakeholders involved that the matter is brought before Government first and published. I absolutely commit to bringing forward this legislation in the autumn and to moving it as quickly as possible through the Houses to make sure the legislation is reforming and that it helps the sector not just to survive but to thrive.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response and join her in welcoming the representatives from the sector to the Visitors Gallery. I invite Senator Warfield to respond to the debate.

I will not use all my allotted time in making my concluding remarks.

Brevity is one of the Senator's hallmarks.

Thank you so much.

I thank the Minister. While I do not support or agree with the amendment, I think there is more we agree on than is evident from it. I thank the campaigners, industry workers and promoters from some of the best venues in the city who run some of the best nights in the city. All of us want not just to protect what we have in our nightlife but to ensure that it thrives as a night-time economy and nightlife culture that live up to our reputation around the world as a country of music, song and dance. All of us can agree on that.

I welcome the Minister's commitment for a general scheme of a new sale of alcohol Bill in September. She says she will bring it to one of the first Cabinet meetings after the recess. It is our job to hold the Minister to account and I welcome the commitment she has made. That Bill will take many months to complete its way through both Houses of the Oireachtas and be signed into law. The industry does need budgetary measures and I ask the Minister to consider the waiving of the special exemption orders in the upcoming budget. That would be transformative for the industry.

So many issues have been raised tonight. I thank all the Senators who have stayed on and contributed to a really healthy debate. On transport, Senator Gavan and I were beating our heads against the wall. We put in a question to the Minister for Transport about 24-hour bus routes in Dublin, for example. We received a reply saying that the Minister's remit does not extend to the National Transport Authority.

The National Transport Authority has to be accountable to someone and that is something we need to figure out. I thank the Minister for the commitments she has made tonight. We will hold her to account on them. I hope the amendment will not be pressed.

I thank the Senator for putting forward the motion and for his summation and the end. I also acknowledge his strong credentials in this area as a performing artist himself.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

As I am only one Minister, I cannot commit to all of the others, but I think we agree on everything.

It is good that consensus has broken out, on this night, at the end of the term.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 10.30 p.m. go dtí 9.30 a.m., Déardaoin, an 14 Iúil 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 July 2022.
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