Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (268)

Fergus O'Dowd


268. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the legislative and policy measures available to tackle underage drinking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52715/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

There are robust statutory provisions in place regarding the sale and the consumption of intoxicating liquor by persons under the age of 18 years. The law in this area was most recently amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which amended the Licensing Acts and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 with the aim of reducing access to alcohol and at the same time strengthening measures to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour.

The sale of alcohol products to underage persons is prohibited under licensing law. It is an offence under section 31(2) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, as amended, for a licence holder to sell or deliver, or permit another person to sell or deliver, intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 years of age. This applies equally to premises with off-licences, including supermarkets, convenience stores and similar outlets, and those with on-licences such as public houses, hotels and nightclubs. On conviction for a first offence, a mandatory closure order of between two and seven days will be imposed by the court, together with a fine of up to €3,000. The penalties for a second or subsequent offence is a closure order of between seven and thirty days and a fine of up to €5,000. In addition, the licence holder is required to continue to pay staff for the duration of the closure period.

Moreover, under section 32 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is an offence for a person to purchase intoxicating liquor for delivery to, or consumption by, a person under the age of 18 years or to deliver intoxicating liquor to such a person. Under section 33 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is also illegal for a person under 18 years to buy intoxicating liquor or to consume it in any place outside their home or in another person's home where they are present by right or with permission.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 also provides the Gardaí with significant additional powers to address the problem of alcohol sales to persons under the age of 18 years. Section 14 contains provisions which allow a Garda who believes with reasonable cause that a person is under 18 years and that he or she, or anyone accompanying that person, is in possession of intoxicating liquor for the purpose of consuming it in a place other than a private dwelling, to seek an explanation and if not satisfied with the reply, the Garda may seize the intoxicating liquor if it is not handed over voluntarily.

Section 14 of the 2008 Act also makes provision for the test purchasing of alcohol products. The primary objective of the scheme, which entered into force on 1 October 2010, is to enable the Gardaí to target those licensed premises which are suspected of engaging in illegal sales to young people. This scheme provides the Gardaí with an additional instrument in its overall enforcement strategy.

The Garda national age card scheme is an important proof-of-age mechanism in respect of the sale of intoxicating liquor. The scheme is administered by the Gardaí and it has, in co-operation with the licensed trade, helped to combat underage consumption of intoxicating liquor.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which was amended by the 2008 Act, also permits the Gardaí to seize bottles or containers containing intoxicating liquor where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner. Incidents of public disorder and anti-social behaviour arising from excessive consumption of intoxicating liquor are investigated by the Gardaí and dealt with in an appropriate manner, including by caution, fixed charge penalty notices or commencement of proceedings.

In the area of public health, the overarching objectives of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 are to reduce alcohol consumption and to address alcohol misuse. It includes a number of provisions containing restrictions on the content, placement and volume of alcohol advertising. The aim of these restrictions includes the protection of children from exposure to alcohol advertising and to break positive associations between alcohol and social or sporting success. The Act also restricts the sponsorship by alcohol companies of events where the majority of those taking part are children or where events are aimed particularly at children.