Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

I move:

"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is threefold. It allows for special opening of licensed premises and registered clubs on new year's eve for celebration of the millennium. It introduces changes to the law in the area of permitted hours on Sunday afternoons and provides for the granting of exemptions for extension of hours of trading after midnight on Saturdays.

The Minister who is in Belfast at the Northern Ireland talks wishes to make it abundantly clear that this small Bill is not the end of the matter in regard to reform of the licensing laws and related matters. Far from it.

He is long enough about it.

The Minister's stated intention – an intention to which he is committed – is to bring forward a comprehensive package of measures in the autumn which will deal, inter alia, with extending the hours during which licensed premises are permitted to trade. Any suggestions made which imply otherwise, whether in the House or elsewhere, are completely wide of the mark. To put the matter beyond further doubt, the Minister favours extending the opening hours of licensed premises so that they reflect the realities of current social interaction as well as the clear demand from members of the public and those in the trade for longer opening hours.

Before proceeding to deal with the issues in the Bill, I acknowledge the work of the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights which examined, under the efficient chairmanship of Deputy Flanagan, the licensing laws. Its report presented to the Minister in June last year was the starting point for his examination of the law in this complex and most controversial area. Every Member can testify to the interest not just of those associated with the trade but of the public in issues relating to the licensing laws. I doubt if there is a single Deputy who does not have an opinion on what changes should be made or how far those changes should go.

The experience following publication of the report of the sub-committee bears this out. The Department sought observations from interested parties and individuals. In excess of 70 submissions were received, not just from the major interest groups within the trade but from individuals and groups anxious to see the licensing laws amended to encompass their sphere of activitiy. The Minister received numerous letters from individuals and public representatives on their behalf who wished to make a case either for or against change.

It is the Minister's intention to finalise wide-ranging changes in the law later this year. He has, as part of the consultation process, met many interest groups and continues to meet others in the context of finalisation of his further proposals. Most would agree that it is virtually impossible to satisfy the demands of all sides in a comprehensive liquor measure. What one group in the licensing trade advocates as essential is protrayed by other sectors as an unjust attack on their ability to make a living and vice versa.

The Minister would like to think that he can find the middle ground between those who advocate no change in the law as it stands and those who see regulation of this area as the personification of the nanny state and that the effect of change does not have to add to the social cost of alcohol abuse but that greater access to alcohol has been complemented by a greater appreciation of the dangers of alcohol abuse.

I fully agree that our society has changed significantly for the better in recent decades as far as our attitude to alcohol is concerned. Our maturing attitude means that we can at the same time speak not solely about the licensing laws in the context of what must be done to limit abuse but about the role of alcohol within the tourism industry as part of our social fabric and as something which can be celebrated in a positive way. Social drinking has for many people moved onto a new plane where the consumption of alcohol is only part of the enjoyment of some other activity and not an end in itself.

I now turn to the provisions contained in the Bill. Section 7 provides for the setting aside of normal opening hours on the eve of the millennium. Licensed premises and clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts will be permitted to remain open from after normal closing of 11 p.m. on 31 December 1999 to 8.30 a.m. the following morning. Premises will be allowed to supply alcohol for consumption on the premises but not otherwise during the extended period. This provision gives publicans and licence holders plenty of time to make arrangements in light of public expectations which will facilitate celebration of a significant date in the calendar. This is a move which the National Millennium Committee has sought and it will be welcomed by it.

The best provision for licensed premises on the occasion is that they should have flexibility throughout the night as regards opening hours. The approach is a pragmatic one. People will want to arrange celebratory parties on the night in question in many different ways. In so far as licensed premises are concerned, there is everything to be said in favour of celebratory events being held in proper licensed premises and clubs where a degree of responsibility and control can be exercised.

No licensed premises is obliged to remain open throughout the night. Individual premises, based on demand or the plans of the licensee, can decide the time appropriate to the circumstances and it will be a matter for licensees to come to appropriate arrangements with staff in respect of the additional hours of opening, if they want to avail of them.

The Minister has taken the opportunity presented by the need to make arrangements for the millennium to advance two other measures. Section 2 abolishes Sunday closing between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Section 3 provides for the granting of special exemption orders after midnight on Saturday nights. These two provisions are being advanced now so that licensees and their customers can have the benefit of them this summer and onwards. They are areas of the law which the Minister had intended to change as part of his overall examination of the licensing code.

The abolition of the requirement on licensed premises to close between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays will be generally welcomed. It is clear that there is a demand for this relaxation of the law. It has become a feature of Sunday afternoons for families to enjoy lunch outside the home. Many licensed premises provide good value in this market and the Minister is ensuring that customers can enjoy their lunch without the need to have one eye on the clock or for licensees to remove customers at an unrealistic time of the day. All round, this should provide for a more relaxed enjoyment of what is often a family day out. This provision will also be of benefit to tourists. I accept that many visitors must find it strange that they can order a substantial meal in a public house at 1.30 p.m. but are then encouraged to eat up and be off the premises some time after 2 p.m. Many games are televised on Sundays and many people like to watch such sports in the convivial atmosphere of the local pub or club.

The revised Sunday hours will also apply to private clubs which are permitted to supply intoxicating liquor by virtue of being registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts. Section 4 makes the appropriate change in relation to clubs. The revised Sunday hours will apply also to off-licence premises.

In tandem with the abolition of Sunday closing the Minister is altering the situation pertaining in hotels and restaurants. Under the existing law restaurants are granted an exemption for Sundays which allows them to serve alcohol with a meal up to 3 p.m. Under section 5 hotels and restaurants will be permitted to serve alcohol throughout the afternoon and evening. Section 6 alters the prohibited hours in restaurants holding a special restaurant licence. Under the current law such restaurants are normally prohibited from opening for the sale of intoxicating liquor on Sundays between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Section 6 removes this prohibition. These are logical consequences of the removal of the prohibition on licensed premises opening between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

I now turn to section 3 regarding certain special exemption orders. There are many areas of the licensing code in need of review and attention and this is one of the most obvious areas. A whole industry, the nightclub and disco sector, owes its existence to the special exemption order. Under the current law it is impossible to obtain such an order for any time after midnight on Saturdays. The owners of nightclubs and hotels who operate nightclubs or discos point to Saturday night as potentially one of the busiest nights of the week. Section 3 removes the restriction on the granting of special exemptions after midnight on Saturdays. This amendment will be of immediate benefit to the nightclub and disco sector.

The Minister has taken this opportunity to introduce certain amendments to our licensing laws so that the benefits can be enjoyed straight away. The broader picture will be addressed later.

I commend the Bill to the House.

