INTOXICATING LIQUOR BILL, 1924. FIRST STAGE.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE (Mr. O'Higgins)

I beg to ask the leave of the Dáil to have printed and circulated a Bill to amend the law relating to the sale of intoxicating liquor, and the law relating to the manufacture and sale of spirits, and in connection therewith to amend the Illicit Distillation (Ireland) Act, 1831, and the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904, and for other purposes relating to the matters aforesaid.

The Bill purports to deal in some degree with every reasonable reform of any considerable importance in the law relating to the sale of intoxicating liquor which does not involve the question of compensation to vested interests. The Bill is in four parts, and Part I. deals mainly with the hours of sale. I have here a table showing the existing hours and the hours of sale proposed by the Bill. On week days other than Saturdays the position at the moment is that in cities and towns where the population is over 5,000 the hours are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and elsewhere the hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The proposal in the Bill is to arrange the hours from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. everywhere. There will be a uniform opening hour from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Saturdays in cities and towns where the population is over 5,000, the opening hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and elsewhere the hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The proposal in the Bill is to have the opening hours from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. everywhere.

As regards Sunday, there is no change in the existing law, which is that in Dublin, Cork Limerick and Waterford you have opening hours from 2 to 5 and elsewhere complete closing. As regards Christmas Day, the present position is complete closing everywhere the whole day, and the Bill makes no change. On Good Friday the present position is that the opening hours are from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. in cities and towns where the population is over 5,000 and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. elsewhere. It is proposed to make Good Friday the same as Christmas Day, that is complete closing everywhere. At present St. Patrick's Day is the same as an ordinary week day and the proposal is to put it on the same footing as Christmas Day and Good Friday.

In regard tobona fide traffic, under the existing laws travellers may be lawfully served by publicans at any hour upon any day of the year. Under the Bill bona fide travellers may not be served at any hour on Christmas Day, Good Friday, St. Patrick's Day, or during the period from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. The Bill further provides that no person shall be admitted to any theatre after 9.30 p.m., unless he has paid for a seat prior to that hour or is employed in the theatre. The existing hours of sale of intoxicating liquors, viz.:—from half an hour before the first performance until half an hour after the last performance remain unchanged.

Power is given to a District Justice to close licensed premises in towns or villages in the interests of the preservation of public peace and order.

Part II. of the Bill deals with licensing. The penalties for "shebeening" are increased, and the offence of "keeping for sale," which is the commonest variety capable of detection, is put on the same plane as selling, and for convenience, sections in earlier Acts dealing with this offence are repealed and re-enacted in a stronger form.

Sale on credit of intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises is made an offence to be recorded on the licence of the licence holder. Sales to young persons under the age of 18 years are prohibited. Girls under the age of eighteen may not be barmaids.

The penalty for consumption of liquor on premises licensed only for consumption off the premises are increased considerably, the punishment for a second offence being forfeiture of the licence. The Licensing (Ireland) Act, 1902, which at present has to be renewed annually, is made permanent. From and after the 25th September, 1925, mixed trading in public-houses will not be lawful. An exception is, however, made in the case of tobacco, matches, table-waters, and food for consumption on the premises. The provision in question will not affect off-licences. Provision is made for the compulsory recording on licences of convictions of the more serious offences against the licensing laws. Three convictions of such offences, or in some cases less, will involve forfeiture of the licence.

Part III. deals with clubs, i.e., mainly clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904. It is provided that no club may be registered unless its rules prohibit the supply of excisable liquor during certain hours. These prohibited hours are the same as those provided in Part I. for public-houses on ordinary week days and Saturdays. On Sundays, Christmas Day, Good Friday, and St. Patrick's Day such liquor may be supplied only between 1 p.m. and 10 p.m. The annual registration fee is increased to two pounds from five shillings.

Restrictions are placed on the grants of certificates of registration to new clubs. The police are given power to enter and search clubs if they suspect abuses. Under the 1904 Act every club to secure registration must have rules on the model prescribed by the Act, except any lodge of Freemasons duly constituted under a charter or warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland. This exception is removed by the repeal of the proviso to section 4 of the Act, so that in future such lodges will be on the same footing as any other kind of club.

Part IV. deals with illicit distillation. Provision is made giving power to control the ingredients used for illicit distillation. In such areas as may be prescribed purchasers of such ingredients will require police permits. Licence holders convicted of concealing, possessing, or selling illicitly distilled spirits will suffer forfeiture of their licences. Illicit distillation is made an ordinary criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment. Under the existing law, except the Public Safety (Punishment of Offences) Temporary Act, 1924, it is primarily a Revenue offence, punishable by fine. The sale of methylated spirits is controlled by Part V., and the drinking of these made an offence punishable with imprisonment. Money penalties under the Licensing Acts and Illicit Distillation Acts are doubled. This is merely a recognition of the depreciation of the currency since these penalties were first fixed. I ask leave to introduce the Bill.

There are two clauses in this Bill to which I take objection; one is that girls under 18 years of age shall not be eligible to be employed in bars. I do not see why these girls should be deprived of employment.

Perhaps the Deputy would postpone his remarks until the Second Reading.

The Deputy is replying to the Minister, and is within his right.

As I say, I do not see why girls under 18 should be prevented from being employed in bars, and I do not see why trading should be abolished.

Is it in order for the Deputy to discuss these details? We are not in a position to criticise the Bill until we have seen it in print.

If the Minister makes a speech, explaining the Bill on introduction, Deputies are entitled to take advantage of the explanation.

The Minister only explained the heads.

I have no remedy. The Deputy is entitled to speak.

If this provision is carried it will deprive a number of people of employment. In some public houses drapery, grocery, and other business is carried on side by side with the liquor trade, and if the provisions of the Bill are insisted upon these people will have to give up one section of their business and to dismiss some of their employees, who will go further to swell the ranks of the unemployed. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter in regard to mixed trading. I have no objection to the hours or to the penalties imposed for breaches of the Licensing Laws or other items in the Bill. But I do object to the abolition of mixed trading in country districts, which would lead to the closing down of a great many houses in these district.

I want to raise a question as to what the Minister's intentions are in this matter. I quite readily agree to the First Reading, and to give the Minister an opportunity of having the Bill presented, but I suggest that this is another Bill which it would be wise to allow to be circulated and discussed for a prolonged period, and that it is not one of those Bill that can reasonably be passed during the next six weeks.

I do not propose, at this stage, to enter into any advocacy of the provisions of the Bill. I merely put them in a general way before Deputies. The Bill has been in preparation for a very considerable time, and there has been a great deal of consultation with the interests affected, far more consultation than is normally possible in connection with legislation. Deputies will remember that last year a Bill was brought before the Dáil dealing with this matter, and that owing to pressure of time, many of its provisions were sacrified. as ballast, in this House, and that when the Bill reached the Seanad that assembly felt that they had not, at their disposal, adequate time for the consideration of a measure so important. I would propose to take the second reading of this Bill at the end of next week. As I say, the interests affected or, primarily and directly affected, have been consulted, and consulted very very fully over a long period. I do not propose, at this stage, to attempt any reply to the impassioned oration of Deputy Lyons.

But the public interest has not been consulted; it is only the trade that is being consulted.

I do not know quite who the Deputy means when he says the public has not been consulted. The general lines were disclosed to the trade and through them from a particular or partisan point of view to the public. The public, I think, is more familiar with the provisions of this Bill than is usual in the case in connection with other Bills.

Leave given. Bill read the first time; ordered for Second Reading (Friday), June 6th, 1924.