This Bill has been rather fully discussed, and I am wondering what was the net effect left on the mind of the average Deputy by the discussion. In a matter of this kind I am not claiming to be unbiassed or unprejudiced. I am naturally prejudiced in favour of this set of provisions which I bring forward after very full investigation of the subject, and after very full inquiry of all channels available to me, but I am asking myself the question as to what exactly is the net effect left on the mind of the Deputy who is not placed as I am, and who has listened here in the last few days to the discussion on this Bill. Certainly the effect left in my mind is that the discussion shows how very, very little of substance, how little of pith or reality can be urged against the set of provisions and the proposals which the Bill contains. Some Deputies spoke, quite obviously, not having read the Bill or even the explanatory memorandum which is prefixed. There is a rather striking unanimity on two parts of the Bill—Part 4, dealing with illicit distillation, and Part 5, dealing with methylated spirits. I think one would be justified in drawing from that the conclusion that we have in the Dáil no Deputy who has fallen a victim either to poteen or methylated spirits, and so far as it goes that is eminently satisfactory. There was not anything like unanimity with regard to the other three parts—Part 1, dealing with the question of hours; Part 2, of a rather general nature, and Part 3, embodying certain regulations with regard to clubs.
Deputies will find in the memorandum, and I think it natural to refer to it again, the exact changes proposed with regard to hours. On week days, other than Saturdays, the existing hours are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in cities and towns with a population over 5,000, and elsewhere in the country from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. That means really that for the greater part of the country on these week days the proposed hour of closing is not any earlier than the existing hour of closing. Its real effect is an alteration of one hour, in cities and towns with a population of over 5,000. When Deputies start slinging adjectives about, and waxing rhetorical it is always well for some one to bring them back to actual facts, and the actual proposals, and I am going to go through this memorandum briefly. As I say, that is the effect on weekdays other than Saturdays—an earlier closing by one hour. On Saturdays what is the effect? The existing hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in towns and cities with a population of over 5,000, and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. elsewhere, so that the result of the proposal in the Bill will be that cities and towns with a population of over 5,000 will close half an hour earlier than under the existing law, and elsewhere in the country there is an extension of half an hour. On Sundays there is no change except the change referred to lower down in the memorandum, namely, that during the period from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. drink may not be sold. On the Committee Stage if any Deputy has the hardihood to put down an amendment dealing with that I am prepared to discuss it very fully. I think it is an admirably proper provision and a provision that the members of any and every church in the country should agree with—that these morning hours in which Divine Service takes place in the various churches ought to be hours in which the public houses would not be open for the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor.
With regard to those days in which complete closing is proposed, there again, there can be discussion. On Good Friday, of course, I think there will be very little comment or controversy. There was always complete closing on Christmas day, so that there is no change in regard to that. Any little comment there was turned on the question of St. Patrick's Day. There are two points of view there. Many people in the country hold the view which extended for a long time back that there ought to be complete closing on St. Patrick's Day if only as a matter of sentiment. Deputies have said that drunkenness is not prevalent in the country at the moment. If it is agreed that there was a time when drunkenness was prevalent in the country then a complete closing of licensed premises on the National Festival would at any rate, mark the turning of backs on such a state of affairs and give some expression to that sentiment which we all mouth freely enough, that we are in favour of a sober and temperate country and that we have no future along any other path. The number of Deputies who managed to combine strong temperance views with an advocacy of unlimited facilities for drinking, rather surprised me and disappointed me in this debate.
We are told that drunkenness is not prevalent in the country. That, of course, is a question of standards. It is somewhat a relative question. In the course of the year 1923 there were arrested in the metropolitan area for drunkenness 674 men and 734 women, a total of 1,408 persons. That marks an increase on the year 1921 of 150 arrests. Now there is drunkenness and drunkenness, and Deputies know that the Metropolitan Police, in practice, only make arrests for drunkenness where a person is obviously incapable of taking care of himself and making his way home in safety. Yet in the last year there were 1,408 arrests for drunkenness in the Metropolitan Police area. In the month of May in the current year there were 137 arrests as compared with 150 in April.
Deputies may have their own points of view about these figures as to whether they are good, bad or indifferent, but I do submit that, remembering that arrests are only made of persons obviously incapable of looking after themselves, those figures reflect badly on the sobriety of the city. There are stages of drunkenness. I saw somewhere that a person is only theologically drunk when he is in that condition that he would go to light his pipe at a tap. You can take it that those arrests are arrests of people who would very nearly go to light their pipes at a tap. Deputies should be quite clear on the question of restrictions and hours as to the exact effect of the proposals. If they keep that in mind we should have an end of the extravagant language used in the Second Reading of the Bill. Moving on to Part II. of the Bill, you had a few sections on which there was some slight comment. You had Section 8. Very little exception was taken to Section 7. I am aware of the views that exist about Section 8. You have on one side the picture of the working man coming home to his dinner, his wife busy preparing and laying his dinner for him, and his son or daughter of fourteen or fifteen years of age being sent out for a pint of porter or a bottle of stout. That is one aspect of the thing. Some Deputies spoke to me about that section, and from the trend of what they had to say I gathered that the objection lay in the possibility of children taking some of the liquor on the way back between the shop and the home. I do not think that that is the objection of the temperence people. It is not what I gathered from them. I think the objection is to familiarising growing boys or girls with a public house. They get to know the habits and the lie of the place, and when the boy of 14, 15 or 16 grows into a youth of 18 or 19 he will go there on his own business where he formerly went on his father's business. I think that is the gist of the objection, and it is for Deputies, when we come to consider this section more in detail, to weigh well whether there is substance or reality in that objection.