(Mayo): I wish to share my time with Deputy Flanagan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

(Mayo): I have no problem with the three matters addressed by the Bill although I am at a loss to know where the demand arose for the once off, all night opening of licensed premises on new year's eve as a way of celebrating the millennium. No publican to whom I have spoken relishes the prospect of keeping their premises open all night. However, given that it is a once off occasion, Fine Gael will not oppose the measure.

The abolition of Sunday afternoon closing has been anticipated for a considerable period of time. While Irish people have accepted Sunday closing as part of what we are, it must appear strange to overseas visitors. Until a few years ago there was a holy hour in Dublin and Cork on week days until it was abolished by the then Minister for Justice, Mr. Gerry Collins. I welcome the abolition of Sunday afternoon closing. Apart from being an outdated concept and principle, a substantial number of pubs are involved in the catering business and offer extremely good value for money. Their Sunday business, however, is considerably disrupted and constrained by the obligation to close for two hours in the afternoon. The removal of the prohibition on special exemptions after midnight on Saturday is welcome. It is legislating for the reality of what is taking place in discos every Saturday night.

However, I object to the piecemeal approach of the Minister. I vividly recall the debate on the Licensed Premises (Opening Hours) Bill, 1998, introduced in March 1998 by the late Deputy Upton. True to form, the Minister refused to accept the Bill. Apart from making the case that a select committee of the House was engaged in a review of the licensing laws and had not reported, the Minister's main problem was that the legislation was not comprehensive enough. In his contribution he stated: "I can give an undertaking that any recommendation made by the select committee arising from its review of the licensing laws will be given the most serious consideration by me with a view to amending the legislation .".

The select committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Flanagan, consulted widely, received numerous oral and written submissions and produced an excellent report containing 72 recommendations. Instead of fulfilling his pledge of giving "the most serious consideration" to the recommendations of the select committee, the Minister has taken only two on board. He has shirked his responsibility and has failed to deliver on the comprehensive reorganisation of our liquor licensing laws about which he was so concerned a mere 15 months ago.

Many groups will be dissatisfied with the Minister's abdication of responsibility. In particular, he has left the publicans in a disgruntled mood. They cannot understand the reason the unanimous recommendation of the all-party select committee to extend the licensed opening hours to 12.30 a.m. all year round has not been adopted by the Minister. In his contribution to the debate on the late Deputy Upton's Bill, the Minister spoke about the need for "balancing of sometimes competing interests". By not extending the opening hours, he is perpetuating a situation where parents and grandparents have to leave the social atmosphere of the public house at 11.30 p.m. only to arrive home to meet their children and grandchildren departing for the club or disco where they have ready access to alcohol into the early hours of the morning.

It is ludicrous that tonight in this city visitors from continental Europe, who have paid handsomely to holiday here and are enjoying the unique atmosphere of the Irish pub, will be told at 11.30 p.m. to finish their drinks. Apart from the tourism aspect, our early closing laws reflect our lack of maturity as a nation. We should be capable of applying our own standards and per sonal strictures without expecting the State, its laws and the Garda Síochána to be our personal moral policemen.

Deputy Flanagan and I have published a Private Members' Bill which proposes to extend opening times for licensed premises. The Bill extends the opening hours by one hour in summer and one hour and 30 minutes in winter, thereby giving a year round closing time of 12.30 a.m. It abolishes the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. closing time on Sundays. St. Patrick's Day, which at present is treated like a Sunday, will instead have normal opening hours. Christmas Day and Good Friday closing will remain and publicans will have to clear their premises by 12 midnight on Christmas eve and holy Thursday, thereby avoiding trespassing on either Christmas Day or Good Friday.

Given that it is not possible to move the Bill this week during Private Members' Business, Deputy Flanagan and I have tabled the substance of the Bill as an amendment to the Minister's Bill. I ask the Minister, in a gesture towards the balance he referred to when contributing to the debate on the late Deputy Upton's Bill, to accept this amendment. In doing so, he will recognise the unique position of the pub in Irish society. It is ironic that the Irish pub, which is being replicated throughout the world, is enormously popular and is a huge commercial success, can have unrestricted opening hours in most countries in which it is established. Yet in pubs on our native soil which cater for the native population it is shutters down and lights out every night before midnight.

I am extremely disappointed the Minister failed to bring forward the comprehensive legislative measure he spoke about 15 months ago and which is so long overdue. To appreciate the need for consolidating legislation, one need only look at the range of Acts in which the current practice and code are grounded. They range from the initial Act of 1833 through the Acts of 1835, 1836, 1845, 1854, 1855, 1860, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1872, 1874 and 1877 to the Intoxicating Liquor Licensing Acts of the 20th century in 1902, 1909, 1910, 1924, 1927, 1943, 1946, 1953, 1960, 1962, 1981 and 1988. Is it any wonder there always has been and continues to be confusion about the body of law governing the liquor trade?

Many of the Acts built on preceding Acts by reinforcing or strengthening them in some manner. Section 13 of the Licensing Act, 1872, for example, introduces a penalty for the publican who permits drunkenness or violent, quarrelsome or riotous conduct to take place in his premises or who sells intoxicating liquor to a drunken person. Section 14 of the 1872 Act introduces a £20 fine for any licensed person who knowingly permits his premises to be the habitual resort of or place of meeting of reputed prostitutes, whether the object of the resorting or meeting is for the sake of prostitution. The publican shall, if he allows them to remain there or remain longer than is necessary for the purpose of obtaining reasonable refreshment, be liable to a penalty not exceeding £20 for the first offence and £40 for the second and subsequent offences.

These penalties are doubled in the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924. Section 10 of the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871, provides that every person who occupies or keeps any lodging house, beer house, public house or other place where intoxicating liquors are sold or any place of public entertainment or public resort and who knowingly permits them to meet or assemble there or knowingly allows them to deposit goods therein, having reasonable cause for believing those goods to be stolen, can be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £10. Section 31 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, deals with the sale of intoxicating liquor to those under 18 years of age. Section 34 of the same Act prohibits children, unaccompanied by parents or guardian, to be on a licensed premises.

The Minister has not availed of the opportunity to untangle the mass of legislation governing the various outlets serving liquor, ranging from the traditional public house to restaurants, hotels, clubs, discos and off licences. This was the opportunity to introduce a comprehensive, intelligible and workable Bill to meet the reality of modern Ireland as it faces the new millennium. One of the most disturbing features of modern Ireland is the growing epidemic of under-age drinking. This country is afflicted by an orgy of child alcohol problems. When first year students of 12 and 13 years of age arrive at post primary schools on a Monday morning smelling of stale alcohol fumes and visibly hung over, it is time to reappraise the situation.

