Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 26 Jun 2008

Vol. 657 No. 5

Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. I echo the sentiments of our spokesperson, Deputy Rabbitte, on this Bill. The legislation, as it is put to us, and the subsequent statements by the Minister, would leave one wondering what is the purpose and content of this legislation. There are few meaningful sections in the Bill. The culture and sale of alcohol in this country would probably be better dealt with in the sale of alcohol Bill. However there are some good provisions in the Bill that are worthy of support.

In this country we cannot talk about alcohol without its having some very deep cultural meaning. Our relationship with alcohol has been ambiguous and we have spoken about it since Adam was a boy. In my research I came across a study in the Journal of Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland entitled Issues for Irish Alcohol Policy: A Historical Perspective with some Lessons for the Future, published in 1991. The author of that report, Mr. Daniel McCoy, cited a quotation: “No one can be competent to discuss the drink question unless he has thought over it sufficiently to realise how complicated the subject necessarily is.” On page 21 of that study the author refers to historical views of the relationship we have with alcohol in this country:

Irish drinking was seen as convivial rather than ritual and was used as a bonding with people of the same or other groups. Irish people ... have a "social acceptance" of drunkenness something that is completely opposite to the Islamic view.

While I do not advocate that we all turn to Islam, neither do I advocate some of the points raised in this piece of legislation that seeks to modify behaviour. For example, I do not believe the provision on sale of wine in supermarkets is good. I am glad the Minister has seen fit to reverse that trend. The vast majority of people drink responsibly and like to imbibe and share a bottle of wine in their homes. The notion that somebody would have to go to a supermarket that has an off-licence and ask for a bottle to be handed out by a member of staff so that he or she could handle it before purchase is ludicrous. I am glad the Minister has reversed that provision.

I want to speak briefly on theatre licences. There should not be uniform closing times for nightclubs. Having hundreds of people spilling out onto the streets at one given time is not an effective method of regularising alcohol consumption, if that is the modus operandi of the Bill. By modifying or regulating closing times in a very uniform way one will not modify behaviour. The core of the legislation should be to seek to change the culture. By staggering closing times, particularly for nightclubs with theatre licences, there would be more of a drip-feed onto the streets and it would be easier to control. The legislation proposes to have CCTV cameras installed and that would be a good way to monitor the behaviour of clientele exiting onto streets at night time. However restricting licences, particularly theatre licences, will not be a good way of modifying alcohol consumption. The two do not correlate.

I have attended the Gaiety Theatre, which has a late licence, on a number of occasions. According to its website, this weekend four different events will take place simultaneously in the theatre's four bars. There will be a live band playing indie and retro music, on another stage there will be northern soul and there will also be some hip hop. In a city the size of Dublin one is catering for a wide range of musical tastes and a clientele that likes to go out clubbing. These people do not necessarily see themselves as deviant in any way when they have taken alcohol and will go home after enjoying a responsible night out. Curbing that person's behaviour through legislation will not necessarily create a panacea for how alcohol is consumed in this country. The vast majority of people behave responsibly, like to go out and have a varied night, such as the night provided by a facility such as the Gaiety Theatre. Restricting those types of licences will not necessarily change the culture. Although the alcohol advisory group made recommendations with regard to closing times, not all of its recommendations are necessarily contained in the Bill, from what I have read. I repeat Deputy Pat Rabbitte's point that the sale of alcohol Bill must deal with the cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country by modifying closing times and the right to be able to purchase alcohol in a supermarket or off-licence. Making provisions whereby a certain aspect of a supermarket has to be closed off and all alcohol moved behind a counter was totally ludicrous. I welcome the changes announced in the Minister's speech and the overtones in that regard.

With regard to early morning houses, while I understand the Bill must go through Committee Stage, as it is constituted at present it almost criminalises those who have early morning licences and seeks to convey an impression that anyone with such a licence is the purveyor of all sorts of iniquity. Many people, some of them constituents of mine, have worked either as dockers or have worked night shifts all their lives. Due to their pattern of sleeping following a night shift, they will enjoy a pint in the morning in the early house and will then proceed home in a proper and orderly fashion. Of course, there have been instances where early houses have probably had some degree of anti-social behaviour but this is not outside the norm of any other establishment holding a normal licence.

The advisory group did not undertake any quantitative or qualitative studies. I do not know of one licensee in the early morning trade to whom I spoke who had a visit from any departmental official during the framing of this legislation. I believe this measure was included as an afterthought and I am glad the Minister has made some concessions in this regard.

In conclusion, I am glad the Minister has seen sense. If we are talking about the cultural aspects of alcohol consumption, the link between the cultural aspects and education have to be expounded more vociferously by the Government. The only way we will change the culture is by a process of education. I do not believe some of the provisions in the Bill would necessarily change that culture and, in fact, they would drive alcohol more into an underground mode. While I welcome the Bill in some respects, I am glad the changes the Minister has proposed will now be made.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an dTeachta Sherlock as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. According to the figures released by the Central Statistics Office in March, over the past five years public order incidents have increased by almost 60% and in parallel with this the Health Research Board has pointed to a 21% rise in the number of new alcohol treatment cases. Alcohol abuse is a major contributing factor to anti-social behaviour, assaults, incidents of criminal damage, domestic violence and is often involved in murder.

The intended focus of the Bill was to be on public order but the consequences of alcohol misuse are many and are not fully addressed by it. Hopefully, we will see other Bills which address the other aspects of alcohol misuse in Ireland today. The other consequences of this misuse include the cost to individual health and to the health care system as a whole, as well as the costs of crime and to the economy in general in terms of absence from work.

While this Bill is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, there is an urgent need to adopt a public health approach to reducing the harm caused by alcohol. The total number of alcohol-related hospital discharges in this State rose by 92% between 1995 and 2004. Many of these admissions included episodes of alcohol poisoning, liver cirrhosis, suicide or chronic disease, and bore a direct link to the increased levels of alcohol consumption. The majority of cases involved people under the age of 40.

While welcoming the Bill in general terms on behalf of Sinn Féin, I would like to put on record our disappointment at the unjustifiable failure of the Government to act on most of the 100 recommendations made by the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol which reported in 2004. This is the modus operandi of a Government which has long-fingered action by commissioning report after report and then failing to implement or enforce the expert recommendations in those reports. In the meantime, the availability of alcohol has continued to increase at a pace never seen before.

Last year, the total number of off-licences issued in the 26 counties was 4,261, some 320 more than the previous year. That is almost one additional premises selling alcohol per day. This sharp increase in the number of licensed premises in the State makes policing the sale of alcohol near impossible.

I reiterate the comments made by two consultant psychiatrists to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs recently. They argued that without a mechanism to ensure enforcement, the Bill will have little impact. Outside of publishing this small piece of positive legislation, what does the Government intend to do to ensure the existing legislation and provisions contained within it are enforced?

For example, I was assured by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in reply to a parliamentary question earlier this year that the facility known as dial-a-can, which allows young people in particular to obtain alcohol by ordering on-line or over the telephone without having to enter a licensed premises, is already prohibited. If this is the case, why are so many businesses freely advertising this facility to dial-a-drink, with payment on delivery? Why are these businesses not being prosecuted? I remain unconvinced that the issue is adequately addressed in existing legislation. It is impossible for the Garda to police the sale of alcohol where the sale occurs at a multiplicity of private residences. Garda action alone will not stop this practice and section 17(3) of the 2003 Act should be tightened up and extended to expressly stipulate that it is also an offence for persons other than the licensee to engage in such activity.

I will now turn to some of the sections of the Bill before us. Section 4 reduces the hours of off-licence sales and this is to be welcomed. Section 6 extends the grounds on which the District Court may refuse to grant new off-licences. This will include the grounds pertaining to the existing number of off-licences and other shops selling alcohol in the area and will also allow local residents to object. Again, this is welcome, but we could have done it a few years ago and thereby addressed the huge rise in the number of off-licences — almost one a day last year, as I said earlier. The Government's delays have allowed for a grossly excessive number of off-licences to come into being to the detriment and often against the wishes of local communities.

With regard to late night opening, section 9 aims to make the special exemption orders which permit extended opening hours contingent on CCTV in the venue and on compliance with fire safety standards and so on.

In addition, the powers of the gardaí to object to special exemption orders on public order grounds are to be strengthened, which is positive progress. However, we may still have a situation where a significant number of venues in one area close at the same time, which means the public order flash points outside venues, at taxi ranks and fast food outlets will continue to be problematic. What Sinn Féin proposed in its submission to the alcohol advisory group would be more effective in addressing alcohol related public disorder in entertainment zones and town centres. International evidence suggests that staggered closing times, combined with additional measures to mitigate against crawl drinking helps to prevent dangerous late night fracas. This Bill will not address the problem of drinkers spilling out onto the streets at the same time unless we amend it on Committee Stage.

Sinn Féin is in favour of the liberalisation of our licensing laws in line with European models, involving flexible opening and closing times to prevent drink-related disorder. We also promote the involvement of local authorities and local communities in the liquor licensing control process. To this end, local licensing fora should be introduced and should include elected representatives, statutory authorities, licensed trade representatives, community representatives and other stakeholders, such as those involved in addiction services. These licensing fora could operate as part of the existing or forthcoming council structures such as the joint policing committees and play a key role in the process of dealing with or deciding on the number and type of outlets where alcohol can be sold, the number of licences granted and the hours and days of sale. In addition, the local licensing fora could also consider complementary issues in the interests of community safety and quality of life, such as the number of taxi ranks, necessary street lighting and the hours of sale of fast food outlets in their area.

I welcome this Bill and hope we will be able to add to it on Committee Stage to improve it and enable it to address some of the issues that I and other Members have raised. I also hope that other legislation and provisions required to address alcohol related incidents in our hospitals will be forthcoming.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill and its proposals, which I see as very important in our changing society. We have heard many comments on the measures proposed in this Bill, most of which are welcoming. I am encouraged by the broad recognition that legislation is required to restrict the availability of alcohol and that restricting alcohol is not only desirable for the future, but absolutely vital for the progression of Irish society.

Simply put, far too many people in Ireland have far too great a dependence on alcohol and this is leading to misuse. Those lucky enough to have avoided dependency on alcohol are still amenable to binging or heavy drinking sessions. Ireland has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the EU, with average consumption at 21 units per week in people over the age of 15, and this is not taking into account the 20% of adults who do not drink at all. Irish drinkers regularly consume five or more drinks in one sitting.

These statistics make it easy to see where our young are getting their habits. Our young people are starting to drink, and drink heavily, at far too young an age. The negative consequences of this, combined with the misuse of drugs, can be seen on our streets daily. Groups of youngsters, who are clearly drunk, litter our open spaces and engage in what is primarily harmless but still intimidating behaviour. Sadly, more often these days, this behaviour tips over into criminal anti-social behaviour and not just alcohol-related harm.

It is worth noting that half of 15 to 17 year olds admit to being regular drinkers, with one third admitting to being "really drunk" in the last 30 days. This is a stark figure when one thinks of the recently completed State examination and the upcoming results. Occasions such as these generally result in heavy all-day drinking sessions, starting at midday and ending in the early hours of the morning.

However, as the CSO suggests, young people are not the only ones taking advantage of the easy availability of alcohol. The National Youth Council has been lobbying on this Bill and has advertised the shocking and surprising statistic that adults are five times more likely to be convicted of drink related crimes than under age drinkers. Accident and emergency departments are filling up with people incapacitated by alcohol and this has been attributed to weekend overcrowding in hospitals. Over a quarter of all injuries treated in accident and emergency departments are alcohol related. Approximately 36% of fatal car accidents are caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Our hospital wards are full of people suffering from illnesses to which our modern alcohol-loving lifestyles have contributed. Obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and blood disease are all on the increase because of the lifestyle we as Irish people are adopting, which includes a great deal of alcohol.

The Garda Síochána is dedicating an unprecedented amount of hours to dealing with public order offences and drink related crimes. It is estimated that half of our homicide cases are alcohol-related. Indeed, between 1999 and 2005 the rate of alcohol-related offences doubled, while among juveniles, the incidence trebled.

Our love-affair with alcohol is reaching epidemic proportions. I am not in any way suggesting our society is falling apart. Nor do I believe alcohol is an evil responsible for everything that is wrong in Ireland. However, the consumption of alcohol and its excessive availability is damaging our society beyond what is healthy and this Bill will help prevent further injury.

The Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 adopts proposals from the alcohol advisory group and seeks to tackle the availability and excessive consumption of alcohol. The concerns of the Government were shared by a variety of stakeholders, from the National Youth Council to the Irish Medical Organisation and even the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, must be commended for spearheading the research of the advisory group and ensuring the quick delivery of this Bill. Credit must also be given to Dr. Gordon Holmes for leading the advisory group.

This Bill should be viewed as a step in the right direction. It represents a step towards redressing the imbalance in our lives caused by alcohol. The Bill tackles one of the largest roots of the problem, namely alcohol accessibility. Sadly, education alone is not sufficient to stem the growing problem of alcohol related harm. Hopefully this Bill and the upcoming sale of alcohol Bill will address this epidemic.

The biggest difference will be made by the restrictions which will be placed on off-licence sales. I represent one of the youngest constituencies in Ireland, Dublin North, where it is common for me to receive complaints of under age drinkers setting up for the night in local parks, green spaces and beaches. They come equipped with cans of beer and naggins of spirits and become rowdier as the night goes on. I also receive complaints about adults congregating in apartments whose behaviour becomes noisier and more reckless as they drink. These are the scenarios which often end in violence and disorder. These two groups have not started the night in the pub. Their alcohol was bought in the supermarket or the local off-licence. By restricting off-licence trading by three hours in the morning and two and half hours at night, the Bill will put to bed the after-pub visit which often ends in violence. I appeal to the Minister to ban home deliveries by off-licensed premises. I have had quite a number of complaints about so-called dial-a-can. This issue must be tackled.

I would like to see provision in the Bill for staggered closing hours of local pubs. As a Deputy representing Dublin North, I am concerned about the number of late night pubs and clubs operating in the places like Swords. Staggering closing times would cut out seemingly harmless occurrences like street congestion and taxi queuing. Circumstances where 400 or 500 people pour out on to the streets, all wanting to avail of the same taxis and takeaways at the same time, often lead to violence and need to be avoided at all costs.

I also welcome the measures requiring supermarkets and convenience stores to force customers doing their shopping to go to a separate cash register in a separate area of the supermarket to buy their alcohol. I imagine that the expectation here is that people will put far more thought into their alcohol shopping rather than simply stuff bottles of wine into their shopping trolleys. The segregation of alcohol from other groceries will also be effective in the identification of under age drinkers. As alcohol will only be permitted for sale in these separated areas, there is no possibility of young people "smuggling" beer through with their basket of groceries. I am glad that the Minister has met with the supermarket groups and other small trading groups. I believe a code of practice, which is being proposed by these groups, will be a welcome alternative. This illustrates the shopkeepers' willingness to work with the Government to tackle under age drinking and I welcome it.

I also welcome the provision for test buying. For too long, under age drinkers have succeeded in persuading off-licences to sell them alcohol. Worse still, many off-licences simply turn a blind eye to older teenagers. The provision in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill for test purchasing will ensure vigilance among off-licences and provide younger staff who, obviously, face peer pressure with a valid excuse not to sell to their under age friends. It will also put power into the hands of members of the public to refuse to buy alcohol for young drinkers.