I think Deputy McGoldrick is the only Deputy who took strong exception to Section 10, which deals with the consumption of liquor on premises which are only licensed for consumption off the premises. Deputy McGoldrick thinks that is harsh, and that when people have been granted a particular kind of licence on condition that they will sell only for consumption off the premises, it is a great hardship that when those conditions are thrown to the winds, smashed and trampled upon, there should be a removal of the licence. That is a matter of opinion, too. I do not know whether many Deputies will share Deputy McGoldrick's opinion on that matter. It seems to me that when the conditions are broken the only and obvious remedy is the withdrawal and forfeiture of the licence. Coming, then, to Section 12, Deputies had, of course, as I expected, a great deal to say about Section 12, and will, no doubt, in further stages of the Bill have a great deal to say. I am not objecting to that. On the contrary, it is a section that would need very full consideration and discussion. I have my own strong and definite views, and because I wish to put those views to the Dáil I have left that section in the Bill, although I am assured that it is not a section which meets with the approval of the Party which supports the Government. I am in the position that I will simply put that section to an open vote of the Dáil. It is a matter that has more aspects than one. I stressed some of the aspects on speaking previously on this Bill. I think the public are entitled to be served other than in this manner at this hour of the day. I think people who are carrying on this business have done well enough out of the public to justify the public in demanding that there shall be a change for the future.
Remember, this is all on a basis of service to the community, and the community is, I submit, entitled to take this stand, that they shall be served somewhat differently in the future, that their children, boys and girls, going in on household messages, shall not be in the position of having to go in through beershops. Then there is the other point of view, the point of view of the temptation to the man of the house himself, going in on household messages—that there should be some little partition, some separation, so that if he were to decide to have a drink that would be a decision rather than simply a yielding to irresistible impulse or temptation. There is still another aspect, and it is this; that the previous administration here, the British administration, simply dealt out licences through the country in a very reckless and very haphazard manner, with very little consideration of the real interests of the country and of the people of the country. That is admitted upon all sides. It is admitted by the traders themselves. No one contends that 15,000 public houses are needed for the reasonable refreshment of the Irish people, and there is a further result. It is not merely the question of the superfluity of public houses. You have all through the country this system of one business eking out the other, and it has been contended time after time, that neither can survive alone. What does that point to? If it is true, it simply means that you have in this country an utterly unsound economic position; that back through the last twenty, thirty or forty years there has been a steady multiplication of middlemen out of all proportion to the real requirements of the citizens. There is much talk of profiteering and the high cost of living.
Deputies should try to get down to the pith of the matter. You can have very high prices and profiteering in the technical sense without anyone making huge fortunes out of it. Take the average town or village in Ireland depending for its business on a catchment area of a four or five mile radius, and what is the picture? Dotted from one of the main streets to the other you have people dealing in substantially the same commodities. They all have to live on that catchment area, a rural area, a four or five mile radius. The moral is obvious. The talk of competition is a myth, a fiction. Prices are ruled for the weakest link in the chain, and yet Deputies say that it is not right to say that the public are entitled to be better or differently served in the future than they have been in the past. If you say there must be separation between one portion of a shop and another you are saying something that is harsh, unjust, and confiscatory in its effect. Licences were dealt out in a reckless, haphazard fashion here by the British administration, and it is that situation we are facing to-day. Because one business was not sufficient another counter was opened and it was eked out with another business. The net result is that you have had that multiplication of distributors, that multiplication of retailers, going on in the country, and all those must live on the producers. That is why producers are down at bedrock to-day fighting for their very existence. If we are only to tell the truth when it is palatable, and if we are only to tell the truth when we are quite sure we are not walking on anyone's corns, we are not going to get anywhere in dealing with the social and economic evils of the country.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with clubs. The proposal is that clubs shall not sell intoxicating liquor later than 10 p.m. on an ordinary week-day and 9.30 p.m. on Saturdays, and not between the hours of 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. That again, of course, has been branded as tyrannical in the extreme. I have been charged with "undue rigidity" because I did not leave loopholes through which Deputy Figgis might slip in and out. Reasonable refreshments we are told are denied to members of the clubs after 10 p.m. Such liquids as water, tea, coffee or minerals do not count in the vocabulary of the clubmen, if we are to believe all that has been said here.