Unfortunately, that is the position in virtually every post primary school in the country and the age threshold continues to fall. There is almost total disregard for the law on under-age drinking and we need to come to grips with what is a major cancer among the young. There is also the other side of the coin, which is parental responsibility. The performance of parents in this regard is scandalously negligent. There is no point in expecting the State to be the moral parental guardian – acting in loco parentis – if parents have not sufficient interest to insist on their offspring being in at a reasonable time. I am not talking about midnight or 12.30 a.m. If parents do not collect their children, do not know their means of transport home, do not check their condition and do not know what time they arrive home, then parents are guilty of criminal negligence. If children know there are no boundaries, no limitations, no parental checks and no parental interest, who can blame them if they decide to indulge themselves? The streets of urban and rural Ireland in the early hours every Sunday morning are littered with bottles, beer cans, bodies, vomit, urine and blood. These young people are the mirror of a so-called modern Ireland of the new millennium.

Parents are not being fair to their children by not establishing and insisting upon limits. I do not know where we went wrong. What has happened to the basic requirement of parental maturity, example and responsibility? Up to 15 years ago I was a teacher and at that time it was the norm for teachers to attend secondary, vocational, comprehensive and community school graduation balls. Nowadays, teachers are not generally invited to such events, but if they were, many would decline to attend because of the embarrassing performances which inevitably take place and which have become part and parcel of the alcohol saturated graduation ball scene at this time of year.

The present splurge of teenage drunkenness is serious and is wreaking havoc on society. The rack and ruin has yet to be seen in many cases. The combination of under-age drinking, late drinking and take-away shops to which people go when they are disgorged from discos and dance halls at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning, means that many streets, even in rural Ireland, have become no-go areas. Many senior citizens are no longer able to enjoy peace in the tranquillity of their own homes. We have a major public order problem which is being fuelled to a large extent by uncontrolled under-age drinking.

The law has a primary role and it should be enforced. Education also has a role, but the primary role and responsibility rests with parents. Unfortunately, far too few of them appreciate or accept this responsibility.

I welcome the fact that the Government has decided to think again. However, instead of making a decision to defer consideration of the Bill on Committee and Report Stages, the Government should accept the amendment tabled by Deputy Flanagan and me. Then we would have the balanced Bill which the Minister aspired to 15 months ago when he spoke on the late Deputy Upton's Bill. It would be a Bill that would bring some semblance of equilibrium between the competing interests he was so concerned about on that occasion.

We should accept our responsibilities and admit that what the Minister is engaging in is little more than a sham. He had the audacity to inform the House that the benefits of this legislation could be enjoyed straight away, when he knows that will not happen, following the meeting of his parliamentary party this morning and subsequent contact with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There will not be any changes between now and the resumption of the Dáil in the autumn. Why can we not face the facts? We are engaged in a deliberate political sham.

A pure sham.

The majority of the Minister of State's parliamentary party recognises that the Bill being introduced is more remarkable for what is not in it than for what it contains. It con tains very little. Yet, the Minister of State read the Minister's speech as if the people are sufficiently gullible to believe that changes in the liquor code will be passed by the Dáil before the summer recess.

Do not make any assumptions.

It will not happen and the Minister of State knows this is no more than a political confidence trick.

The summer of what year?

I question the relevance of this Bill. That is why I exhort the House to accept the Government Bill with the substantial amendment in the name of the Fine Gael Party. There is an amendment from the Labour Party that would also add significantly to the Bill. If we are really serious about doing what the Minister says – effecting change immediately – we should pass all stages of the amended Bill tomorrow, it would then go to the Seanad, be signed by the President over the weekend and become law next week.

Hear, hear.

There is no great difficulty. This is what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is pretending is happening with this legislation, but we all know the contrary is the case. I accept that licensing law is a complex area and Governments have not helped over the decades. We suffered from the piecemeal changes in the legislation over the years. They have been more a response to an initial difficulty rather than to a comprehensive examination of our licensing code which for the most part dates from the last century.

The opening hours issue is not really complex. I accept it is difficult to reach agreement but that need not necessarily be complex – it is a question of making a decision.

On a point of clarification, does the Fine Gael amendment refer to 12.30 a.m. or 1 o'clock? Can the Deputy explain that?

It is 12.30.

Is that closing time?

The amendment has been circulated. It is 12.30 a.m. with 30 minutes of what can be described as "drinking up time", which would allow it up to 1 o'clock. Drink could be served up to 12.30 a.m. and there would be the usual 30 minutes drinking up time on top of that. There is no difficulty with it. The specific proposal is to 12.30 a.m.

Is that the specific proposal agreed by the committee?

No, but it is the proposal that we are putting to the House on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and we are asking the Minister of State to accept it.

The Deputy did not take any notice of the committee. I just wanted to clarify the situation. It is 1 o'clock.

If the truth be known, the Minister of State should ask his own backbenchers because they will tell him about the defects in the legislation. They did so this morning.

Deputy Healy-Rae told him this morning. He packed up and buckled.

I would not like to be Deputy Healy-Rae going back to Kilgarvan in County Kerry.

I accept the Minister has engaged in widespread consultation on this issue. That was already stated by his Minister of State, but following that consultation the Minister appears to have learned nothing. He appears immobilised by his own indecision on the matter. The review of February 1996 was on an all-party basis, with urban and rural members of all political parties having an opportunity of participating in a round-table exercise which produced 75 recommendations. The consultation process took more than a year with numerous public and private meetings, written submissions, oral hearings and a seminar addressed by the Minister. The committee engaged an expert consultant for the bulk of the consultation process. We had the opportunity of meeting experts from other jurisdictions and that wide-ranging report was presented to the Minister last June.

The only reaction it elicited from the Minister was engagement in the same widespread consultation and discussion that had already been undertaken by the committee. This was no more than an exercise in long-fingering. The Competition Authority committee sat contemporaneously with the liquor licensing review committee. Apparently, there has not been an official reaction from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since that report was published some ago, not to mention an indication that he would act favourably on the recommendations of the Competition Authority report, which dealt with high prices, value for money, barriers to entry to the trade etc. The Minister did not consider these matters.

On the issue of extending trading hours, it is a question of achieving a balance in the public interest. Some people speak in terms of deregulation and say there should not be any control of trading hours. I am not sure if that is in the best public interest. Neither am I sure if the concept of obtaining exemptions is the best practice. The exemption practice as it operates is bringing the law into disrepute. There are special exemptions, general exemptions and area exemptions. The special exemption available only for hotels and those premises with special restaurant certificates is unfair to the vast majority of retail traders in the licensed trade. It means that hotels and certified restaurants occupy a dominant position in the market and, in effect, constitute a monopoly on late night drinking. This is unjust.