In the same vein, I welcome the enacting of Garda powers which will allow officers to remove alcohol from young drinkers or from anyone they believe likely to engage in an act of public disorder. There has been too much ambiguity in this area until now and it is essential that we incorporate that move. The fact that the offence can be punished immediately by a fine will be a relief to gardaí and serve as a real benefit to the courts system in reducing the number of court cases.

I am also relieved that the loophole allowing clubs and pubs to operate under theatre licences will be closed. It is shocking that over 100 similar licences were applied for in the first three months of this year. These licences perpetuate the heavy drinking culture in our cities, allowing revellers to go from pub to club to late night club before arriving home in the early hours of the next day. Similarly, I welcome the requirement on bars and clubs to install CCTV cameras where alcohol is being consumed, thereby ensuring that proceedings are constantly recorded.

I echo the call for a national ID card, on which I have made statements previously. A national card would go a long way towards eliminating under age drinking if it was the only means of ID requested of someone suspected of being under age. My colleagues on the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights might consider fining parents for criminal damage caused by their children.

I have already mentioned the fear caused by young people hanging around at night and these fears are not always unfounded. Much vandalism and criminal damage is undertaken and it is time someone other than the local authority or the victims themselves paid for it. Anti-social behaviour is the most significant issue I have encountered in my constituency. With the summer months approaching, speedy passage of this Bill is essential. The greatest fear of most residents is seeing young people bringing their cans on to the local open space, into parks or, in my case, on to the beach during the long evenings, drinking and becoming rowdy. Unfortunately, this often results in damage and attacks on people.

I mentioned the issue of parental control. Parents have an important role to play. Quite often, we see young children out on the streets at 11 p.m., 12 a.m. or perhaps later. Obviously, their parents do not know where they are and it would seem that they do not care either. As a society, we must try to address this issue and make parents responsible for their children, ensure they know where they are and endeavour to keep them under control. Fining parents for criminal damage caused by their children's actions is one way of getting parents to seek to find out where their children are.

Regulations regarding advertising and alcohol promotions, such as two for one promotions, are essential. I appeal to everybody in the House to allow the speedy passage of this Bill to ensure it is law before the summer.

I wish to share time with Deputy Tom Hayes.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The Deputy has ten minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. Given that nobody in this country has not been affected in some way by the excessive consumption of alcohol, whether it is in their own homes where they have watched the downward spiral of an alcoholic family member or through the death of a loved one on the roads through an alcohol-related car accident, I am delighted to have a chance to address this issue here in the House.

The Government has been accused of tiptoeing around the problem of excessive alcohol consumption and as a consultant psychiatrist said recently, landing "light jabs" is useless. What is needed is a knock-out punch. The medical profession has long claimed that the Government is looking at Ireland's drink problem through the bottom of a glass.

According to a new report entitled Alcohol-Related Harm in Ireland by Dr. Ann Hope, alcohol abuse results in more than one quarter of all accident and emergency cases being alcohol-related. This is a very serious problem. Half of all violent killings and a quarter of severe domestic abuse cases are alcohol-related and alcohol consumption is impacting on road fatalities, cancer levels, unplanned pregnancies and public order. Of particular worry to me is the rise in alcohol misuse among young adults and teenagers, with damage caused by such misuse being potentially long term and irreversible.

The Government must increase the tax on alcopops and super-strength drinks to curb the binge drinking culture among young people. The money raised from such taxes could be used to slash duty on lower strength drinks and provide other non-alcohol-related leisure facilities for our young people in youth cafes. I see little point in forcing the expense of partitioning a shop to create an area in which to sell alcohol on convenience stores as this would put them under extra financial pressure in respect of matters like staffing and security cameras. What effect the small concessions the Minister gave on this matter on Tuesday will have remains to be seen. I thank the Fine Gael spokesperson, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for putting pressure on the Minister in respect of this matter. The Deputy received this among other concessions.

The tax increases would focus on alcopops such as vodka-based WKD and powerful lagers such as Tennent's Super Strong Lager. This would force potential problem drinkers to buy less or to switch to weaker products. Talking to gardaí, taxi drivers and others whose lives are made miserable by the behaviour of binge drinkers has convinced me that we need action against super-strength drinks and alcopops.

In light of the Hope report, it is essential the price of problem drinks is increased and the price of those with lower alcohol levels decreased. This has worked very well in other countries, particularly the US, and I have no doubt it would work well in Ireland.

As I mentioned on the Order of Business on Tuesday, I am surprised the sale of alcohol Bill has not yet seen the light of day. Surely if the Government was serious about tackling this problem, it could have set aside its historical aversion to joined-up thinking and produced this Bill to coincide, to some degree, with what we are discussing to maximise the effect. The Fine Gael spokesperson on this issue, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is pushing very hard for it but, by the time the sale of alcohol Bill is published and makes its way into this House, the impetus will be gone and this Bill could be regarded as merely an interim measure with limited long-term effect.

Currently Ireland has the highest level of binge drinking in Europe. More than one third of the population regularly indulges to this level and the problem is greatest among the 15-24 year age group, although it is not confined to them. In 2002 a ban on alcohol advertising was recommended by the strategic task force. Two years later the same group demanded that legislation be introduced without delay to reduce the exposure of children to alcohol advertising. A couple of months ago, six years on from the first call for a ban, the Government called for a voluntary code. This is a long way from the statutory code promised by the Government in 2003.

This Bill was set to remove the right to early morning selling of alcohol, which has been a feature of this country for over 80 years, being first sanctioned in 1927. The original Act to make this provision stated that early morning trade was needed to cater for those attending early markets and fairs or for those whose trade or calling left them in need of refreshment at unsociable hours. I remember my grandfather going into fairs at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. The men always had breakfast at the local hotel or pub at 7.30 a.m. Having been out the night before, they would have to drive cattle to the fair on the hoof.

We have come a long way since those times. Today it is hard to say whether this provision is likely to have any real impact on the problem of excessive alcohol consumption and its associated problems. Currently, as was the case 80 years ago, early morning drinking is very much the preserve of those such as dockers, whose jobs involve anti-social hours and who have developed a lifestyle which is a social outlet and involves pubs operating so quietly that it is difficult to know if they are even open. This is the case in this city and others, as well as in the west of Ireland. The clients are regulars and have an air of ownership and belonging that leaves the casual visitor standing out as a stranger. It would not have been beneficial to deprive these people of a simple, long-established social ritual, which goes well beyond the pint in hand.

In my considered opinion, this was carrying the nanny state too far. Hard-working people enjoying a drink after a night's work, while most of us are waking from a good night's sleep, hardly constitutes a threat to national safety or the health of the nation. I had strongly opposed this element of the Bill and am pleased the Government has given in to pressure from Fine Gael and other Opposition parties, particularly Deputy Flanagan, rather than persist with such an unpopular measure.

The Minister was not responding to Deputy Flanagan.

Deputy Curran cannot deny such a measure was in the Bill.

I did not say that. I said the Minister was not only responding to Deputy Flanagan.

The Minister was running around with his head in the sand, like most Ministers these days.

The fact that he responded means the Deputy cannot say his head was in the sand.

Stating that no new early houses would be created is almost unnecessary, as the list has not been added to since 1962. Who is the Government fooling by making such a statement after a U-turn? It is only fooling itself.

However, one of the most important sections of the Bill gives the Garda Síochána powers to limit the impact of drunkenness, covering such areas as safety and the maintenance of public peace, allowing gardaí the right to seize alcohol where necessary, which applies to drunken disorder by groups of late night revellers rather than tired, quiet citizens enjoying the right to a drink out of normal hours.

No right-minded person in this country claims that Ireland does not have a problem with drink. It costs the State a fortune in policing and puts extra pressure on our health services throughout the country. Extra security has to be taken on in accident and emergency units at weekends when binge drinking occurs. People must be more responsible. When a person comes to the age of 16 years he or she has a duty, as a citizen of the State, to become more responsible.

I remind Deputy Bannon that he is sharing time with Deputy Tom Hayes.

We have a very different attitude to drink from other European countries and it is an attitude that is leaving carnage and human misery in its wake. Alcohol has been a driving force in the rise of crime, anti-social behaviour and road fatalities for far too long. It needs to be addressed urgently and citizens must take responsibility. We should encourage them to do so, as should sporting organisations and schools because everybody has a part to play.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the very important Bill before the House. It is very important to discuss this matter because it is a problem in the public arena which we have not discussed sufficiently. I welcome the opportunity to hear all sides of the debate.

This is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate my long-time friend, Deputy John Curran, on his ministerial appointment. He has great connections in my constituency and I was delighted to see him elevated. I wish him well.

People in my constituency, especially parents, are very worried about the excess amount of alcohol being drunk by young people. There is a culture of late nights and long sessions, starting at the beginning of the weekend. At a clinic recently I met a young man who had run into some difficulties because of excess alcohol consumption. He told me about his difficulties and said the reason was that he had spent the entire weekend drinking. He and his friends had got involved in something for which they were really sorry. Half way through the conversation he asked me: "What else have we to do?" I felt really sorry for that young man, as I do for all young people who ask themselves what else they have to occupy them. As a society, that is something we must address.

Deputy Bannon referred to sporting organisations. There are a huge number of competitive sports and we all hope for our own counties to succeed. However, many people could participate in sports. As a country we have neglected sport and allowed alcohol to take over. There must be another way that young people can channel their time. Perhaps I am departing from the Bill but we must examine this as a country, particularly when people have more free time and longer weekends. The culture has changed and we must deal with it. Whether the changes were brought about by Deputy Flanagan, he related the views of many small business people and small supermarket owners. When this Bill was published, they were up in arms and I have never had as many letters from people in my constituency who were concerned about legislation. The changes are very welcome and sensible.

The Minister's approach of talking to the users is a good one and when something sound is done, we should commend it. I commend the Minister on dealing with the problems of small supermarket owners, who thought they would have to chain off their wine areas. It should not be made any more difficult for the person who goes to mass on Sunday and buys wine in the local supermarket. In effect, this measure was in the legislation but was removed, which I welcome.

Other issues should have been addressed in this Bill, such as the fake identification cards that young people are using right around the country. We must address this matter. I have heard of several instances of young people with forged identification cards. If we are serious about tackling under age drinking, we must address this, but there is no mention of it in the Bill. While we are discussing under age drinking and the problems related to it, we should tackle the causes of it. Top of the list should be measures to deal with fake identification cards. We can see it in cities, towns and villages. The Bill makes no reference to this and I wonder if we are serious about tackling the culture of drinking.

We need more presence and a different direction from the Garda Síochána. We must take them out of the barracks and put them onto the streets where people are located. In any town or village where people are socialising at the weekend, gardaí should be on the street. If young people who have a few extra drinks see a garda walking up and down the street, they will behave in a different way. We need a greater Garda presence around the country. Someone has taken the policy decision that gardaí should be in groups of two or three in a squad car or on country roads, but they should be on the streets in order to be effective. Unless that decision is made, we are not serious about tackling the problem.

If we are to tackle our drinking culture, we must educate our young people about the harmful effects on people's health. We have only skirted around the problem. There is much to be learned from organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous that could be brought into schools. The area of drugs is within the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran. We have failed to drum into people the harmful effects of alcohol. Young people will listen if they are told in a responsible and proper way. An example is the way young people deal with drink driving. They just do not do it because they have been properly educated. They get taxis and make arrangements. The same thing should be done with the harmful effects of drink on our young population.

I have heard the issue of alcopops raised several times. When Deputies John Deasy and Olwyn Enright were first elected to this House, they said the issue of alcopops should be addressed. We must discuss it, but it is not included in the Bill.

I wish to be associated with the good wishes to Deputy John Curran on his elevation to Minister of State. I am sure he will prove to be an effective Minister of State.

I welcome this Bill, which I believe to be an honest attempt to bring some order to a situation that has spiralled out of control over the past few years, particularly with regard to special exemptions, the exploitation of loopholes in relevant legislation and other reasons. The current situation is not what we intended when we framed previous legislation and this Bill addresses many of the deficiencies that exist in the sector today.

We have to remember the amount of change that has taken place in our society in the past 20 years. We have acquired a very large number of new residents who have different traditions, traits and habits from ours. Society has not stood still and we have inherited a large number of difficulties resulting from the greater existence of wealth than was there half a generation ago. This legislative measure should help put things right and steer us back on track. I have met many people in the industry and they are broadly happy with what is proposed.

Most of the stakeholders in the industry are genuine in their attempt to curb youth and adult excesses, particularly binge drinking, and to bring about a genuine change in public order. There are some minor concerns and during my contribution I will allude to the changes I suggest and the measures I would like to see introduced. Having said that, this may not be the appropriate legislation under which some of these should be introduced.

I commend Dr. Gordon Holmes and the members of the alcohol advisory group on their work, but elected Members, through our unique experience, have a valuable role to play as well. I applaud the Minister for the changes he is proposing to the legislation and thank him for listening to me and other Members of this House. I have had to rewrite some of this contribution as a result.

I am concerned about the number of reports in other areas that have been introduced by unelected people and which are slavishly implemented. At times we do not make enough use of the vast resources we have on all sides in this Chamber. We have had reports produced on behalf of vested interests and if advisers are paid enough, they will provide whatever advice one wants and the conclusion one requires. These are put forward as independent reports and recommendations and occasionally find their way into law and Members of this Chamber are somewhat sidelined by this from time to time. This is not the case today, but we have seen instances in the past where there has been a rush to legislate on less than reliable evidence.

As it was originally framed, section 8 of the Bill would have been impractical in some cases because smaller operators would have found it difficult if not impossible to comply with the separation provisions contained therein, chiefly because they would have been hampered by fire regulations which probably would have meant they would have needed a new fire certificate. Additionally, because of the change of the physical layout which might require a new door to the street, they might have had to go through a lengthy and expensive planning process.

Putting in a separate till would mean providing extra staff and imposing extra costs, thereby handing the advantage back to the larger multiples. We should foster competition, not reduce it or put obstacles in its way. Some of the larger operators seem to be abusing their position, as was recently instanced by the report which shows the difference in supermarket prices in this jurisdiction and those in Northern Ireland.

If we are to introduce these measures, they should be for stores of a particular size. I am not sure what the optimum size would be, but it would not take a great deal of effort to establish it. This would not cause particular difficulty or any significant increase in staff for the larger supermarkets. A particular threshold of store size should be introduced over which the provisions of the Bill would apply. A year in which to implement the changes as envisaged in the Bill might be a bit tight and it may be necessary to allow more time to see all the changes comfortably implemented.

As well as dealing with the economic side of the problem, this is important social legislation and we should take the time to get it right. The Minister responded positively and sensibly here and has given the retail sector the opportunity to bring in a voluntary code to properly regulate this area.

I agree that these regulations should not apply to wine as those who purchase this particular beverage are of the more mature segment of the population, whether that be in age or attitude or both, and would need to be able to access the bottles to browse the labels and descriptions. Once more the Minister has taken a sensible approach and recognised this.