The public, the unsuspecting punter who wishes to have no more than a glass of beer at midnight has to determine whether he is entering a certified restaurant or an hotel. If he goes near an ordinary seven-day licensed premises, which is where he wants to go, he will have little chance of getting a drink if the proprietor of those premises is acting within the law. It is wrong that the law is turning a blind eye to those pubs with restaurant certificates which operate as ordinary seven-day licensed premises into the night without fulfilling the legal requirement to provide a substantial meal. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is doing himself, his Department, the Government and this House a disservice by not scrapping the late night monopoly of hotels and certified restaurants.

I do not wish to dwell to any great extent on the 75 recommendations of the all-party committee published and presented to the Minister more than a year ago. The report has also been circulated to Members. It is a pity he did not give effect to the recommendations on the trading code, the summer-winter time change, recommendations 21 to 29, and the extended trading hours, recommendations 30 to 37. There is no doubt consumers wish to have a less restrictive regime. It is farcical that a person on a licensed premises in a public house with a glass of shandy in his hand at 11.50 p.m. on a summer's night can be successfully prosecuted in a court of law and reprimanded. There is an alternative. The person can put down the glass of shandy and leave the premises in haste. He can pay £8 to the local night club, listen to the loud music, be invited or tempted to dance and forced to eat the rubber chicken which constitutes the substantial meal he must eat if he is to be in keeping with the law.

What night club is that?

Citizens are forced to enter these premises against their better judgment when all they want is a glass of shandy on a summer's night. In the event of a private celebration when they wish to have a drink after midnight they cannot do so without paying for the privilege. That is unfair. These anomalies cannot be justified. It defies belief that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, having considered the matter for months, has brought forward a reforming measure to mark the start of millennium, to abolish Sunday closing between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and to remove the special exemptions anomaly for Saturday nights, and yet did not address the issue. In the course of his address, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, did not tell us the reason the Minister did not address these issues. We will now have the worst of all worlds because the Minister said the Bill which he introduced in the last week of the session will not become law at all.

I did not say that; that is not true.

It will be deferred. Rather than delay the House on this measure I will allow other colleagues to contribute. Let us get real on this issue. The Bill has been proved defective by the Minister's colleagues. They have said, as have the citizenry, they would be happy with an extra hour. That is the Fine Gael amendment. We can accept a sensible amendment concerning theatres and other recreational outlets, as proposed by the Labour Party which is worthy of support. If we pass this legislation the Minister can deal with the more complex issues of barriers to trade and licensing in the autumn.

I am confused about the Government's intentions. I had thought we would go right through the Bill, that we would have the opportunity to amend it and that it would become law at some stage. Clearly there has been a U-turn in the course of the day due to pressure from various sources, including some who are not members of the Government, but who may be supporting the Government. This is unsatisfactory from the point of view of those of us who wanted to contribute to the debate, to amend the legislation and put forward sensible proposals as we have done in our amendments.

For the past hour or so I have tried, as has Deputy Higgins, to be in two places at the one time. We had been moving amendments on Committee Stage to the Immigration Bill while we were supposed to be in this House. That is unsatisfactory. It is ironic that we need not have come in to deal with this Bill because the Government has decided it will not proceed with it. It is unacceptable that we were not able to deal properly with the Immigration Bill. Time was allowed today and tomorrow for this Bill. It is time wasted because the Government will "bring forward a comprehensive package of measures in the autumn". I presume this Bill will be subsumed in the autumn by a more considered approach to the whole question of extending the licensing laws.

It is a pity this Bill will not go through the House, despite our reservations about it. While its provisions fall far short of what is required to reform the outdated licensing laws, if passed, substantially amended, before the recess, at least the Sunday holy hour could have been abolished in time for the peak tourist season. As the Fine Gael Members have said, the Bill could have been amended if the Minister had been willing to accept the proposed amendments. They are probably in line with most of the proposals the Government will put forward in the autumn. The Sunday holy hour provision could have been abolished for the tourism season because there is broad consensus across all parties that it is an inconvenience, especially in areas that depend heavily on tourism.

The Government's decision to take only Second Stage of the Bill before the recess is a disgraceful U-turn. It has misled the House because the order for all Stages was circulated by the Whips. It should explain why it no longer intends to proceed with all Stages of the Bill. Is it the case that it has once again succumbed to pressure from its Independent supporters? It is high time it grasped the nettle and provided some real reform of the licensing laws. Apart from the other points that have been made, its pussyfooting on the matter is costing the economy in terms of tourism revenue.

Reform of the licensing laws has been well ventilated by Members of the House. Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights have dealt with the matter in the run up to the publication of the review of the Liquor Licensing Bill, which was published just over a year ago. Earlier still, the House had the opportunity to consider the matter over two weeks of Private Members' Business when, on behalf of the Labour Party, the late Dr. Pat Upton introduced his Licensed Premises Opening Hours Bill. I remember the conviction with which he spoke on the Bill.

This latest opportunity to debate the issue presents the weakest, least ambitious proposal to reform the licensing laws. The Bill merely plays around with them. The only real and welcome reform is the proposal to abolish the provision on the Sunday holy hour. Had the Minister supported the Labour Party Bill these reforms could have been introduced over 15 months ago. It presented a more radical and modern approach to reforming these laws.

In addition to the main provisions contained in the Bill, the Labour Party proposals sought to extend the opening pub hours on a daily basis, thereby abolishing the anomalous gap between the winter and summer opening hours as well as bringing closing time to 12.30 a.m. with subsequent drinking up time provisions.

The Labour Party Bill also looked at removing the mandatory closing on Good Fridays and the reform of off-licence opening hours. In addition, it contained a provision to allow heritage centres, especially those based on brewing and distillation, to serve alcohol. I commend my colleague, Senator Gallagher, in this regard because for some time he has been trying to make a special case for heritage centres. This issue is close to his heart as he resides somewhere near where Tullamore Dew is produced. I understand Irish Mist is produced in the same area.

Tullamore is the only town in Ireland that gives a man his "dew".

Unfortunately it cannot give any man or woman their "dew" without paying approximately £100,000 for a pub licence because under existing legislation it cannot serve beverage in the heritage centre in the absence of such a licence. Similar provisions apply in other such heritage centres, such as the centre located at Midleton. While these centres should be restricted in terms of the hours they serve beverages, they should not require a pub licence. The removal of this provision would add to the tourism potential of areas which contain heritage centres, especially centres based on traditions of brewing and distilling. There is a comparable provision for racing tracks. This is under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture and Food and a licence may be granted at the discretion of the Minister for Agriculture and Food. A similar provision for heritage centres could be left to the discretion of the Minster for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. It is a sensible measure and I do not see why the Government would wish to oppose it. Unfortunately, we will not have the opportunity to propose amendments to this legislation.

The Labour Party Bill is head and shoulders above this Bill because it made ample provision for the protection of workers in the industry so that they would not suffer as a result of longer opening hours. Efficient and helpful bar staff have always remained at the heart of the Irish pub industry. When extending bar opening hours we must be careful to maintain these characteristics by offering protection to workers involved in this industry.

The Labour Party has made it clear that employees should not be obliged to work during the added pub opening hours. An employee who works extended hours should be paid at least time and a half and employees should be given at least four days' notice before they are obliged to work the extended hours. It is important that the issue of employees is taken into account, especially in the context of the millennium proposal in the Bill, which contains no measure to protect the rights of workers. We seek a short amendment on that, but my preference would be to adopt the measures in the Labour Party Bill, which would adequately protect workers and would be in accordance with the trade union Mandate, which represents most bar workers. Unfortunately, not all bar workers are members of trade unions. The union is rightly anxious that workers should be properly protected in the context of extended hours and in respect of the millennium proposal.

The Bill allows for a special once-off opening for licensed premises for new year's eve. Pubs can choose to open for 36 hours. This change has implications for workers, yet the Bill does not contain a single provision to offer them protection. Millennium working conditions are already a hot potato. New year's eve has already been declared a bank holiday to mark the new millennium and people have high expectations as to how they might celebrate it. There will be huge pressure on workers in pubs and clubs and the failure of the Bill to address their welfare is a serious error.

In expectation of new reforms in the licensing laws, the trade union Mandate published a report outlining the need for increased worker protection. We would fully support that, but it appears its demands have fallen on deaf ears. There is a balance between consumers' rights and workers' rights in this area. In seeking to extend the licensing hours we are trying to ensure that the consumer has more choice and that the clearly expressed wishes of consumers will be taken into account. Those wishes were expressed to the Government again today. However, that needs to be balanced against the rights of workers, which must be an essential part of any legislation in this area.

It is doubtful how well the licensing laws are implemented. A certain leeway is granted in parts of the country, with which some people would agree. However, if laws are not always enforced and if the majority of citizens would prefer not to see them enforced to the letter, we should change them rather than keep them on the Statute Book and turn a blind eye to certain aspects of them.

That is reality.

It puts all law into disrepute when we keep laws on the Statute Book but do not implement them. That is an important point to consider when taking account of what the Opposition seeks to have included in the Bill.

The late Pat Upton referred to the experience of other countries that amended their licensing laws to provide for extended opening hours. Scotland is a good example because the Irish and the Scots share certain characteristics. The extension of licensing hours in Scotland did not cause great disruption to public order or late night binge drinking. Unfortunately, that happens anyway and could not be attributable to a change in the law. If people want a drink, they will find the means to do so. As Deputy Flanagan said, they will pay £7 or £8 to listen to loud music which they do not want to hear if they want to have an extra drink or two. I passed by such an establishment recently and the level of noise was deafening. There should be an option for those of us who want to drink late but are not young enough to withstand the noise level, in the interest of our hearing.

The obligation to provide food to all patrons who avail of late night drinking in these establishments is not always met. In many cases, there is not enough food to provide a meal to everybody on the premises. Again, that is flouting the law. As Deputy Belton eloquently said, we need to reflect the reality of the situation. I would have preferred if the Minister had introduced an honest, detailed Bill which would have done that rather than introduce one which tinkers with the system and provides for all night drinking on the eve of the millennium, to which I object.

It is an option.

Yes, but there will be pressure on publicans and their employees to take up such an option.

The publicans may close when they want.

A party colleague suggested that it might be more in our line to have churches open all night rather than public houses. However, legislation is not required for that.

I am dissatisfied with the manner in which the legislation was ordered. We thought that all Stages would be taken this evening – the Bill was put on a busy schedule this week when other legislation should have been given priority – but the Government has now decided not to proceed with the remaining Stages. That is unsatisfactory. The Bill will have to be reordered in the autumn. I and my party are extremely dissatisfied with the manner in which the legislation has been dealt with by the Government.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McGuinness.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I did not attend the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this morning but Deputy Flanagan might have been there as a fly on the wall.

I never attended one.

The Deputy should not direct comments at me about the meeting.

The Deputy caved in.

The Bill seeks to amend and extend the licensing Acts. Criticism of it, in some ways, might be justified if it were the only Bill to be introduced to address the liquor licensing trade. The Minister has stated clearly that this is not the case. Many Members are overreacting and the many legitimate demands of the licensed trade will be addressed later this year in a more complex and substantial Bill. The Minister stated his intention to introduce a further, more wide-ranging Bill in the autumn, which will comprehensively address the multiple issues governing licensing laws and opening hours. He stressed that this short Bill is being introduced in order to benefit tourism during the busy summer season. The Minister has been criticised for his attempt to assist the industry during the last year of the century. He is anxious that it should be passed as soon as possible and that the full benefits may be enjoyed by the tourism industry and licensed trade. It must be borne in mind that it may not be possible to consider all the amendments which have been tabled by Fine Gael and the Labour Party before the close of business in the House on Friday and the Bill may not be passed.

The Deputy has buckled.

I am prepared to return to the House next week, if necessary, to ensure that the Bill is passed.

Many other changes were advocated by the licensed trade, the tourism industry and the public, which will be fully addressed in the later Bill. The Minister has addressed three matters in this legislation, the abolition of the holy hour, the removal of the prohibition of special exemptions after midnight on Saturdays and the introduction of the arrangement of all night opening on the eve of the millennium. Many people believe that the special licence for new year's eve is wonderful and all of us will be able to party into the new millennium. However, I will stay at home that night if God spares me.

The Deputy will surely entertain his constituents.

Some people see it as a licence to indulge in the binge of the century. Others do not share this outlook and there has been severe criticism of the proposal by publicans and the public. A publicans' spokesman has slated the proposition as totally impractical. He said that there was no market demand for the extended opening hours. The extension of the hours is optional and, therefore, not compulsory. Publicans can, therefore, close their doors as they desire.

No publican on the north side of Cork city will agree with the Deputy.

Disquiet has been expressed by doctors, medical support staff and accident and emergency personnel. I am aware that the Garda is concerned at the proposed overspill of thousands of people onto the streets at a specific time early on new year's morning because it could cause serious flashpoints. The Garda and others may have suggested that it would be better to introduce all night opening so that people could come and go as they pleased. Flashpoints would not develop as they do currently even on ordinary Saturday nights when hundreds of people spill onto the streets after night clubs close. What would it be like on the night of the millennium if closing time was rigidly imposed and people could not hail taxis to go home?

The Minister did not dream up these proposals. He is responding to demand and has taken into account the many valid reservations expressed. Many people believe that the holy hour is sacrosanct because if public houses did not close on Sunday afternoon, drinkers would spend the entire day on the premises. Others do not favour the removal of the prohibition on special exemptions. Their submissions have been taken into account and, indeed, a number of recommendations were made and are under consideration by the Minister. Deputy Flanagan referred to five of them.