I have no difficulty with the requirement to keep spirits and high-alcohol drinks behind the counter. However, in the case of wines and beers, a shuttering device should be allowed to fulfil the intent of the legislation and to close the area completely outside of the normal trading hours for alcohol. This would give the small local store a chance to compete with the bigger operators and keep them in business for the benefit of the local population. After all, these are the people who continue to provide a service late into the night when the supermarkets are long since closed. In any event, wine is not a source of public order problems, as anyone close to the situation on difficult nights will testify.

A variety of groups came to see me when this measure was announced. I expected them to seek a change to the earlier closing time of 10 p.m. This was not the case however. There was universal agreement on it as the same circumstances will apply to everybody, endorsing their desire only to be able to compete on equal legal terms with the bigger players.

Let me turn to the case of the approximately 80 licensed premises which open at 7.30 a.m. This has its roots in tradition and they cater for a very specific clientele. They facilitate factory workers coming from night shifts, taxi drivers, nurses, security personnel and all-night workers in the markets, as well as a myriad of others in a variety of trades and professions. There will always be a legitimate need for what I might loosely describe as out of hours services. Recently, I saw where one particular business runs early morning dances for the same segment of the population, which are highly successful and give those people the same benefits and opportunities which the mainstream working population enjoys.

There are generally no public order difficulties in these licensed premises and they should be allowed to continue to trade at their unusual hours. An argument was put forward by the alcohol advisory group about late-night revellers eventually arriving at these places, but in practice they are not tolerated in these houses as it is seen to be bad for business. They accept that their regulars who come from work will not continue to go to these pubs if late-night revellers come in full of drink on a regular basis. To a great extent, they are self-regulating and they should be allowed to trade as heretofore and not made subject to the 10.30 a.m. opening time as universally proposed. These traders depend on their early morning business and are conscious of the need to mind it.

I am aware their licences also allow them to pursue an off-licence trade. I do not think this is desirable and there may also be a problem under competition law. In the interests of equality this should not be allowed, with early morning houses having to wait for off-licence sales until 10.30 a.m. the same as the rest of the industry. This is not likely to grow as a problem as the number of such businesses is small. However, we can make sure of it by applying a cap, confining the number to that which obtains at present. If any public order problems were to arise, the Garda should be able to deal with these at the time of the renewal of their liquor licence at the annual licensing court. There is adequate scope for this. This part of my speech was written prior to hearing the Minister's speech and we are on the same wavelength.

I referred earlier to the selling of wine. There is a proposal with regard to wine that retailers should now go for the renewal of their licence to the District Court and not to the Revenue Commissioners as is the case at present. I do not have a problem with this, but I wonder whether it is practical. Approximately 4,000 of these licences exist and they may clog up an already overstretched service. I do not feel there would be any difference between the courts or Revenue administering these licences, because there are no significant anti-social behaviour implications around the selling of wine.

I welcome the limitation on special exemption orders. They are far too easy to obtain and should only be allowed for bona fide reasons. It is proposed to strengthen Garda powers with regard to the public order offences aspect of these licences and their objections should be strongly noted. We should aim for a situation where these are hard-earned and only available to those who run a properly controlled and disciplined house. These licences only foster late-night drinking and tend to facilitate teen drinking because they are often at a time of local celebration. They have a history of trouble and I wonder how many traffic accidents with tragic results have been caused as a result of these late exemptions. They have little to offer the community and I have no doubt that there are spouses and children who dread the annual festival with the particular problems drinking can bring.

I note the proliferation of theatre licences granted recently, sometimes under very spurious circumstances in trying to get around the liquor laws as they now stand. It is no harm to put a curb on these licences, because I foresee a situation where even the most unlikely theatres, with threadbare productions, will be entitled to licences late into the night.

One of the important measures in this Bill is section 13 which extends Garda powers with regard to the confiscation of containers of alcohol in the possession of people and intended for the use of those under 18 years of age. I have received complaints from people throughout my constituency about people, young and old, drinking in open areas and other public places. The law to date does not appear to be strong enough to deal with this. Some towns and cities have by-laws, but these do not seem to have the same perceived effect as statute law and do not seem to be implemented with the same vigour.

Section 18 also refers to the interference with the peaceful possession of a person's property. This would be particularly relevant to house parties. The legislation seems to stop short of clarifying Garda powers on this. Often these parties cause more of a nuisance than anything else. This seems to be a difficult area to deal with and perhaps something needs to be put into the legislation. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this later. I realise it will be difficult to implement the law with regard to private dwellings or with regard to the possibility of a crime being committed, but house parties, where the drink flows freely until the small hours of the morning, have a particularly bad record of late. Many unlawful deaths and cases of violence have been associated with these parties and we need to clarify the law and the use of powers by the Garda in this area.

I thoroughly agree with the concept of test-purchasing by gardaí where they send in a young person under supervision to see whether the store or public house operates the age limit properly. I note the industry also agrees with this and has not made any complaint or protest about it. I welcome the strengthening of the law with regard to the closure of properties because of selling of alcohol to people who are under age. Will the entire outlet close for a period, or will it only be the area of the premises selling alcohol? The legislation does not appear to spell it out clearly and I ask the Minister to clarify this.

A number of provisions are not contained in this Bill and, on reflection, it may not be proper to include them but I would like to make reference to them. I never agreed with the abolition of the groceries order in March 2006 and it has not reduced prices. Can the Government ban the selling of low cost alcohol? I would like that to be introduced and I am mystified by the attitude of officials of the Competition Authority in their submission to the alcohol advisory group, when they said calls should be resisted for the reintroduction of a ban on below-unit cost selling of alcohol or for minimum prices for alcohol. They went on to state such measures make the sale of alcohol more profitable across all retailers and bars and, thus, encourage its sale and are contrary to the aim of reducing excessive alcohol consumption. They have no problem with an increase in price through excise duty, which suggests that they agree that price increase would be a factor. If they are opposed to the low cost order, there seems to be a contradictory position. They are saying if the price of alcohol is increased, sales will increase and, in the other circumstances, it will not. The Minister should consider bringing in a regulation that the sale of wine and spirits should only be allowed to those aged over 21. It follows that between the ages of 18 and 21, only beers or drinks below a certain level of alcohol content would be allowable. I would like tougher, perhaps criminal, sanctions for those who purchase drink for under age people. That practice is widespread and we are not being tough enough in this area. It is not difficult for young people to ask an adult to purchase for them as often an older sibling will do so or someone who will do it for a portion of the drink bought. It is very difficult to apprehend these people, but when we do, the law should be strict enough to discourage this practice as much as possible. It is a despicable practice with potential disastrous consequences for under age people.

Garda identification cards should be made mandatory for all of these drinking establishments. One of the submissions received suggested anyone under the age of 25 entering a public house should have a card. I have no difficulty with this, as other jurisdictions, whose regimes are far more liberal in other fields, implement strict guidelines in this regard. This would be a major part of the solution to the problem and the Garda ID system should be implemented without further delay.

It is some time since the then Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, declared we had a crisis of alcohol in this country. That was an honest statement from a Minister whose Department has had to deal with the fallout of the folly of individuals who overindulge in alcohol and the society, which not alone allows such excesses, but almost encourages them through our communal behaviour. Society in Ireland has paid a high price for our drinking, with our general hospitals, mental institutions, women's refuges and jails filled with the victims of overindulgence in alcohol. It is time we took a realistic stance on the matter and seriously directed our attention to the advertising of alcohol in public places, the sponsorship of high-visibility mainstream events by drinks companies and the casual promotion of alcohol in television programmes. During a recent home produced television programme, alcohol advertising signs were clearly displayed in a scene involving under age children. This should not have been allowed to happen. There should be an official watchdog for this purpose and we should not have to depend on some member of the public making a complaint.

Stronger action must be taken. We have allowed a situation to develop where alcohol has all but taken over a great number of lives and where excessive drinking on a weekly basis is the norm among a large percentage of our population . The expression, "drowning in a sea of drink" may be emotive but it is not an exaggeration. Historically, we, as a nation, have had our difficulties with drink but we have not learned from them. This measure is balanced, allowing leeway where it is logical, yet trying to eliminate dangerous situations for our citizens. We have much more work to do, but let us, as a start, ensure these measures are implemented in order that we can remove some of the risk for our people, particularly the young and vulnerable, who are often the targets of exploitative advertising, not only for alcohol, but for a wide range of goods. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Members have given their views on the state of the nation in the debate regarding alcohol consumption and that is why the debate is important. A number of the measures in the Bill attempt to reduce the availability of alcohol and to focus on binge drinking and licensing. Dr. Gordon Holmes and the alcohol advisory group should be commended both on their recommendations and the speed with which they reported following the Minister's request.

Ireland has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption per capita in the EU. While we all recognise that, we sometimes need the figures to underline how stark is the problem. Our consumption is 30% higher than the average in the Union. Binge drinking levels are high and such drinking spans age groups and is not only confined to young people. Drinking is associated with celebration in Ireland and, as Deputy Kenneally said, it is part of our culture, as highlighted on radio and television programmes, to ask what one is doing for the weekend with the reply being, “having a few pints”. We are all guilty of this but we should be cognisant of the major problem we face. Media contributors should be aware their comments, however loose and conversational, can have an effect, particularly on young people.

In 2006, a national study of the behaviour of school aged children found that 50% of those aged between 15 and 17 reported they take a drink and one third had been "drunk in the previous 30 days". While that may not be surprising, what we can do about it? A total of 40% of proceedings taken each year for public order offences involve intoxication in a public place. I know from dealing with local gardaí what a problem this can be for them during the summer, in particular, when the evenings are long and young people congregate in open spaces or in places where they cannot be seen. Many of them drink and gardaí are powerless to take the alcohol from them. Hopefully, the measures in the Bill will permit gardaí who suspect young people are drinking and have alcohol in containers to seize them. The more authority the Garda can be given in this area, the better.

I agree the abolition of the groceries order has resulted in the proliferation of below-cost selling of alcohol. Multiples in the area I live sell a number of brands of beer for less than €1 and they have special offers for weekends, barbecue nights and bank holiday weekends. Like it or not, young people are getting their hands on these products, leading to long-term damage in many cases. The problem lies in the fact that, while some can recover and get a bit of calm and sense when they reach 18 or 21 years of age and are allowed into nightclubs and bars, others can be particularly vulnerable and inflict long-term harm on their physical and mental health.

In April, the HSE released a report entitled, Alcohol Related Harm in Ireland. It showed that not only does alcohol have a negative effect on drinkers' health, but it plays an increasing role in the harm caused to many others in terms of violence, murder, road accidents and the effects of excessive drinking during pregnancy. Some findings suggest that individual consumption of alcohol has increased by almost 3% and that 28% of all injury-related attendances in accident and emergency units are alcohol-related, which places significant pressure on a stretched service and causes nurses, consultants, registrars and other staff hardship. Being at the coalface, they must deal with the problems, but there are no guidelines. Everyone who presents is a patient and must be dealt with. The situation is not pleasant for the staff and can frustrate their attempts to deal with genuine cases.

Alcohol is a contributory factor in many fatal road accidents. I welcome our debate on reducing the alcohol limit, in respect of which the Minister for Transport was questioned last week. The allowable blood-alcohol level is decreasing across Europe. Ireland must consider this issue because alcohol can affect people's judgment. For example, intoxication is a factor in a large number of road accidents and fatal crashes. I commend the Road Safety Authority on its television advertisements, which are stark, necessary and effective.

It is estimated that alcohol is involved in 25% of severe cases of domestic abuse. Half of men and more than one quarter of women agree that drinking alcohol can contribute to their having sex without the use of contraception. While we are all aware of these issues, we must be reminded of them. Dr. Joe Barry, who has been to the fore in highlighting the dangers of alcohol abuse, stated:

This report shows that alcohol related harm is not only confined to the negative consequences experienced by the drinker, such as illness and disease, but extends to others as well, which too often can lead to physical injury or even death. Inevitably, this also causes strain on health services and its staff.

This echoes the concerns of staff working in accident and emergency units. Many high-profile accident and emergency consultants have publicly outlined the pressure under which they operate when dealing with alcohol-related admissions.

The Bill does not amend many matters that others and I would have liked to have seen addressed, but I look forward to the debate on the control of alcohol Bill later this year. An important issue in respect of which other committee members and I have received submissions is that of the display of alcohol. I welcome the Minister's dealing with this issue. Originally, the Bill provided that such displays would need to be cordoned off from public view, but this provision caused concern. On Tuesday, the Minister stated he would consider the introduction of a voluntary code. While we must examine its details, I expect they will be thrashed out on Committee Stage. I ask that the Minister be conscious of the importance of policing the code.

There has been a proliferation in the number of off-licences, garages, forecourts, convenience stores and supermarkets selling wines, beers and spirits. A primary concern cited in the 2004 report of Dr. Barry and his alcohol advisory group related to the availability of alcohol and it recommended that the number of premises in which it could be sold be reduced. Unfortunately, there has since been a significant increase in that number. It is important that controls are introduced. While the Minister should not be led by the degree of hardship suffered by small stores and supermarkets that have invested in upgrades, any changes to which he agrees should ensure independent policing of what should not be a completely voluntary code.

The Minister proposes that, to operate a wine licence, people should go to a District Court as opposed to the Revenue Commissioners. Anything that increases the difficulty level would be good. Those who apply for licences recognise that it is a serious legal matter and that their licences should be treated with respect.

I cannot but support the proposed changes in terms of opening hours and the availability of alcohol, namely, 10.30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 12.30 p.m. to midnight on Sundays.

Recently, I spoke to a local garda regarding the sale of alcohol to under-aged people. The garda expressed the view it was not believable the relevant provisions would affect young people who drink under bushes or behind trees because they get their drink earlier in the evenings. However, it will discourage binge drinking.

Regarding on-licences, I welcome the provisions in respect of nightclub opening hours and the important obligation to possess CCTV systems. Cork held a good debate recently following late night public disorder issues. A committee, Cork Cares, was established wherein representatives of nightclubs, bars, the Garda, taxis and fast food outlets tried to develop an arrangement for working together so that, for example, all nightclubs would not spill their patrons onto the streets simultaneously, taxis would be available and fast food outlets would have a direct line to the Garda in the event of disorder in their queues. When people gather together and communicate, they can be effective. Recently, an 18th birthday party in a hotel got out of hand and the hotel evacuated 300 young people onto its grounds. The Garda was called immediately and, accompanied by a fleet of taxis, removed the young people in groups of four. As a result of such communication and co-ordination, a situation that could have become messy, to say the least, was dealt with.

I am glad the Minister reviewed the proposal regarding the early morning licensed premises. I have spoken to local gardaí on this issue and they do not find that many public order offences occur at such premises. Many have spoken to the proprietors of these businesses who advise that one of the mainstays of their business is the provision of breakfast and other food for people on finishing shift work. As is the case for many licensed premises, the provision of food is one of the mainstays of their business.

I would have liked the age at which alcohol can be sold in off-licences to have been raised to 21; that would have been a positive step. We have a serious problem of alcohol consumption. I do not want to degrade those running off-licences, but I am concerned that some proprietors do not provide any training for their staff. I have confidence in that respect in regard to licensed premises; their proprietors are serious about retaining their licence which is extremely important to them, and they are concerned to ensure that they do not serve alcohol to those who are under age. That is my experience and that change has come about in recent years. I have a concern in that respect about off-licence premises. The training of staff therein is minimal. The mandatory training of staff who sell alcohol should be required.