The Minister is still considering them.

It took him two years.

The Deputies should desist from interrupting.

The recommendations could be contentious for various elements of society. Many different views have been expressed and everybody does not agree that we need to introduce all the recommendations. I am party to those recommendations and some publicans do not want changes to the current licensing laws. They think that current closing times are adequate. Representations were made to the Department and the greatest number came from people who did not want changes in the law. There is a wide diversity of opinion.

The Deputy does not have his ear to the ground.

Any set of laws that will be introduced in the House will not provide universal satisfaction. The Minister would want to have the wisdom of Solomon if he were to satisfy everybody.

The Minister had it two years ago.

The Deputy should tell him that he should listen to the grassroots.

All Members have studied the report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights on which I and Deputy Flanagan worked with others. Many of the 75 recommendations in it will require a great deal of consideration before they are transposed into law. All will be considered by the Minister, his officials and the House when the larger Bill is presented in the autumn. For example, we recommended that closing time should be at 11.30 p.m. from Sunday to Wednesday and at 12.30 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday. I am surprised that Deputy Flanagan, who was party to that decision, said that Fine Gael is recommending that closing time should be at 12.30 a.m. Is it a Fine Gael or a publican's amendment to the motion?

The Deputy does not have his ear to the ground.

I am concerned about the intense lobbying which took place over the past week. I support the publicans and I have many friends in the trade. However, Members of this House and not publicans are the legislators.

The Government is not even legislating.

The Deputy and his party are shying away from legislating.

If publicans want to be legislators, they should stand for election. I agree with the Minister that every aspect of legislation must be considered before it is introduced.

The Deputy agrees with the Minister; he does nothing.

We must concern ourselves with everybody and not only one section of the population. I agree changes must be made. I also agree with most of the recommendations in the report.

The Deputy should look at the Minister's speech.

Other issues, such as the Competition Authority and liberalisation, were mentioned. These matters must also be considered in the context of the legislation. It may be that the Minister will not take into account any of the recommendations in the report, but they must be considered.

The Deputy will not sell that to the people on the north side of Cork.

A strong case was made for identity cards to be issued in an effort to curb the evil of under-age drinking. The report contains a number of recommendations on that. The Minister must examine and consider recommendations Nos. 61 and 62 which deal with the licences for premises. It will take time for the Minister to consider all the recommendations.

Many under-age vulnerable young people fall victim to the lure of the so-called "craic" of causing a public nuisance. Street drinking is an unfavourable and ugly sight and it causes offence to visitors. I am concerned about people openly drinking on our streets and I have travelled extensively and spent many hours gathering information on this increasing phenomenon. I have studied how it is addressed nationally and abroad and I succeeded in introducing a pioneering by-law to prohibit the practice in my native city of Cork. This was accomplished with cross-party support on the city council. It is now illegal to consume alcohol on the streets and in public areas of Cork city. Similar laws should be put implementyed throughout the State in secondary legislation.

What about the tourism resorts?

People labelled me a killjoy, but that will not change my outlook. All citizens should be given respect in public and they should have their traditional right to walk our streets free of fear of intimidation.

The licensing code is complex and in many ways outdated. The problem of the overspill from pubs with people drinking in public areas needs to be addressed by the Minister as do the recommendations in the report. I do not mind if the Bill is not completed tomorrow. It is a short Bill which is designed to deal with pressing issues. I have no problem waiting until October to debate the substantive Bill.

That is a dismal approach by a Deputy who can do better.

In common with thousands of individuals, groups and organisations, I have a view on the licensing laws. As stated earlier, the Minister has consulted these groups. Each individual and group has an opinion which has been expressed. Opinions differ and they all demand different action. While some people want change on the basis of their personal views, the collective opinion of an organisation or the views of representatives of publicans, hotels or nightclub owners, others do not want any changes made to the licensing laws. Some people are against the flexibility in the existing laws. All these views must be taken into consideration.

Contributions to the debate reflect the differing views on both sides of the House. If one dug deeply one would find varying views in the Fine Gael and Labour parties on the licensing laws. The organisation which represents publicans is divided on how the legislation should be approached and what type of legislation is needed. The Opposition should not try to fool the public by saying the problem arose at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party because that is not the case. They should not suggest either that the problem landed on the desk of the Minister today or yesterday or that they were never in Government.

We will be there again.

Not for a long time. If it was easy to address the problem, why did the Opposition not do it when it was in Government?

We did not have that much time.

The Deputy is correct.

We did not spend two years digesting a report.

The Deputy will appreciate that there are bodies of opinion for and against change. Complex legislation will be necessary to deal with the Acts from 1833 to 1997 and include all the necessary corrective measures to reflect what is happening in society now. In addition to all the different opinions on the issue, the world is changing. Over the past 20 years, and not only the past two years, there has been flexibility with regard to the hours kept by public houses, hotels and nightclubs. In general, the law is flouted and any legislation which is introduced should reflect the actual position. It should be clear and we should be willing to enforce it in a way that ensures the law is respected. Anomalies in the current system are addressed in this Bill.

They are being put on the back burner.

There are other anomalies which I would like addressed, such as the status of clubs under the Act. Closing time should be extended and drinking up time incorporated.

The Deputy should tell that to the Minister and the Government.

I would also like addressed, the hours kept by nightclubs and the position of hotels.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

I would like the issue of workers' rights addressed. The Deputy knows better than me because he has been a Member of the House for longer that these matters demand a comprehensive Bill. I welcome the Bill as one step in the direction of reforming all the legislation.

It is a step backwards.

It is a step the Opposition was not prepared to take when it was in Government. It is a step forward, which must be taken, on the path towards radically overhauling the current laws.

The Deputy's party is making a reverse charge.

Will the Deputy to allow Deputy McGuinness to continue without interruption?

The message should not go from the House that the only way to celebrate the new millennium on New Year's Eve is with a festival of drink. There are many other activities in which people can participate instead of staying in a pub, club, hotel or elsewhere and drinking their way into the new millennium.

The Minister said that the time provided for in the Bill is an option. There should be a clear recommendation regarding the closing time for all establishments. The new millennium is an historic event and, undoubtedly, people will celebrate by drinking or staying out late at clubs and discos.

They will stay in the pub.

Others will want to mark the new millennium in other ways and enjoy it with or without drink. Will the Minister consider removing the option and including a specific recommendation on how people should behave? The provision on closing between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. is also a reflection of the reality. I am glad the Bill takes special regard of extensions after midnight on Saturdays. This is another recognition of what is happening. I support the Bill to that extent.