I would prefer the law to provide that alcohol could not be sold to people under the age of 21. It is difficult for the gardaí to track down the sale of alcohol to those who are under age. Those who are over the age of 18 often buy alcohol for a younger brother or younger friends. If the age limit at which alcohol could be purchased was raised to 21, we would be dealing with a more responsible cohort of people and that might eliminate some of the under age drinking which is a major problem.

On the issue of the closure of premises that have been found to sell alcohol to those who are under age, I welcome the changes proposed in terms of increasing the days and times when premises will be shut down. I was alarmed by a newspaper report two years ago about the case involving the sale of a bottle of vodka in a garage premises to a 15 year old girl on the night of the junior certificate results. The judge presiding over the case initially fined the owner of the premises €100 until he was reminded that he had to order that the premises be closed down. He then ordered that this premises be closed from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. That punishment did not fit the crime in this case. Alcohol was sold in that premises to a 15 year old girl and it was obvious there was a junior certificate party — the girl was getting on a bus to go to a disco in a local hotel. All the signs indicated that the girl was under age. This comes back to the issue of the training of staff.

Hopefully, we will deal with the sale of alcohol Bill later this year. Education is an important factor. A joint policing committee was held in Cork recently, which was well attended by members of the Garda Síochána from the various districts, public representatives and community representatives. The focus of the meeting was on under age drinking and public disorder. The chief superintendent, in his opening statement, said that he viewed policing as a very small part of what was required to deal with our alcohol problem. Most of us would turn to policing to solve the alcohol problem, but it is a problem that is inherent in society. Education is important in addressing this problem, particularly the education of parents to ensure they are informed about the products for sale and what their children can get up to. I attended a meeting organised by the local drugs task force last year and was alarmed when someone showed us Jaffa Cakes and jelly beans soaked in vodka. Parents need to be aware of these products. Children are not innocent. If parents approached this issue with such awareness, they would be more in tune with what their children can get up to. It is important to heighten the awareness of this problem among parents and to do so on a regular basis because each year there is a new crop of 13 to 15 year olds. Parents cannot hear enough about the dangers in this area

I welcome the Bill. I look forward to learning the details of what the Minister proposes in the voluntary code and the change in the structures within supermarkets. They are important and we will hear about them during the Committee Stage debate. When we discuss the sale of alcohol Bill towards the end of the year, I would like more radical changes included in it to ensure we send out a strong message that this country is in trouble and that we need to tackle our alcohol problem in a more serious manner.

That is agreed.

I warmly welcome the provisions of this Bill. Alcohol consumption is an integral part of Irish life that can, and often does, lead to problems for individuals and for the wider community when it is misused. Alcohol harm is visible throughout Ireland — on the streets, in the courts, hospitals, workplaces, schools and homes. Our first concern is to ensure the protection of our young teenagers. Despite the tendency to blame under age drinkers, the vast majority of alcohol harm occurs among the adult population where it manifests itself in terms of accidents, hospital admissions, street violence, drunk drinking, alcohol poisoning, suicides, alcohol dependency, cancers and cirrhosis. Our focus is on young teenagers who deserve the protection of the legislation and on gardaí in our communities who deserve the support of legislation to deal with issues related to anti-social behaviour.

Alcohol consumption per capita in the Irish population increased by 17% during the past 11 years with the average consumption of pure alcohol per person in Ireland over 15 years of age being 13.36 litres. This figure has been mentioned previously in the debate. Having regard to the fact such alcohol consumption is 30% above the EU average and, in particular, that up to 20% of adults do not consume alcohol, the amount consumed by those who do is even greater and this increases the likelihood of alcohol related harm and public order offences. Abuse of alcohol is also common among those aged under 18 years of age. This happens everyday in our communities and we are all concerned about what is happening to our young teenagers. We have statistics in this area. The 2006 national study of health behaviour in school age children found that half of those aged 15 to 17 years reported being current drinkers and more than a third reported having been “really drunk” in the previous 30 days.

We need to strengthen our resolve to tackle alcohol related problems. We need to take responsibility both collectively and individually. We also need to examine our social acceptance of alcohol and the signal that it sends particularly to our young people. We must ask ourselves if adults provide an appropriate example to younger people in regard to alcohol. It also needs to become socially unacceptable for people to be excessively drunk on our streets. This change can only occur when we stop excusing such behaviour. It is a change which can be achieved, but it can only occur through multi-sectoral action.

In order to tackle the problems of alcohol misuse in our society, I support the view that we need to take a twin-track approach in terms of strategies and interventions. On the one hand, we need to target vulnerable populations and, on the other, we need to have policies to target the population at large in order to be effective in addressing this issue. This is the policy approach being taken by the health promotion unit of the Department of Health and Children. We firmly believe that certain additional measures are required, particularly regarding price and the ease of availability of alcohol. It is for these reasons that we have a particular interest in and warmly welcome this legislation.

The Bill contains important reforms of the licensing laws and public order legislation to address the adverse consequences of alcohol misuse in our society. I particularly commend the Minister on the changes proposed in this legislation in regard to addressing public order problems. Many communities are concerned about the abuse of alcohol by persons under the age of 18. This legislation gives gardaí powers to seize alcohol from persons they adjudge to be under age and who cannot satisfactorily prove that they are over 18, and to move them on from the location in which they are consuming that alcohol. This will be particularly welcomed by communities concerned by the anti-social behaviour of young people congregating in unoccupied and derelict buildings and building sites, at river banks and on the streets. A person who fails to co-operate either in handing over the alcohol or in providing his or her name, age and address may be arrested and charged with an offence.

I also welcome the powers afforded to gardaí to dispose of the seized alcohol provided they retain a record of it. I am aware of reports in my own area of parents coming to the local Garda station seeking the return of alcohol confiscated from their children. I am amazed at such behaviour, which raises serious questions of parental responsibility. I welcome the introduction of fixed charge penalties, or on-the-spot fines, and the arrangements being made for the payment of these charges. These measures provide gardaí with stronger powers in regard to early intervention and assistance in the prevention of offences. The facilitation of the gardaí in responding to and preventing unacceptable behaviour will be welcomed by communities throughout the State.

I also welcome the reduction, by 29 hours per week, in the time during which mixed trading premises may sell alcohol. It always amazed me that people could purchase alcohol in the supermarket on the way to work. The legislation provides for the restriction of off-licence sales to the period between 10.30 a.m. and 10 p.m., and to between 12.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sundays and on St. Patrick's Day. Like other speakers, I warmly welcome the provision whereby applicants for a wine licence will require a District Court certificate.

We are discussing this legislation against the background of a substantial increase in the number of off-licences and the impact of this on the availability of alcohol in communities. In the six-year period from 2001 to 2007, data from the Revenue Commissioners show that the number of off-licence permits issued for the sale of spirits and beer increased by 70%, from 790 to 1,300. These statistics merely confirm what is evident in communities throughout the State. The number of wine-only off-licences almost trebled in this period to 3,600. I welcome the provision which will permit gardaí or local residents to object to an application for an off-licence on the basis that it is not required to meet the needs of residents or because there is already a sufficient number of such outlets in the locality.

I also welcome the provision whereby the District Court may require the installation and operation during licensing hours of a closed circuit television system. This will be beneficial in deterring people from loitering in the vicinity of off-licences and in combating secondary purchases, that is, where under age persons try to persuade or pressurise adults to purchase alcohol on their behalf. We are all aware of this happening outside supermarkets and other retail outlets.

I strongly support the proposal to separate alcohol products from other products in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. We must send a strong message from this House to the trade. I understand from the Minister that the proposed codes of practice are under consideration merely as an initial step. We will all be satisfied if agreement can be reached on the operation of these codes so that they can achieve effective structural separation which is subject to independent verification on an annual basis. That is precisely what we want to achieve, whether it is done through the code or via the eventual implementation of section 8. The structural separation of alcohol products within premises, with the associated requirements regarding signage, warning signs, in-store advertising and staff training standards, must be overseen and enforced through an independent audit and verification mechanism.

I am aware of several pubs whose owners have taken advantage of the loophole in regard to theatre licences. In such cases, the objective is to allow for the sale of alcohol into the early hours and all the publican may have to do to satisfy the Revenue Commissioners of the authenticity of an application for a theatre licence is to provide some live music, additional seating and so on. Section 10 of the Bill closes off this loophole by stipulating that the sale of alcohol before and after performances in premises with theatre licences will only be permitted during normal licensing hours. I am extremely pleased with this provision.

I strongly support the proposal in section 13 on the introduction of test purchasing, whereby gardaí will be permitted to send a person aged 15, 16 or 17 years into a licensed premises for the purpose of seeking to purchase or being permitted to consume alcohol. Parental or guardian consent in writing will be required. We are hopeful this measure will lead to greater use of the Garda age card and to a stronger culture of compliance with provisions regarding under age drinking. Some shop premises and supermarkets act responsibly within their communities but those who do not should be aware that they may now be subjected to test purchasing.

I agree with Deputy Clune's comments on the effectiveness of the television advertisements which feature actors representing nurses, shopkeepers and other members of the community saying they have had enough of the consequences of the abuse of alcohol by others. Next Tuesday, 1 July, new strengthened codes on advertising and sponsorship by the alcohol industry will come into effect. The new codes should not be viewed in isolation but rather as one measure in a package of policy measures to address alcohol-related harm. In tandem with this, the health promotion division of my Department is commencing a process to identify areas in regard to alcohol advertising, promotions and sponsorships where legislative measures may be necessary to afford greater protection to young people. In addition, we are establishing a working group to examine the extent of existing sponsorship, including the terms and length of contracts. This group will seek to give direction on concerns regarding the extent of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies.

I assure the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the health promotion unit of my Department is strongly supportive of this legislation. We welcome the important reforms of the licensing laws and the public order measures it contains. I am extremely pleased to see the Bill being implemented in advance of the summer recess. It will do much to address the adverse consequences of alcohol misuse in our society, particularly in terms of availability and access and Garda powers to deal with public order offences. Recent reports indicate that anti-social behaviour is a problem in many communities, particularly where young people congregate beside the river, in the forest, on the street or even in playgrounds. The additional powers for gardaí in this legislation will have a significant impact in communities. I welcome the Bill and wish it every success.

I welcome the Bill and the debate and compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the former Minister in that Department, Deputy Brian Lenihan. While alcohol is part of the social fabric, for too long it has been widely abused. Legislative reforms are needed to tackle public disorder and alcohol-related harm resulting from excessive alcohol consumption. Every weekend we see evidence of this need on our streets and in the accident and emergency departments of our hospitals. The problem is not confined to large urban centres but also affects small towns and villages across the country.

The Bill will give effect to reforms recommended by the Government alcohol advisory group, which I thank for its work. The Bill tackles the increased visibility and availability of alcohol through retail outlets with off-licences, while tightening the conditions under which premises with on-licences qualify for special exemption orders permitting them to remain open beyond normal licensing hours. It also places renewed emphasis on enforcement of licensing law, particularly in regard to underage drinking.

The Bill also strengthens public order provisions by including measures to curtail alcohol consumption in public places, especially by those under 18 years, and allowing the Garda to seize alcohol. The Garda Síochána will also have powers to seize alcohol from any person, regardless of age, where the consumption of alcohol in a public place is causing, or likely to cause, a breach of the peace.

We have one of the highest alcohol consumption levels in the European Union. Average consumption of pure alcohol per person over 15 years of age in 2006 was over 13 litres, a frightening statistic.

The proposals in the Bill represent a coherent and carefully balanced package of practical measures and reforms which are designed to reduce access to alcohol, including its visibility within retail outlets, while also strengthening measures to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour on the streets and in our communities.

I welcome the new Garda powers to seize alcohol which are in addition to existing powers to deal with public order offences. The new powers will permit early intervention by the Garda and help to prevent offences taking place. There has been too much of an increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences in recent years. At the same time, there has been a remarkable increase in the scale and frequency of alcohol promotions and price discounts. The result has been a marked increase in alcohol availability and visibility within these mixed trading premises. I feel sorry for people grappling with problem of alcoholism who have to enter these premises to buy their groceries and see all the alcohol promotions before them. That is not a satisfactory situation.

The Bill provides for the separation of alcohol products from other products in premises which are engaging in mixed trading, such as supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. There is a need to curtail the availability of such products in these outlets. We also need to support our traditional pubs because in the main they have served us well over the years. They were very careful in regard to their licences which had to be renewed every year. They were pragmatic in regard to how they dealt with underage and overage drinking and persons whom they felt could have consumed too much alcohol. They were sensible people in the main and compliant with the legislation.

The proposals set out in Part 2 contain reforms relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol, including measures to improve compliance with and enforcement of licensing law. Section 4 proposes generally to restrict off-sales of alcohol to the period between 10.30 a.m. and 10 p.m.; and 12.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays and St. Patrick's Day. The existing concession which permits the sale of alcohol from 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. in supermarkets and convenience stores is being repealed. That is a welcome measure.

At present, a wine retailer's off-licence may be obtained directly from the Revenue Commissioners with a District Court certificate. Applicants for a spirit retailer's off-licence or a beer retailer's off-licence require such a certificate. As recommended by the advisory group, section 5 provides that in future an applicant for a wine retailer's off-licence will also require a District Court certificate.

Section 6 extends the grounds on which the District Court may refuse to grant a certificate for a spirit, beer or wine retailer's off-licence. Similar grounds already apply to applications for on-licences under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000. Objections may be made at the relevant District Court hearing by the local Garda superintendent and local residents or residents' groups. When granting a certificate, the District Court may also impose a condition that a CCTV system be installed.

Following discussions with the trade bodies representing supermarkets and convenience stores, the Minister is considering whether a code of practice proposed by the sector is a workable alternative to section 8. As part of the code, the sector would sign up on a voluntary basis to implementation of arrangements which, if implemented, would achieve the Bill's objectives. In particular, the code will require the display of alcohol in a specified part of the premises. It is vital to the success of any code that all supermarket multiples and convenience store groups sign up to it and implement it in an effective manner. Not only should they sign up to the code in writing but they should implement it in spirit and provide evidence to that effect.

The Bill is long overdue. I am pleased it is to be enacted before the summer recess. I hope, with the co-operation of all parties, that it will lead to an improvement in social life in Ireland.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo, An Bille Deochanna Meisciúla 2008. Tá sé thar a bheith caoithiúil. Dár ndóigh, beidh Bille díolacháin alcóil ag teacht níos déanaí chun na reachtaíochta go léir i dtaobh alcóil a thabhairt suas chun dáta agus cruth níos éifeachtaí a chur air. Tús atá sa Bhille seo, mar tá níos mó reachtaíochta le teacht. Tá fadhb mhór againn maidir le meisceoireacht, go mór mhór i leith daoine óga. Tá cultúr ann faoi láthair a chaithfimid a athrú go práinneach. Dar ndóigh, tá sé thar a bheith deacair cultúr a athrú, ach sin í an fhadhb agus an dúshlán atá romhainn.

The report of the Government alcohol advisory group does not paint a pretty picture in regard to alcohol consumption. It does not require this report, however, to inform us there is a problem of major proportions in regard to the three areas examined by the group under the excellent chairmanship of Dr. Gordon Holmes, namely, the increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences and the manner and condition of sale of alcohol products in such outlets, including below unit cost selling and special promotions.

This brings me to an issue which was raised by Dr. Holmes when he addressed the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. He pointed out that there was a major problem in identifying the unit cost. This issue is addressed to some extent in the legislation. So far as I am concerned it is not acceptable that companies are trading here and producing a range of products, the abuse of which causes major problems in society, and yet it is not possible to ascertain the unit cost. One person put it to me that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, had indicated that the removal of the groceries order, in regard to below cost selling, had not brought about any reduction in prices and asked whether we should consider bringing back that order for alcohol products.

It is not good enough to proceed on the basis that it is impossible to get down to the basic unit cost. The State should not accept a situation like that and we should certainly deal with it as a matter of urgency. The increasing number of special exemption orders that permit longer opening hours and that are being obtained by licensed premises around the country was the second issue the advisory group was asked to examine. The final point was the use, adequacy and effectiveness of existing sanctions and penalties, especially those directed towards combating excessive and under age alcohol consumption.

The report qualifies the problem in a coherent way. It points out that Ireland has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the European Union. Our consumption levels in 2006 were approximately 30% above the EU average. The report focuses on the problem of binge drinking in particular, which it describes as a cultural attitude to alcohol consumption. It presents two hallmarks of binge drinking as going out to get drunk and the consumption of alcohol before going out. The report states that binge drinking is more common in Ireland than in other EU countries and that the Eurobarometer survey published in 2007 indicated that 34% of Irish drinkers consumed at least five drinks per occasion compared with 10% of the EU population. The report further states that the 2006 national survey of health behaviour in school-age children found that half of children aged 15 to 17 years old reported being current drinkers and just over a third reported being really drunk in the previous 30 days. The 2004 ESPAD report on alcohol and other drugs among students in 35 European countries found that 86% and 79% of 15 and 16 year old students perceived the availability of beer and sprits respectively to be very easy or fairly easy. That does not paint a pretty picture. The key word is culture. In any society or group a culture is something that is difficult to change. It takes time and commitment to do so.

I find it difficult to come to terms with some of the things I have encountered. For example, I understand research carried out by the Health Service Executive indicated that alcohol is being passed on to younger people by older siblings or parents. I heard of an incident in another constituency where a staff member of a supermarket presented himself to a lady who had bought bottles of beer and was giving them to a young person. It turned out he was her son and she became quite abusive towards the supermarket employee. She said she would do what she liked with the alcohol. It is unfortunate that such attitudes appear to prevail and one can only wonder where it will lead.

Provision is made in the legislation for test purchasing, which allows for young people aged between 15 and 17 — with the written permission of their parents — to go into all categories of outlet where alcohol is sold with a view to exposing premises that break the law. That is to be welcomed. Obviously there are risks attached and the situation must be handled delicately. That is a move in the right direction and I believe good will come of it.

It has been put to me also that if we are to deal with the sale of alcohol to minors, there is a need to make the Garda identity card mandatory so that anyone aged under 21 would have to produce it in order to purchase alcohol. Some people might consider that draconian but I believe it could be effective in preventing people under 18 from buying drink at least without the knowledge of the staff or owner of a retail outlet.

Another issue that has been raised with me relates to the penalties paid by people who are caught buying alcohol for minors. It was put to me that one can find individuals outside supermarkets who can make €50 in a relatively short time buying drink for people who are under age. The penalties on conviction for this offence have been described as laughable. I do not have direct experience of the fines as we do not hear a great deal about them. I also understand there is great difficulty in securing convictions in this area even when people are clearly identifiable on CCTV handing over drink to young people. I accept the legislation makes provision for an increase in the fines but from what I can gather from people in business, enforcement is as important as the sentences. Whatever difficulties exist must be confronted and we need to introduce the appropriate measures to make sure that people who engage in this despicable practice are sanctioned. It is a sad state of affairs that anyone would supply drink to minors but especially family members. From what I can gather from people in business, doubling the size of the fine on first conviction from €1,000 to €2,000 with subsequent convictions up to €5,000 is not the solution. Rather, the solution lies in a more effective regime for securing convictions. I am not aware of what difficulties exist in terms of securing convictions under the law as it stands except that I have been told that this is the case.

I raised the issue of violence with the previous Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, when we discussed the legislation. Serious incidents have occurred, including death, in private houses where excessive drinking occurs. Private houses are exempt in the legislation. If serious violence and death is resulting from excessive drinking in private houses we need to address the issue. I accept that a man's home is his castle and the home is sacred but life is the most precious thing of all. The Garda is well aware of houses where excessive drinking occurs. We need to come up with legislation that will enable the Garda to bring these people before the courts. More importantly we need interventions that will prevent very serious violence possibly resulting in death. I hope the subsequent sale of alcohol Bill will address such issues. This Bill, which is to streamline and update existing legislation, is most welcome and has been presented by the Minister as an initial step.

Getting back to the concept of culture, legislation can only achieve so much. We need to change the culture with the support of parents in the measures we introduce. Changing culture does not happen overnight. Many people are very concerned over where all this is leading. Some years ago I was dropping one of my children at a disco on a Saturday night. Two scantily clad girls aged no more than 15 were standing outside the premises and were very drunk. I do not believe they got the drink in the premises outside which they were standing. They had got the drink elsewhere and had been refused admission. I spoke to the Garda on the following Monday. The Garda took the following approach, which had considerable merit. When gardaí came across children who were inebriated, they brought them home and presented them to their parents. I was told that in many cases the parents were shocked to see their children's condition. They were going out sober and coming in very late when the parents were asleep in bed. The parents did not see them when they were under the influence of drink. The children stayed in bed until lunchtime the following day, by which time they were no longer inebriated, although they may have had sick heads. The parents were simply not aware of what was happening. That approach is effective and should be welcomed.

An applicant for a wine licence is now required to appear before the District Court, which is a progressive step. However, it has been pointed out to me that there are 5,000 to 6,000 wine licences. Is it a good use of District Court time to require people to appear annually for renewal? Would there be another way to achieve the same effect without using up court time? Across a range of areas court time is a very scarce and valuable commodity. Perhaps there could be a screening system whereby only those licensees to whose licences there had been objections would be required to go before the courts. In addition to cluttering the courts, there is the issue of the expense particularly for smaller operators needing to appear before the courts. This matter needs to be considered sympathetically. They may need to hire a solicitor or a barrister and possibly even an engineer.

When we were speaking with Dr. Holmes I raised the issue of the proliferation of off-licence outlets. When planning applications were submitted the attitude of the local authority was that the market would sort out whether there was a need for an additional off-licence in an area. I am very pleased that the adequacy of number of licensed outlets in an area will be borne in mind, as it will make a positive contribution to the matter we are discussing. I wish the Minister well with the legislation. Some parts would benefit from amendment. It is worth getting it moving to get something done. We also need the sale of alcohol Bill brought before the House as quickly as possible. Legislation is one part and tackling the culture is the other. The Bill contributes in terms of one aspect of the problem.

I wish to share time with Deputy Cuffe.

I welcome publication of this Bill. I hope this debate gives us an opportunity to examine not only the specifics of this Bill but also the wider issue of the place of alcohol in Irish society. Alcohol has always played a central role in Irish social life. For the vast majority of people, a trip down to the local pub to have a few drinks is an important part of their week and is a central part of their social life. The local pub is the centre of many local communities and plays an important role in combating social isolation and loneliness, particularly in rural areas.

In recent years a culture of both drinking at home and binge drinking has arisen. In the six-year period up to 2007, the percentage of alcohol sold by the off-licence trade in Ireland has risen from 30% to 52%. While a wide range of factors has contributed to this, such as the impact of the smoking ban, stricter enforcement of drink-driving laws and the cost of drink, the problem that arises from this increase is that this new culture of drinking at home diminishes the social aspect of going to the local pub and leads to people drinking for the sake of drinking.

This increasing culture of binge drinking is having a very negative impact on family life and society. Family break-ups and domestic violence fuelled by alcohol are increasing rapidly. A recent HSE report showed that more than a quarter of domestic violence incidents took place as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. The same report showed that 46% of all murder and manslaughter cases involved alcohol and that public order offences increased threefold between 1996 and 2002.

People's attitude towards alcohol consumption is primarily a matter of personal responsibility. In a mature society, there should be no need for Government to regulate people's private lives and every citizen should be free to drink alcohol responsibly. Unfortunately as we have shown in recent years, a growing number of people are not prepared to take personal responsibility for their drinking and for their actions while under the influence of alcohol. As a result the Government has been left with no choice but to introduce Bills to regulate people's access to alcohol. I welcome the publication of the Bill and commend the Minister for the speed with which it was introduced. The Bill, and the forthcoming sale of alcohol Bill, will help to moderate our society's relationship with alcohol.

The number of premises that can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises has ballooned in recent years and has certainly been one factor in the increase in drinking the country has witnessed. While it must be recognised that the vast majority of retailers adopt a very responsible attitude towards the sale and promotion of alcohol, I very much welcome the Bill's proposals to restrict the hours that these premises can sell alcohol and the new licensing regulations for them. Proposals to restrict alcohol promotions and reduced-price sales are particularly welcome. I know of a number of cases in my constituency where publicans purchase certain brands of drinks not from their wholesalers but from the local supermarket. If members of the public are able to buy drinks from a supermarket cheaper than a publican can buy them in a wholesaler, we have to assume this is encouraging people to purchase far more alcohol than they normally would. This form of pricing on the part of retailers is adding to the culture of excessive drinking we have seen develop in recent years. I acknowledge the submission made recently by the Vintners Federation of Ireland to the Government alcohol advisory group. Its proposals on this form of discounted selling in the off-trade have much merit and I hope they will be incorporated in any final regulations devised on the issue of the reduced price sale of alcohol.

I particularly welcome the Minister's decision earlier this week to defer section 8 of the Bill on segregation. This was causing a great deal of concern, particularly among smaller grocers and the supermarkets. I am delighted that, following his meeting with the representative groups of the organisations, they decided a code of practice would be put in place and that it would be independently monitored. I was also struck by the responsible attitude of the many convenience store owners who visited my office or called to see me at clinics in recent weeks regarding this Bill. They described how they can effectively monitor the sale of alcohol. Whether in Bunclody, New Ross, Ramsgrange or whatever area of Wexford, I was struck by how responsible the owner-operators of the supermarkets were. I also welcome the fact that the segregation of wine has been exempted. This was very important to the supermarkets and the customers. People like to browse the wine aisles and read the labels when purchasing a bottle of wine. Putting it behind the counter or in a controlled area may have been a step too far.

One area of this Bill which will need some clarification is the proposal to serve closure orders on premises which are found to have served alcohol to minors. While any proposal such as this which will encourage extra vigilance against under age drinking is welcome, there is some confusion in the retail sector about its implementation. This should be clarified before these proposals are implemented. Retailers and shop owners are unsure whether a closure order served on a shop will see the closure of the off-licence section of this shop for a particular period of time or the closure of the entire shop. I ask the Minister to clarify this issue for retailers before he implements this proposal. I also welcome the reprieve for the early licence holders. There are very few of them left and we could refer to them as old Ireland. The Minister's decision on them was very welcome. They have not contributed in any way to the anti-social behaviour we have seen.

An issue relating to the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises on which I would like to see a new focus is delivery services. Certain off-licences offer a service whereby customers can phone in an order for drink, have it delivered to their door and pay the delivery man on arrival. Although this practice is not widespread, this form of delivery service makes the task of preventing minors from purchasing alcohol far more difficult. It also opens up the legal issue of where the sale of alcohol takes place, in the off-licence when the phone call is made or in the home when the delivery man accepts the payment. Although there are regulations to cover this form of transaction, they are not strictly enforced and I would like to see the Garda vigorously target any business offering this service. I recently heard the story of a group of people who put a call in to an off-licence and got a taxi driver to deliver slabs of beer to a remote location. This kind of practice must be tackled very seriously. It leads to no control on the sale of alcohol.

I want to turn to nightclubs and theatre licences. This is a complicated area and I am not sure tackling them as this legislation proposes is the way to go. They need much more consideration and thought. Citizens have the right to go to nightclubs, leave at a reasonable hour and go to a fast-food outlet without the fear of being assaulted. This is where personal responsibility plays a role. This is a law and order issue. It is a citizen's right to socialise in a safe and happy environment inside and outside clubs. Sequential closing is working quite well and I am slightly concerned we are moving backwards. Speaking to a number of people, particularly in cities where there is a large number of clubs, sequential closing has worked by moving people around the city at different times.

I wonder about Sunday closing times. We live in a very different time. Why we are making an adjustment on Sunday night closure is beyond me. It may not need to be carried out. I would like to see a much more detailed study on nightclub and theatre licences. There has been a proliferation of theatre licences and this has caused some concern. Some operators trade for approximately 31 hours per week and open only late at night until the early hours of the morning. Some of the recommendations in this Bill will see their opening hours reduced from 31 to 23 hours, which will probably make them unviable. I would like to see a particular study on this area.

I welcome the proposals to tackle public disorder, such as granting the Garda power to seize alcohol from people who appear to be under age or when there is a reasonable fear of public disorder. However, I believe we can go further in empowering the Garda to combat public disorder. The Local Government Act 2001 gives local authorities the power to pass by-laws outlawing the consumption of alcohol in public places. There is a strong argument for implementing this on a nationwide basis and making the enactment of these by-laws compulsory. As a member of New Ross Town Council and a former member of Wexford County Council, the difficulty with the planning laws is that we have had a staggered arrangement on opening hours for takeaways. Somebody is granted planning permission with a closing time of 9 p.m. while somebody else has a closing time of 11 p.m. but because another takeaway has been in existence for longer, it can trade until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. We should examine this on a nationwide basis and consider introducing it through our town councils.

I am also chairman of the JFK Dunbrody festival in New Ross. We run a festival every year and this is its eighth year. We run an alcohol-free concert area policed by the Garda, volunteers and committee members such as me. It has been a major success story. While we implement the by-laws fairly rigorously during these events, we allow the occasional drink to be taken where tables and chairs are put in front of a pub. However, we absolutely clamp down on young or older people carrying a glass or a can along the streets. That is something we have seen much more of on the streets of our towns throughout the country. I welcome this aspect of the Bill.

Education is one of the areas in which we have to tackle this culture of alcohol abuse. Disposable income is one of the reasons for it. Young people I talk to all seem to have a job and when going out for a night, they have €100 to €150 with them. With no shortage of money, they can all afford the five drinks they would have on average, or in many cases much more. Education is one of the most important aspects and I would like to see a very dedicated and strong education programme put in place to try to tackle alcohol abuse.

One proposal which was common to almost all submissions given to the Government's alcohol advisory group, and which I support, was a call for the introduction of a national ID card. We have reached the point where a national ID card is the only workable solution to the problem of under age drinking. Although the vast majority of premises owners are extremely diligent in their duty not to serve minors, they are facing an uphill struggle at times to identify people who are under age. A national ID card system that is rigorously enforced will be one of the most effective weapons against under age drinking. If the Minister does not have sufficient time to introduce this measure before the implementation of this legislation, and I do not think he has, I would urge him to consider it in the context of the sale of alcohol Bill.