There are other issues relating to the millennium. I mentioned staff problems but all the other services must be supported during that celebration – hospitals, gardaí, etc. This provision gives them the opportunity to know what they will have to deal with. No matter how people celebrate, there will always be a negative aspect. We must think of workers' rights and employees engaged in these services will have to work long hours to work their plan for the occasion. The support services for families who suffer disruption because of drink will also have to be addressed. Indicating the licensing laws at this point, as the Government is doing, will give the family support services for drink related matters the opportunity to obtain extra personnel to provide the necessary help to the families concerned.

I support the measures to be taken on the basis that a further Bill will be introduced early in the new session to take into account all the issues raised in this debate. I hope that Bill takes a radical approach to overhaul the current legislation, and that it recognises what is happening in licensed premises. It will mean that we will have on the Statute Book a measure which can be properly policed.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Belton, Crawford and Perry.

I am amazed to hear speakers on the Government side trying to camouflage the hopeless efforts of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to rectify the licensing laws. The proposals in this Bill will do nothing to facilitate the tourism industry. Twenty four hour opening of pubs on 31 December 1999 is not in the interests of the industry and was not requested by publicans or their customers.

After all the discussion, submissions, reports and lobbying, it is incredible that such minute changes are the sum total of the Government's proposals. The Minister's measures cannot be taken seriously and subject the legislative process to ridicule. They have generated anger, shock and betrayal among publicans not felt since the famous and ill-fated Road Traffic Act, 1994.

Who is angry?

Another U-turn.

Such minor tinkering with the law by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has caused outrage.

Who is outraged?

Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

The Vintners' Federation of Ireland put forward a reasonable and reasoned argument for an extension of pub hours until 12.30 a.m. with 30 minutes drinking up time, throughout the year. We believe this is possible, provided the Minister exercises common sense.

What about the report?

The Minister has shied away from his responsibilities and an air of dismay has engulfed the public. Everyone was under the impression that he would grasp the nettle but, alas, he has foundered hopelessly. We are the laughing stock of western Europe. International visitors are astounded when they are instructed to finish their drinks and leave a licensed premises at 2.30 p.m. on Sundays, 11 p.m. in winter and 11.30 p.m. in summer. Throughout Europe people can enjoy a drink until up to 6 a.m. We may be Europeans also but we are not adhering to European customs.

They got the same instructions in 1996 and 1997.

Four Independent Deputies – Deputies Blaney, Fox, Gildea and Healy-Rea – who are propping up the Government, represent major tourism areas. I call on them to exert pressure on the Government to accept our amendments and have the revised Bill passed unanimously, thereby restoring public confidence in their representatives. The people of Donegal, Wicklow, Kerry and elsewhere are livid at the treatment they are getting from the Government, which is drifting like a ship without a rudder. The Minister is adopting a Mickey Mouse approach to this serious matter. The country feels betrayed by a Government which has failed to face reality. I call on Deputy Healy-Rea to exert pressure on the Government before it is too late. He will not sell this lame duck story to the people of Killarney, Kenmare, Kilgarvan, Bunown or Cahirciveen. The people of Kerry, Cork and elsewhere are calling for an amendment of the licensing laws.

I will conclude with the following appropriate quote:

There is nothing so lonely, so morbid or drear

As to stand at the bar of the pub with no beer.

It was Billy the Blacksmith who stood outside the pub with no beer – that must be me. The Minister and the Government have failed in their efforts to bring reality into the legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahy, introduced the Bill on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and my heart goes out to him for having to present this shambles. Six months ago the Minister announced through his spin doctors that closing time would be changed to 12.30 a.m. but when it came to the crunch he failed to introduce this in the Bill. Not only has he failed to do that, he will fail to get the Bill through the House, and the Minister of State knows that. He had to come into the House tonight to front a shambles. The Opposition has forced the Government to face the reality that this Bill is an utter shambles. The Bill states that pubs will no longer be required to close on Sunday afternoon. That is facing reality, as is the extension to 12.30 a.m. The Opposition and the Independents, as Deputy Sheehan said, have told the Government where to go on this issue. As Deputy O'Flynn rightly said, there was no member of the Opposition at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting today but I am sure some of the people in Fianna Fáil are realists. Fianna Fáil has always claimed to be a party of reality, and some of its members proved that today.

I want to make some different points from those made by my colleagues. We understood from the Minister some months ago that this Bill would benefit the tourism industry and that it would allow for the extension of time to 12.30 a.m. to bring us into line with our European counterparts. In no country would the police knock on the doors of pubs late at night and perhaps take down the names of customers still on the premises. If opening hours were extended, it would avoid the pressure drinking that takes place here. People tend to take their last drink or two in a hurry which causes some of the problems we face today.

The Bill deals mainly with Sunday opening hours and the opening hours on the eve of the millennium. After midnight, clubs and other premises will be allowed remain open to allow our young people and many others drink into the early hours of Sunday morning. This will lead to fewer people attending their place of worship on Sundays.

I have a slightly different attitude to the Sunday afternoon issue. I realise restaurants and other places which have licences can serve drink during that period, but it is the only time on a Sunday that publicans and their staff can have time off. I do not have a strong view on the matter but it appears to be just another change.

The issue that has alarmed me most is that a country which would claim to be Christian has decided to encourage and orchestrate an orgy starting on the eve of the millennium through to the start of a new century. If that is the way we intend to celebrate the birth of our saviour, there is much to be considered. It is unreal that we should be talking in those terms.

It must be remembered that the gardaí, doctors and nurses will have to be available to deal with the problems that will be created by this measure. If Members do not believe me, all they have to do is consider what happened in my own town of Clones last Sunday night-Monday morning when crowds of people who had been attending a match broke the law. The people of Clones were afraid to leave their homes because of the drunken orgy that took place. That seldom happens but it happened last Sunday night. I had many telephone calls from people who want to be assured that more gardaí than were on duty during the match will be available in the future if similar trouble arises. There is little point in having three or four gardaí in the town, there must be larger numbers.

That is an indication of what could happen on the eve of the millennium. We should not put more pressure on the forces of law and order, medical staff and families. There will be some people sitting at home on the eve of the millennium wondering in what condition their loved one will come home. I ask the Minister to reconsider that issue.

The Minister has missed a golden opportunity to sort out the tourism industry. We were given a promise but the promise has been broken.

The Minister's statement that the three recommendations in this short Bill will help facilitate the tourism industry is not only a major contradiction, it is also an insult not only to every publican whose livelihood depends on the tourist season but also consumers whose lifestyle has changed rapidly due to the demands today's society places on them.