I commend the Minister on introducing this Bill and the speed with which he wishes to enact it. There will be strong support for the measures contained in the Bill. As I have outlined, I have concerns about some areas and I hope the Minister will take these concerns, and the concerns of other Members, into account when seeking to enact the Bill. The Bill is not a cure-all but is the start of a process of tackling the abuse of alcohol. That must be a welcome development.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, which attempts to address a major problem in society that is at crisis point throughout the length and breadth of the country. I also see the Bill as an opportunity. In recent months, I have spoken to young people — I am a parent myself — as well as gardaí, publicans and off-licence holders. All of them recognise there is a problem. In life, I have found that when people can be made to recognise there is a problem, they can at least concentrate on the solution. This Bill is part of that solution, but only a part, and a start rather than an end in itself.

I have spoken with young people who have got into trouble. They sometimes say they have nothing else to do or nowhere to go and so on. As noted by several speakers today, we must consider the wider issues involved. As Deputy O'Shea said, no off-licence holder wants somebody outside making money by buying drink for young people and no publican, or at least very few, wants to serve drink to underage people. There is an opportunity which everybody needs to grasp by working together.

I was glad to hear the Minister's point on the advertising codes which will be introduced, which is related to the issue of sponsorship. As one who has been involved in a sporting organisation for many years, the GAA, which has benefited from sponsorship and funding from the drinks companies, I feel the time has arrived for sporting and voluntary organisations to consider this issue. I accept there is a difficulty and that this will entail major consultation as to how the funding these organisations receive can be replaced. This has to happen right across the board. Over the years, the GAA has been highlighted more than any other organisation, despite the fact it is appointing or will eventually appoint a substance abuse officer in each club throughout the country. Everybody realises there is a problem but we need to work together.

In that spirit, it is in everybody's interest — publicans, off-licence holders, members of the public, gardaí and drinks companies — that this issue is tackled once and for all. It is important that people can socialise in a responsible manner and that everybody can walk the streets without fear of being attacked while still allowing the drinks retailers to provide a service and earn a living.

There is little need to produce arguments to convince public opinion that something needs to be done to address the problems caused by the abuse of alcohol in our cities, towns and villages throughout the country. One has only to walk the streets of our towns and cities on any weekend night to witness the problems the abuse of alcohol is causing in society — broken bottles and glasses, threatening behaviour, graffiti on walls, fights and rowdyism is the picture with which we are presented. We wake up on weekend mornings to listen to the latest news bulletins detailing the deaths, stabbings and violence that have taken place as a direct result of alcohol abuse.

In this regard, it was noted earlier that much of this violence takes place at house parties and so on. Publicans will obviously suggest that in the controlled environment of the local pub, when somebody had too much drink taken, that person would not be served and could be brought home. The publicans bemoan the passing of that time.

The evidence is also provided in many reports. Dr. Anne Hope in her recent study for the HSE gave an overview of more than 30 recent studies relating to alcohol consumption. Among its many graphic facts, the study stated that 46% of those who committed murders were intoxicated, a third of fatal accidents were caused by alcohol and 28% of all injury attendances in accident and emergency departments in acute hospitals were alcohol-related. The report also confirmed that chronic alcohol conditions had increased among young adults and more women than ever before are now affected by the abuse of alcohol. The suggestion that the number of new alcohol-related cancers would more than double for females and increase by 81% for males before 2020 is frightening, as is the finding that alcohol affects an adolescent brain differently from an adult brain and that damage from alcohol use during adolescence could be long-term and irreversible.

The reasons to tackle alcohol abuse and underage drinking are many but the above data alone make a compelling argument in regard to people's health and lifespan. A solution would free many beds in our hospitals and accident and emergency units. The Bill is seen as an attempt to address some of the problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and in that context it is to be welcomed. All sides agree there is a problem but getting everybody to agree to the correct solutions is a much more complex issue.

We must remember that the vast majority of publicans, off-licence holders and retailers are responsible people and see the need for correct procedures and laws with regard to the sale of alcohol. They also deserve due consideration in this legislation so they can continue to earn a living and continue to give employment. The local publican, we should note, is suffering because of modern trends and there has been a massive increase in drinking at home and at house parties. The pub is being used less for a social drink. This is to be regretted because it was always mostly a safe haven and controlled environment where the publican was responsible and refused to serve if someone had too much to drink. This will not happen in the other settings we have discussed.

Section 8 provides for the separation of alcohol products in premises that are engaged in mixed trading. This constraint had not been fully thought through and its full implementation for the small rural village or town off-licence holder would mean closure of that outlet because the return would not justify retaining it. It would cost tens of thousands of euro to make the structural changes and provide the extra staffing levels. Even if these changes went ahead, it is my belief, having spoken to many of those involved, that it would do nothing to reduce alcohol abuse because in many ways these small convenience stores are not the problem. By and large, they know their customers and therefore there is less chance of their abusing the system. The real problem exists in the large multinational stores where one can fill trolleys off the shelves with all kinds of drinks being sold at below cost prices without any checks or scrutiny.

I welcome the fact the Minister has held discussions with the supermarket and convenience store owners with a view to putting into effect a voluntary code of practice as an alternative to implementation of section 8. This, of course, would have to be seen to work and be independently verified. I am glad the trading bodies recognise there is a problem and are willing to play their part in resolving it.

I also notice the Minister proposes amendments to the Bill which would not require wine to be segregated, allowing the customer to browse before purchasing. This seems reasonable because if all other voluntary safeguards are in place, there should not be any problem with abuse in regard to wine.

Some of the biggest problems associated with alcohol abuse in our society are caused by underage drinking, below cost selling and secondary purchasing. All three, of course, are linked and can only be tackled if there is a unified approach by all the affected parties — retailers, gardaí and, of course, parents. There must be stringent application of an identification card system that is seen to work. For instance, some of the identification cards used at present can easily be forged, especially when they are not strictly monitored. Any card that is misused should be withdrawn and its misuse treated as a serious offence. A properly operated identification system would be a major step forward in stamping out under age drinking and reducing trouble on our streets.

Parents have an enormous responsibility in this area. They must have greater awareness of where their children are at critical times of the day. Amounts of pocket money must be monitored and supervision and a presence in the home is crucial at certain times. In this context, the fact that there will be less money available to be spent on alcohol in a time of recession is no bad thing for the health of all concerned. This is one of the few benefits of the economic problems we have at the moment.

It is quite striking that when on holidays in France or Italy, one sees young people socialising together, sometimes even enjoying a glass of wine, without the slightest hint of rowdiness or threatening behaviour. The drink culture in Ireland has been widely discussed and we must examine the culture in other countries to determine why it does not seem to lead to the problems we experience. We must ask why some of our young people feel it is a fun thing to get off their heads on alcohol, with little thought for the consequences. We must also determine why the behaviour of our young people differs from that of their counterparts in mainland Europe.

With regard to young people and the image of them that is portrayed by abuse of alcohol and the anti-social behaviour and violence that goes along with it, we sometimes forget that there are thousands of young people who can socialise and enjoy themselves without getting into trouble or causing annoyance to anyone. The pity is that their activities never make the headlines. We are not interested in good news. I have seen at first-hand, for instance, the fantastic work done by No Name clubs. The club in my area of Claremorris has more than 200 members, who engage in many activities every week in a drink-free environment. A few months ago I attended the national gathering of the No Name clubs in Castlebar where more than 1,000 young people spent the weekend involved in various events and competitions, all driven and led by themselves, in a wonderful carefree atmosphere where alcohol was not a factor. The event was held in a hotel where drink was readily available in bars. I could not believe the atmosphere and the fun the young people were having. They had a fantastic time. For the young people involved in such clubs there are huge benefits by way of increased confidence, self esteem and empowerment. Unfortunately, such an event merits very little media coverage locally or nationally. One needs to have broken glass and drunken brawls outside nightclubs to make the headlines.

On the night I attended the No Name event I walked down the street and less than 500 metres away I came across a group of four or five drunken youths, one of whom was collapsed on the footpath. The images on the streets of the drunken behaviour is what makes the news in the following weeks' newspapers but the question we must ask is which group of young people enjoyed themselves the most. The answer is very obvious.

Having worked with young people for many years as a teacher and in voluntary organisations, I have always believed in a carrot and stick approach. Many of the provisions of this Bill are welcome and necessary. Rules, regulations and laws need to be strengthened in many areas, but there is also the need to use a carrot approach towards people and organisations who are steering our young people in the right direction. Organisations like the No Name clubs, Foróige and all the sporting organisations need support, encouragement and resources to be able to provide the facilities and opportunities for our young people to develop and enjoy life to the full in a carefree and safe environment. In some small towns and villages, sports and recreational facilities are located in schools or clubs and cannot be used at night because money is not available to pay a caretaker. In some cases, the amounts of money needed are small. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has done great work in supporting rural communities. However, support must be given on a broader scale because, in the long run, it will save money.

Garda juvenile diversion programmes are doing wonderful work in keeping young people out of the courts. I raise this issue against the background of figures released recently showing that the number of children involved in crime has jumped by 20% in just two years, with alcohol related offences the main cause of the increase. The aim of the Garda juvenile diversion programmes, funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is to divert children from offending behaviour and keep them out of the courts. Young people who get into trouble are given a second chance if they buy into corrective measures by agreeing to apologise to or compensate a victim and by getting involved in recreational activities. The positive results of this scheme for the small investment involved are startling. Approximately 87% of young people dealt with reached their 18th birthday before going to court and 75% of those going through this system avoided the courts up to the age of 25. I had first-hand experience of the work going on in this area in my constituency where there are two youth diversion schemes, one in Ballina and the other in Castlebar. Considering that most of the young people helped under these schemes avoid going to prison, the amount of money saved by the State is considerable. It is estimated to cost more than €100,000 per annum to keep a person in prison. That money would fund a youth diversion scheme for 70 or 80 youngsters. I call on the Minister to expand the youth diversion scheme. At the moment there are only 100 juvenile liaison officers nationwide but there should be one officer in every Garda district in the country. It would reduce the numbers of young people going to prison. The benefits would be enormous for vulnerable young people in helping them to cope with the pressures of modern life without falling off the cliff and ending up in jail. There would also be considerable savings to the State. The traffic corps have quite rightly been well-resourced to deal with road traffic issues but attention must also be given to the youth diversion programmes and adequate resources must be put in place to support them. It would be money very well spent.

I welcome the measures in this Bill that will help to tackle problems caused by the abuse of alcohol in a structured and even handed way, without closing down all retail outlets. Other countries have done it successfully and there is no reason we cannot do it too. This Bill on its own will not solve everything to do with alcohol abuse. It is merely one piece of a jigsaw of measures that must be implemented by the Government to support parents and volunteers working with young people to provide alternatives to the drink culture that is enveloping our country. The Bill must be seen as a start rather than an end. There is much more work to be done.

I thank the Deputy and wish him well in his sporting endeavours until, and if, his county meets Dublin.

I also wish the Deputy well but they are meeting Galway in the next round of the championship so we will not wish them too much luck. I listened carefully to what the Deputy said. Very little could be found that was wrong——

Is the Minister indicating he will share time?

Tá mé ag roinnt ama le mo chomh-bhádóir, an Teachta Eamon Scanlon. I could not fault anything the Deputy said because he took a balanced and reasonable approach to the problem. We must face the reality of the huge damage the over-consumption or abuse of alcohol is causing in our society. Nobody is talking about people who take a social drink. However, the reality is that on every index, no matter which one we look at — crime, illness or accident and emergency units — the abuse of alcohol is one of the primary causes of the problems we face.

People socialising and meeting people is a good thing regardless of whether they drink. However, at all levels of Irish society, and it is not something confined to the young, we have a major problem with alcohol. If we look at the self-inflicted damage it does to individuals, the damage it does to people on a night out, rows, matters mentioned by Deputies, problems caused within families and the huge problems it causes with domestic violence, we get some measure of the problem we are facing.

It is right that we are changing the law which I, obviously, support as a member of the Government. However, I also think that the fundamental thing we must do here is to send signals to people about acceptable behaviour. In other words, the Irish people need to change their attitude towards alcohol. I can never understand the view that one cannot celebrate something, have a good time or go out for a night unless one gets so intoxicated that one cannot go to work the next day. I do not understand why anybody would do that.

As the Deputy said, 28% of injury attendances at accident and emergency departments in hospitals relate to alcohol-related incidents. It is reported that almost two-thirds of those would never have happened if alcohol had not been involved. Everybody talks about the problems in terms of the health service and waiting in hospitals. I remember one Christmas where it became very snowy and everyone was warned to stay at home. I understand that the accident and emergency departments were empty because people were not out and about consuming too much alcohol and getting into trouble.

If we look at the pressure times in hospitals, we can see they are at the weekend when a considerable amount of socialising takes place. I asked about doctor call-outs in a certain rural area. I understand that in many areas, there were very few call-outs for grazes, cuts, knocks and blows on weekdays. Come the weekend, there is a constant stream of call-outs, not for anything fatal but fundamentally because of alcohol.

Therefore, not only do we have to take physical steps, as we are in this Bill, to limit the availability of alcohol in certain ways, we have an even bigger job in changing mindsets, people's attitude towards alcohol and the acceptance of the abuse of alcohol. I look forward to the code of practice in respect of advertising. People say that one cannot ban advertising. Let us see what the code of practice does. The counter argument must always be that people would not spend millions on advertising if it did not sell more of their product. There are one or two advertisements, particularly one, that create an entire scene involving alcohol. One must have alcohol when one is on the way to the party and get more alcohol when one gets there. One then sees at the bottom of the advertisement a little sign telling people to drink responsibly. I do not know who is codding who because while I accept that no drinks company per se sets out to sell alcohol to the point of excess, they very cleverly send the subliminal message in some of these advertisements that unless one is literally drinking from afternoon to night, one has not had a full day.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see how this code of practice works. Will it deal with the problem we face in respect of the glamorising of the abuse of alcohol and change matters in respect of advertisements that give totally the wrong impression? We are talking about desensitisation, creating norms and things that are considered acceptable. Unfortunately for many people in our society, the total abuse of alcohol is considered to be the norm and the abnormal thing is to not get bombed out of one's mind. As long as this attitude persists as a social standard, we will have a major problem.

The other myth we should debunk is the one that the abuse of alcohol is confined to the young. Young people's attitude towards to alcohol is influenced by that of their parents and whether they have seen a reasonable use of alcohol while growing up. We focus too much on this as if the young lived in a parallel universe that had no connection to what they saw or what was around them when they are growing up. Therefore, in trying to tackle this problem, we must confront the issue right across the different age groups.

As Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, my Department has responsibility for the drugs problem. One thing that comes across time and again is the association of alcohol with drug abuse. In many cases, a mixture of legal and illegal drugs is being used. I am no expert on this but I understand that in certain areas, drugs are used with alcohol with literally lethal results. Again, this is part of the culture of not regarding the use of alcohol as a social outlet involving restraint but of having to be literally out of one's mind before one thinks one has had a good night out. I have met professionals who have told me that people with very good careers who had huge prospects in life have had them ruined by one night where they used a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Tá fadhb an-mhór againn sa tír seo leo siúd, agus níl sí ag dul i laghad. Caithfidh muid, mar Oireachtas, díriú ar an gceist seo. Tá ceart againn dlithe a thabhairt isteach a dhéanfaidh i bhfad níos deacra é do dhaoine óga ól a fháil. Ag an am céanna, is cuma cad iad na dlithe a cuirfidh muid i bhfeidhm — mar a bhfuair siad amach i Meiriceá — ní dhéanfaidh siad aon difríocht mura n-athróidh muid dearcadh an phobail. Creidim go bhfuil ról ag an tOireachtas, ní hamháin dlithe a dhéanamh ach iarracht a dhéanamh cur ina luí ar an bpobal nach bhfuil éinne in aghaidh óil, an fhad is nach bhfuil sé ag déanamh dochar don duine féin nó níos tábhachtaí fós, dochar do na daoine timpeall orthu, bíodh siad ina gcónaí in éineacht leo nó cairde leo nó daoine a castar orthu ar an tsráid. Tá mé den tuairim go bhfanann muid amuigh, mar phobal agus mar thír, i bhfad ró-dheireanach san oíche. Deirtear linn nach bhfuil aon am dúnta ar an Mór-Roinn. Tá sin fíor, ach mar sin féin, téann daoine abhaile ag 11 i.n. nó ag an meán oíche. Ní chreideann siad go gcaithfidh siad fanacht go ndúnann chuile áit.

Ach tá nós ag fás in Éirinn, de réir mar a thuigim é, go mbíonn daoine ag ól sa bhaile sula dtéann siad amach. Ansin bíonn siad ag ól sa phub. Nuair a dhúnann an pub, téann siad ar aghaidh go dtí an nightclub. Dá mbeadh áit ar bith oscailte ina dhiaidh sin, rachaidís ann freisin lé n-ól agus le n-ól agus tuilleadh a ól. Téann siad go dtí cuid mhaith de na háiteanna seo mar go bhfuil an t-ól ar fáil. Sílim go gcaithfimid breathnú ar chuile thaobh den cheist seo agus iad a phlé. Má táimid ag caint ar an mbrú atá ar an eacnamaíocht, srl., creidim nach iad na rudaí atá ag tarlú i mbainceanna Mheiriceá an dúshlán is mó roimh na tíre seo. B'fhéidir gurb é an dúshlán is mó atá roimh na tíre seo i láthair na huaire ná an costas airgid agus — níos mó ná sin, an costas sóisialta — atá mí-úsáid alcól ag cur ar dhaoine. Creidim gur céim bheag sa treo ceart atá sa Bhille seo. Táimid ag díriú ar na hathruithe seo agus ag iarraidh aird an phobail a dhíriú orthu. Sílim gur Bille an-mhaith atá anseo. Mar a dúirt an Teachta a labhair romham, fear a bhfuil cáil air a bheith i mbun cúrsaí spóirt agus ag plé le daoine óga, níl anseo ag deireadh an lae ach tús díospóireachta.

I believe this is just the beginning of a dialogue and I hope the people in this House stand up, in all facets of their lives and in all roles they play, to preach moderation. I hope we will try to change the attitudes of our society. Of all the challenges facing us, such as the economic challenges emanating from changes in America, one of the greatest is the total and widespread abuse of alcohol. This is a challenge which is within our own control and for which we can blame no one else.

I am a parent of six young adults. Like most parents, I like to think my children are young angels but, having six of them aged between 19 and 29, I have seen some things over the years that would make the hair on Deputies' heads stand on end, if they had any. Young people are very inventive and excessive drinking is a problem not just among children, but young adults.

I was working on the door of a local disco approximately a year ago.

Was that before the general election?

I saw every young person who went into the hall and there was no alcoholic drink on their person as no one who had drink was allowed in. When the disco was over at 1.30 a.m. and the lights were switched on, the floor was littered with empty cider cans, noggins of vodka and baby Powers bottles. I do not know how the drink got into the hall but it shows how inventive young people are. They do not see the dangers of excessive drinking.

I welcome the fact the Minister has eased the regulation relating to small shops and supermarkets. Not to have done so would have caused severe hardship because some shopkeepers do not have the space to segregate alcohol as required. I understand the representative body has met the Minister and given an undertaking that its members will police this themselves in a strong fashion. I welcome that as these people have to survive. They do not make their money selling alcohol but it is a necessary part of their business and I am glad the Minister recognised that aspect.

I was in a multinational supermarket recently and, walking past the drinks shelf, I saw a bottle of a well-known lager for sale at 89 cent while, not far away, there was a bottle of Coke at €2. Something must be done to address below-cost selling of certain beers. When a bottle of lager is selling for half the price of a bottle of Coke, something is definitely wrong.

Parents also have a responsibility. There is a bottle of whiskey or vodka in the press in every house and the presses are not locked. My house is the same as everybody else's in this regard and young people today will get their hands on drink if it is available. They even take the whiskey out of a bottle and replace it with water. It sounds funny but it happens and parents must be more responsible. They must realise that their children will do this. We all think our children are angels but they are not. Once they get into a group, peer pressure prompts them to act in the same way as other young people.

The Minister mentioned the damage being done by drink to young people and there is no doubt about it. I do not know how we can sort it out. Some people can drink but, once they get married, they have other things on their minds such as a mortgage and they can move away from it. Others, even if they are married, do not seem to be able to get out of the habit of drinking regularly on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights. They damage themselves and their families and it is impossible to put a cost on the problem. We should do anything we can to solve it.

I have noticed a recent tendency for football matches to be shown at 12 p.m. on Sky on a Saturday or Sunday, which brings people into pubs much earlier than heretofore. On Saturday or Sunday, when they are not working, people go into a pub at 12 p.m. for a match which lasts until 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. and another is shown after that. They do not leave until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and that causes excessive drinking.

I was asked a question today about off-licence sales. An off-licence opens at 10.30 a.m. and closes at 10.30 p.m. but what is the situation as regards off-licences on licensed premises, which have seven-day licences? Their opening times are the same but are they also expected to close at 10.30 p.m? I cannot see how that would work. Maybe the Minister will come back to me to clarify the point.

I wish the Minister well in his endeavours. We should do whatever we as a Government, and as politicians in general, can to stop excessive drinking by young people, especially those who are under age. I have seen young adults, aged 18, 19 or 20, some of whom are brothers or sisters of younger people, going into off licences, supermarkets or pubs and handing the drink to the younger people when they come out. They may even charge the younger people and make a profit in the process. This must be stamped out by dealing with such actions severely.

I wish to share time with Deputy Andrew Doyle. I will have 12 minutes and Deputy Doyle eight.

I congratulate my parliamentary soccer colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, on his new position. I wish him the best in his role. I have long been an advocate of intervention, especially through youth participation.

I welcome many elements in this Bill. The small shopkeepers to whom Deputy Scanlon referred had a major battle on their hands when this Bill was published. They would have had to invest €60,000-€100,000 in building a separate section in shops, as well as putting personnel in this area.

Without analysing this measure too critically, one might have thought it would curb young people's access to drink. When I consulted with the shopkeepers and saw the code of ethics they have, such as ensuring that those who sell drink are over 18, I did not see the merit in the measure. I welcome the fact the Minister has addressed this. We must continue to examine this area. Members have referred to a mandatory identification card system. That is the way to curb the problem, not by putting extra costs on shopkeepers.

Coming from a rural constituency, I saw this as another law that would possibly close local shops. That was all it would do, it would not curb the purchase of drink by young people. It was another element of the type of bureaucracy we are introducing that makes it virtually impossible for businesses to survive in rural areas. It has created an urban-rural divide, and I do not refer to the east-west divide, which is too simplistic. The divide is between urban and rural, even in areas that are predominantly rural. People living in the countryside feel they are doing more of their business in urban areas. Those providing essential services in the countryside are finding it ever more difficult to survive, especially with extra bureaucracy coming down the line.

As legislators we must critically examine the cultural impact on people living in the countryside. The Government has brought in laws that make it quite impossible for people to continue with their culture in their communities. That is a sad indictment of the type of society we are trying to create. This occurred to me when a shopkeeper told me he could not incur losses of €60,000 and would have to close his shop.

When we critically examine the Lisbon treaty referendum we can examine a county like Donegal and specifically Oileán Thoraí where, according to anecdotal evidence, only one person voted "Yes". Tory Island is the most peripheral part of Ireland and of Europe. The further one gets from Brussels and Dublin, the higher the "No" vote. I spoke to the Ceann Comhairle this morning about the high "No" vote in Kerry. Something negative is happening in rural Ireland and we must become conscious of it. We have driven a wedge between urban and rural areas and the people living in rural areas are not willing to put up with it anymore. An example is the attempt by this Government to remove coastguard services from Valentia, County Kerry and Malin Head. That is another element why people voted "No" in the referendum. They focused on the local rather than the European picture.

Perhaps I have digressed from the Bill. I welcome the fact that off-licences will close at 10.30 p.m. I passed one at 12.30 a.m. last Saturday and there was a mighty congregation of young people outside it. The ban on below cost selling promotions is welcome. However, as the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, stated, this is the beginning of the debate. It is unfortunate it did not get going ten years ago. This Bill is scratching the surface of our attempts to change the culture. Deputy Scanlon expressed it succinctly when he said that young people are resilient and will find other ways of getting drink. The major thing we must change is culture. The only way to change any element of culture is by preventative measures and education. No rule or regulation will change the culture of underage drinking. The more rules and restrictions we impose on young people, the more they will step around them. We must get to the core of what is happening in our culture.

I welcome the comment by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, that this does not only apply to young people. There is overindulgence and we are all involved. There should be a survey of the 166 Deputies in this House to see what age each started drinking. Perhaps we were all 21. We need a reality check when examining our culture. In the constituency of the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, there are serious issues with underage drinking. Anecdotally, it seems the age is dropping all the time and young people are getting braver at a younger age.

We must examine community responsibility, intertwined with parental responsibility and a pro-active, multi-agency response. I do not refer to producing more reports and policies on what we need to do. We must get engaged at the grassroots level and examine the education sector. Schools should not stop junior and senior infant classes at 1 p.m., nor at 3 p.m. for older classes, nor 4 p.m. for secondary students. School must be ongoing. Students do not pick up bad or deviant behaviour during school hours but during out of school hours. The Minister of State has a role to examine the roll-out of intervention projects. I have confidence he will do so.

I received a call from a young person about The LOFT in Letterkenny, which Deputy Blaney knows. It was a productive and useful intervention model, where young people could congregate after school in a non-alcoholic environment. Young people do not necessarily want to engage in drinking. The single biggest attraction for young people, and we are all the same, is to be with their peers and have some banter. That is their main motivation. Those who are good at sport can do it on the Gaelic field or the soccer field and those who are excellent at music meet their peers there. However, the vast majority of young people do not fall into these compartments but they still want to be with each other. I acknowledge the fact the Government funded The LOFT but young people are faced with a predicament. The lease is up in September and the whole project is up in the air.

We must realise that we do not need new buildings or to target special, multipurpose centres. The community and enterprise section of Donegal County Council compiled an inventory and was amazed at the amount of buildings lying idle, either through the church, secondary school or primary school. We have a bank of premises that could be used in a positive and productive way at inter-agency, local level. I am not referring to inter-agency work at a policy level with briefs and bringing people together. Every parish in the country has buildings that are not utilised. All that is required is leadership through community initiatives in each of these parishes.

I do not like speaking about what I was involved in because everybody likes to speak about their own projects and what works best for them. However, I was employed as a youth worker on a peace and reconciliation project between 1997 and 1999 and I was on my own with one portakabin and every day after 3 p.m. 250 young people under the age of 14 crammed through the door. I was not able to do the job on my own so I looked around the town and saw student gardaí, student nurses and people on FÁS and community employment courses. Letterkenny had a database of people willing to engage and give up their time on a voluntary basis. During this two year period, more than 100 people worked in the portakabin on a voluntary basis at no cost to the State, the parents or the children. This is about co-ordination and utilising the voluntary goodwill in our communities. It is intervention for young people after 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. We still have a mindset that education stops once the school bag lands on the kitchen table and the children look for their grub. This is when the problems start.

After school and at weekends let us give our young people something positive in which to engage. Let us give them the advantages to change the culture. We can do this. I know I used a negative example of the cultural shifts and changes in rural Ireland. However, we can change this culture and the only way we will do it is through community empowerment and intervention, utilising the goodwill out there and showing some leadership.

I thank Deputy McHugh for providing me with the opportunity to speak on this Bill. That so many Deputies from throughout the country and across the floor of the House have expressed an interest in speaking on it highlights the fact that it is an issue that affects all of our constituencies and communities.

I note from the introduction that the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is a work in progress. It is intended to be superseded by the sale of alcohol Bill which will be much more extensive. We must recognise that it is not the full picture. If the Government alcohol advisory group was slow to be implemented it certainly got its work done and this Bill has come before the House shortly after the group finished its work. At least we are trying to address the core aspects.

The challenge to legislators is that alcohol, which by its definition is intoxicating, presents challenges to people who either cannot or do not wish to handle it and people who wish to abuse its sale for profit. We must try to allow for and encourage its responsible use while at the same time limiting and punishing those who seek to abuse it for profit. I spoke at a school and told the young fellows there that in ten years' time one or two of them may be alcoholics and they all laughed at me. They all thought drinking was great. This is the culture to which Deputy McHugh and others referred which we must try to change.

Even though we gave out about it, in years gone by the only place one could buy alcohol or get a take-out was in a pub. The local publican and his or her staff in rural areas and in larger pubs in cities and towns had responsibility for the availability of alcohol. To this end, it was easier to define. Certainly, problems existed and it was probably considered that the country did not have any other social outlet at the time. All of our families have experienced at some level or at some distance the implications of an alcoholic or alcohol abuse in a family.

In revising the legislation, we are trying to address the way in which alcohol is available and youth access and access outside the control of drinking on an establishment must be addressed. Access in stores, where alcohol is either on sale to get people in as a loss leader or available in-store anyway, must be controlled. Sensible amendments have been made in that regard in so far as the local store in a village did not have the easiest access as those in charge were responsible. The problem was in larger stores.

Those in the drinks and retail industry have put forward sensible proposals on foot of a realisation on their part that abuse and misuse of alcohol and abuse of its sale in the long term will not suit them. It will lead to more draconian law unless they take responsible action. I would like to think that as responsible citizens they recognise the need to take corrective action. One suggestion that was made is the introduction of a mandatory ID card. RGDATA came up with a proposal similar to a PPSN card or an E111 card — this ID card would be a swipe card. The software is available and the card should not allow a person under the age of 21 to buy spirits or wine, but only beer, with a limit of six, eight or ten in a day. One could pay by cash or card, but the ID card would have to be swiped to clear the sale. I understand we have the technology to do this. It would be expensive but the cost of dealing with some of the consequences of not having such control far outweigh the cost of such a card.

Another area that must be dealt with is punishment, particularly of those who sell alcohol knowingly to people who should not obtain it. I know the sale of alcohol Bill will deal with this more fundamentally with regard to the responsibility of publicans not to serve somebody who is already intoxicated and not to pass the problem outside their door to a disco, pub, nightclub or theatre where disorder can take place. The Garda, courts and emergency services end up picking up the pieces.