I agree with the point made by Deputy Higgins on the dangers of the abuse of alcohol. Those dangers are considerable, but changes in lifestyle are very much evident. In the past year, the Vintners' Federation of Ireland took a reasonable approach on the hours of trading and made reasonable demands. Major legislation is promised on licensing reform, but the licensing laws go back to 1833 and a whole tranche of changes are needed. A closing time of 12.30 a.m., with a half hour drinking up time, which the Minister appeared to agree to on previous occasions, is not unreasonable.

The Bill was drawn up to facilitate the tourism trade but it will not do anything in that regard. Does the Minister believe that the recommendations in a short Bill could facilitate the tourism industry? I do not believe that. Enormous changes have taken place in the laws governing restaurants, which are welcome. Pubs serving food on Sundays can now be facilitated and I welcome that. The extension of time on Saturday nights is welcome also, but the Minister could easily have taken on board the additional time required by the vintners in the coming tourist season, which is so important. The turnover of 69 per cent of publicans is less than £150,000. There is no gravy train. It is a sad reality that people do not go into pubs until late in the evening and the Government should legalise what is already the practice in many areas. That is not an unreasonable request.

The Minister also had the benefit of 75 recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights and a review of the liquor licensing laws which recommended a 12.30 a.m. closing time, with half an hour drinking up time. In some respects our laws are archaic and complicated. It is extremely difficult to open an off-licence – the price of a pub licence is approximately £100,000. There are people with vested interests who do not want change, but we must accommodate the consumer.

I agree with the point about the dangers of alcohol, a drug which affects many homes throughout the country. We must be reasonable in our request. We should have integration of all laws to ensure we eliminate under-age drinking. This is half-hearted reform. The Minister should have said three weeks ago that this would not happen until the end of the year. The vintners would have been happy to wait until then, but the Minister led them along and then cancelled the plan. That is regrettable.

He led them up the garden path.

It should not take enormous effort to deal with the question of opening hours. I do not understand why it was not addressed in the Bill, particularly when the need for the 12.30 a.m. closing time, with a half hour drinking up time, is a reasonable and balanced demand. The Minister has seen fit to ignore the needs of society, the publicans, the recommendations made by the joint committee of which Deputy Flanagan is chairman, on which I compliment him, and the indepth consideration by that committee. Will the Minister include a 12.30 a.m. closing time in the later, substantive Bill?

If we needed any sign that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is out of touch with what is happening in the country, this Bill is it. He is introducing laws which the majority of people are against. For example, the vast majority of people do not need 24 hour opening to celebrate the millennium. They may feel that perhaps an extension to 2 a.m. would be sufficient. The Minister stated that the extension of opening hours to 12.30 a.m. would take place this summer, but it has not happened. Many people find this hard to understand. The Minister had a good opportunity to implement the recommendations of the committee chaired by Deputy Flanagan, but he did not take that opportunity. I cannot understand why? I assume he does not know what people need.

This Bill should also have dealt with the introduction of a national identity card scheme to combat under-age drinking. Fine Gael Members are not suggesting that there should not be a pragmatic view of the damage alcohol abuse can cause. Under-age drinking is a serious problem that can be addressed by an identity card scheme which the Minister should have introduced in this Bill. The Minister's apparent inability to extend licensing hours to 12.30 a.m. and to give a half hour's drinking up time is what most of us cannot understand. I welcome the changes for Sunday drinking, as the situation was ridiculous with the rather archaic licensing laws. If he could do this for Sunday he could have done it for the rest of the week. I do not know if he did not have the will to do it or if the Government decided not to introduce this extension of hours.

I feel sorry for the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who is taking the brunt of the criticism. It is not his fault. The Minister is like the Duke of York. He has led us up the hill and then back down again.

The good old Duke of York.

He has caused tremendous problems for the Government and for us. I hope he takes the opportunity to put proper legislation in place.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The amendment I tabled, which will not apparently be taken tomorrow, as was originally signposted, is designed to give some substance to what I can only describe as a threadbare Bill.

The general reaction to this Bill has been disbelief. People are aghast that such a minimalist approach should have been taken by the Government. The only people who will rejoice at this Bill are journalists for local newspapers who specialise in covering "found on" cases in the District Courts, as publicans, their patrons and the gardai carry on the farcical after hours ritual which has become a permanent feature of life, particularly in rural Ireland. It has gone beyond a joke.

Our ludicrous licensing laws remain largely unreformed. The core values which inform the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, framed at the time of the prohibition on alcohol in America, are still intact. This Bill is the flimsiest of efforts, containing minor provisions which should form part of a much wider Bill addressing comprehensively the whole area of the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor. The abolition of the holy hour on Sundays is long overdue. This was a tattered statute, long fallen into disrepute and more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The only other purpose of the Bill is to grant a once off, 24 hour exemption over new year's eve and new year's day. It is hard to see this as anything other than a gimmick, a gimmick I do not support.

By advancing such a proposal, the Government merely underlines its failure to address the cen tral need for the extension of normal opening hours. This is addressed by my amendment, which simply seeks the extension of opening hours to 12.30 a.m. every night, summer or winter, with a normal half hour drinking up time. This is the least that needs to be done if we are to deal honestly with the reality of drinking habits in Ireland today. It is time we started treating people as adults and time to offer our tourist visitors an opportunity to experience and enjoy Irish hospitality and craic. We must also begin the process of promoting within our indigenous population a new, measured and responsible drink culture that will banish to memory many of the current bad and objectionable practices, as well as the many and varied hardships that result therefrom.

An often neglected aspect of the closing hours question is the torment endured by people who live in proximity to nightclubs and discos which become the resort, several nights a week, of people with little interest in clubbing or dancing, but whose main purpose is to obtain a late drink after they are ejected from pubs. Our restrictive opening hours lead directly to the crowding of people into such late serving establishments, with all the resultant interfaces that occur, including violent exchanges and damage to property. This problem is especially acute in our medium to smaller towns, which often have only a handful of premises with late licences. There is no need for such problems to persist. They can be solved by comprehensive legislation covering all aspects of our licensing laws. I will commend my amendment to the Minister at the appropriate stage, and revisit the arguments in support of it. I urge the Minister to accept it and to ensure that out of this effort we will see a worthwhile Bill, deserving of the support of all opinion represented in this House.

The Deputy has only one minute but will have 13 minutes when the debate resumes.

(Dublin West): Will it be tomorrow?

I do not have the order for tomorrow.

(Dublin West): If we do not resume this debate until the autumn, I hope the all night binge provided for by the Minister for new year's eve will be gone. I have not heard such an idiotic proposal from a Government in many a long day. It is adding to the ridiculous, hysterical hype winding people up for the millennium. Maybe the Minister is keeping the pubs open so that people will be so sodden when they come out that the hype will be gone out of them the next morning. It is ludicrous to provide this as a way to celebrate going into a new century or millennium. That should be dropped. This Bill is very flimsy.

Debate adjourned.