It is timely that Deputy McHugh raised the broader issue of how we deal with the attitudes of children and youths to alcohol, alternatives for them and changing the culture of how we deal with it. Most children in secondary schools are now on their three-month summer holidays, with sunlight for 14 hours a day. If they do not have something to do such as a job, an activity or a summer camp, idle hands make for trouble. When a bunch of young fellows are together, no matter how good they are, it will lead to problems.

We need to examine this matter in the context of how we support local communities, be it with scout dens or youth clubs. It is money well spent. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, have a role to play in this, as does the Minister for State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews. I wish everybody well. I look forward to the more substantive sale of alcohol Bill which I see from the legislative paper is due at the end of the year. The measures and amendments outlined in this Bill make sense and their implementation and enforcement will be important.

I wish to share time with Deputy O'Connor.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill, which was presented by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who was ably assisted by his Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews. The Bill tackles one of the most serious scourges in our society and it will go a long way to challenge the roots of the problem with which we are faced but it will not tackle all of them. That is not the fault of the Minister.

Many older people had their first taste of alcohol at home when they were young and this phenomenon is often overlooked by society. No matter what laws are introduced, no law can dictate to people how they deal with alcohol in the home. This is a serious problem, which cannot be addressed in the legislation, but which must be addressed by society at large. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by my constituency colleague, Deputy Joe McHugh, about the availability of youth services. I take much of what he said on board because his background is in dealing with our youth. Many youth centres throughout the State have difficulty staying in existence and, as he correctly pointed out, many young people nowadays face significant disadvantages. However, if these centres were maintained and communities were encouraged to keep them open, young people would have many advantages. Voluntary participation must be encouraged.

Binge drinking and excessive alcohol consumption is a phenomenon affecting our society not only in large towns and cities, but also in rural areas like my own constituency in Donegal. This scourge has grown visibly over the past ten to 20 years and it affects both adults and young people. Ireland has one of the highest alcohol consumption levels in the EU, a statistic about which we should not be proud. It was found in 2006 that the average consumption of alcohol of each person aged 15 and over was 20.8 units per week but 20% of those surveyed did not drink and, therefore, the figure is higher.

There is a very evident binge drinking culture in Ireland among teenagers and those in their early 20s. It is now a case of when a teenager takes his or her first drink as opposed to whether a teenager takes a drink at all. It has become almost unacceptable among young people to resist the temptation of alcohol. A 2007 Eurobarometer survey found that 34% of Irish drinkers consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting compared to the EU average of 10%. These are stark figures by any standards. There are many reasons for this shift in attitude among young people, which is probably another day's work, but it is not possible to discuss our attitude to alcohol without referring to parental responsibility. While there is significant onus on us, as public representatives, to implement policy in this area in an effort to limit the issues relating to excess alcohol consumption, there is a similar onus on parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour and whereabouts. One only has to visit a local town in any constituency after a teenage disco to witness the effects of under age and binge drinking, which is an extremely unpleasant sight.

However, it is important to acknowledge the problem is not confined to young people. It is also causing havoc in the workplace among adults. A recent IBEC survey reported that alcohol and alcohol-related illnesses were cited by 12% of companies as a cause of short-term absenteeism from work by males and by 4% of companies as a cause of short-term absenteeism from work by females. The incidence of intoxication in a public place by both juveniles and adults has soared beyond belief in recent years. One only has to read a local newspaper to see the number of people before our courts or on court lists in any given week for alcohol-related offences. It has become a serious problem, which the Government does not take lightly, and I commend the Minister and his predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on their swift action on this matter. Practical changes included in the legislation will be effective.

I refer to a number of the Bill's features. The proposed reforms give effect to recommendations from the Government alcohol advisory group, which carried out an in-depth study of the issues surrounding excess alcohol consumption. The main effect of the legislation is to tackle the increased visibility and availability of alcohol, while strengthening measures to tackle anti-social behaviour. More power will be afforded to gardaí, in that they will be able remove alcohol from those in possession under the age of 18 in a place other than a place used as a private dwelling. This will enhance previous legislation, which makes it illegal for those aged under 18 to buy alcohol or consume alcohol in any place outside the home or in another person's home where they are present by right or with permission. The Garda will also be afforded the power to seize alcohol from any person where its presence is likely to result in annoyance, nuisance or breach of the peace. If there is any resistance during seizure of alcohol in these circumstances, gardaí will have the power to arrest and charge the individual with an offence. Fines will subsequently be imposed upon such individuals, with the maximum fine being €1,000. The Garda will welcome this legislation with open arms because members have great difficulty policing our streets under current legislation. This will give the force a firm hand and I welcome its introduction.

One of the major concerns of the advisory group was the significant increase in recent years in the number of outlets selling alcohol. Alcohol has never been more widely available. The number of licences issued for the sale of spirits and beer increased by approximately 70% between 2001 and 2007, with the number of wine off-licences almost trebling over the same period. The increase in the scale and frequency of alcohol promotions and price discounts, particularly in off-licences and large shopping outlets, is more worrying. These issues compelled the advisory group to recommend a restriction on the supply and visibility of alcohol in mixed trading premises. As a result, the Bill imposes a restriction on the sale of alcohol in off-licences and on-licences to the periods between 10.30 a.m. and 10 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sundays and St. Patrick's Day. This rightly abolishes the provision that permits the sale of alcohol from 7.30 a.m. in mixed trading premises such as supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations, thereby reducing the time alcohol is available in such premises by 29 hours per week, which is significant and must be welcomed.

No single measure or change in law will solve the problem of excessive alcohol consumption but the Bill goes some of the way towards tackling the issues surrounding the problem. A change in attitude is required. As a nation, we must tackle this together and society, as a whole, must bring about that change. We have never been more educated about the consequences of alcohol abuse, yet it is spiralling out of control. It is easy to point the finger at our youth but, as adults, we must lead by example and prove that responsible consumption of alcohol and a respect for alcohol is acceptable and fashionable in society.

I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008, complex legislation that is relevant to every community. Last night, I listened as Deputy Finian McGrath mentioned nearly every supermarket in Marino. While I will not do likewise in respect of Tallaght — that Deputy McHugh mentioned Tallaght in his contribution makes it easy for me to do so — Tallaght is no different than anywhere else in terms of this problem, a fact conveyed strongly during the debate.

I appreciate those in my constituency of Dublin South-West, particularly in Tallaght, who contacted me on this issue, including the local SuperValu and Centra supermarkets, as well as one of the theatre clubs in Dublin city, the Sin Theatre Bar. Such feedback is good. Like others, I have received much correspondence from and many representations by individuals.

We should compliment the current and previous Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputies Dermot Ahern and Brian Lenihan. The former has shown particular interest in the legislation and the latter signalled his intent in this respect. For some time, I have been impressed by the contribution made by the former Taoiseach and my fellow Dubliner, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to the debate. We all appreciate the contributions he has made — I received many e-mails concerning his recent article in the Irish Independent — and the issues he has raised.

We should remind ourselves that the Bill originated amid the desire to address what many viewed as the problem of under age and binge drinking. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, made a fair point, namely, young people are not the only people involved. We were all young once and everyone faced challenges. However, there are problems. With a few exceptions during my youth, I have tended to avoid drinking, but I am not a teetotaller. If this means I am leading a sad life, I apologise, but it has given me a perspective on the issue. People should be able to go out and enjoy themselves in bars or nightclubs or via purchasing alcohol at off-licences without causing problems. As politicians, we all know that, for many communities, it is an issue of young people in particular engaging in drinking and causing disruption after leaving pubs, nightclubs or local take-aways. These matters are being brought to the fore and require attention.

We all know of our communities' horror stories of crime and serious assaults. How often have we heard of murder cases in which alcohol has obviously played a considerable role? Everyone in society should be concerned about it. In terms of drinking, I am from a generation in which the John Wayne "The Quiet Man" image of Ireland was all the rage. It is our image abroad. While that is fair enough, we should try to correct the problem, which has recently become connected to crime and violence.

Deputy O'Mahony mentioned that one does not experience this abroad. I was impressed by his brave statement as a prominent GAA personality. I wish him well in that regard, at least until County Dublin meets County Mayo this year. He discussed advertising in the GAA, welcome comments given his status. The GAA must address those challenges.

Concerning below cost selling and selling in supermarkets, I have taken on board the issues brought to my attention by local supermarkets. A reasonable point was made, namely, one can go around many supermarkets and off-licences and discover that a can of beer is cheaper than a mineral can. Something must be wrong with the system. The Minister is correct to listen to concerns in this regard. While every Deputy looks forward to more substantive legislation to address the issue, signalling this clear problem to the Minister is pertinent to the Bill before the House.

A number of Deputies discussed underage drinking and IDs. While a national ID system is a sensitive issue and incurs calls from civil liberties groups, I routinely carry ID just in case I meet someone who does not know me while I am travelling around my constituency.

That could not happen.

It does. Clear consideration should be given to the question of IDs. People who do not look their ages go into off-licences and pubs. We should support the obligation to present a proper ID. The Minister is considering this matter, a nettle that has not always been grasped but should be now.

I will not criticise young people, as we were all young once. During my adult life, I have spent a great deal of time as a youth worker. I often mention that my last real job was with the National Youth Federation, for which reason I sympathise with those tackling these issues. I will not blame young people, but we should be responsible and I am not afraid to state that more control should be brought to bear on IDs.

Many supermarkets in my constituency and elsewhere are concerned by some aspects of the legislation. For example, they are confused by the temporary closure orders and the question of objections to the renewal of licences. Physical problems are, according to supermarkets, presented by the Bill's measures in respect of the structural separation of alcohol products from other products in mixed use trading premises. I hope the Minister will continue to examine this issue. In recent weeks, efforts have been made to consider certain issues that have been brought to his attention and he has made relevant announcements. As the Bill moves onto Committee Stage and amendments are tabled, much attention will be paid to those issues.

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

The nightclub industry has concerns regarding how the legislation will affect its operations. All Deputies have received representations in respect of theatre licences.

While I support the aim of the legislation, we must remember the point from which we started, namely, an attempt to address the under-age and binge drinking problem in society. The Bill's remit is wider, but other issues are of concern to interest groups and we should listen carefully to their comments and accommodate them where possible. We are all trying to achieve the enactment of good legislation which will enable us to make progress on the issues that are of concern to our communities.

I wish to share time with Deputy Catherine Byrne.

That is agreed.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, although it is not the first Bill dealing with the issue of alcohol on which I have spoken. It seems we have a great deal of law covering the sale and excessive consumption of alcohol, drink driving and so on, but there is a lack of enforcement. One of the areas in which there is a serious lack enforcement is maintaining public order. Public order offences generally, although not exclusively, tend to be associated with underage drinking, certainly in the past decade or so. We tended not to take such breaches seriously. There was a tolerance and acceptance of it; people took the view, "sure they are only drinking like we do ourselves and they have to learn somewhere". They have learned that in the fields, open spaces and laneways and have caused major problems in terms of intimidating and frightening people, particularly old people. The problem has escalated to more serious vandalism and crime. I hope this legislation indicates an intention to be serious about stamping out public order offences, particularly when children are young. It is unforgivable that children as young as 12 are out drinking, particularly now in the summer when the weather has improved.

Other concerns related to excessive drinking include health and other societal issues, but the issue in question is specifically public order. I heard the Minister say during a radio interview yesterday that it is intended to codify all the legislation in this area. I welcome that move. I presume it will also include the legislation on the alcohol limit for drivers. The raft of legislation in this area is complex and all we are doing is making many lawyers rich. We are producing bad legislation because some provisions are inconsistent and, in many cases, contradictory. It is probably not surprising that the gardaí do not enforce many of our laws; there are so many of them.

The raft of legislation in this area must cause a major headache for gardaí right up to the Judiciary. Despite that, great frustration in this regard is experienced at local level. Councillors, in particular, bear the brunt of the dissatisfaction of members of the public over the apparent inability of the Garda to stamp out unacceptable social behaviour. Some years ago we were told the solution was to pass more by-laws to ensure that people were not permitted to drink in parks and open spaces and that the Garda would be empowered to act on foot of such by-laws. However, as soon as those by-laws were passed, there was some other barrier to enforcement of the law.

I remember in the 1990s, prior to my time in this House, when we thought we had cracked this problem with the introduction of legislation under which the Garda were given powers to move on crowds, but that too failed to fulfil its promise. Now we are again examining more measures. It remains to be seen if these measures are the ones we need. The nub of the problem as to why we have so much legislation and yet the problem does not seem to have been solved is that we do not know the cause of why Irish people drink so much. Clearly, we drink more than other nations. There is no gainsaying that, but until we know why that is the case it is hard to find a solution to the problem.

Whatever the cause, there can be no tolerance of crime, vandalism or any other drink-related anti-social behaviour. The problem is escalating because we have been so tolerant of it in the past. It is now endemic. Members, whether they come from the most rural or most urban area, report that the problems experienced are more or less the same. There must be zero tolerance of drunken behaviour. Whatever damage people do to themselves in their own homes, there can be no tolerance for drunken behaviour once it begins to impact on the quality of other people's lives and their right to enjoy a peaceful and non-threatening environment outdoors in parks and cities, as well as in their homes, because people are often attacked in their homes. I feel sorry for people who live in end houses because they seem to be persecuted by marauding gangs at night, pelting stones at their houses and breaking windows. We hear heartbreaking stories from people who suffer such anti-social behaviour week in week out. In the period between summer and Hallowe'en, life is hell for people who live in an end house or near an open space or laneway. To the extent that this legislation seeks to enforce the peace and maintain public order, I welcome it and I hope that this time we get it right.

There is a second stream to this Bill, involving measures that fall broadly into the prohibition area. They do not quite prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but they go down the road of prohibition, making alcohol more difficult to get, reducing the hours premises are open, locking it away and making it dearer. These measures are not aimed only at underage drinkers, but will impact on all responsible adults. I have serious doubts as to whether these measures will have any impact on the problem we are trying to address. Perhaps initially there will be a drop in sales but people will quickly adjust to altered closing hours and so on. I suspect all we will achieve is inconvenience for responsible drinkers and expense for retailers. I make this point not to speak on behalf of any vested interest, but because prohibition has never worked and I do not believe these prohibitive measures will either, particularly when they are imposed on a population which has a predisposition towards drinking to excess.

When one examines the evidence here and elsewhere, it is difficult to see that making alcohol less available or more difficult to get will reduce excessive drinking. In countries with almost complete and easy availability of alcohol at any time and in any premises, they do not drink like we do, yet in countries where there is a strict regime of access to alcohol, there are serious alcohol problems. I am thinking of some of the Nordic countries. Neither does the price of alcohol seem to determine how much we drink. Again, the experience here and elsewhere shows a correlation between cheap drink and relaxed drinking habits and between dear drink and serious alcohol problems. I am aware representations were made by various retailers, but we must be careful not to be drawn into arguments about below low cost selling and so on and then make decisions based on arguments that are really about competition between different types of outlets, whether it be the multiples, the low cost German retailers or RGDATA type members.

I do not know what are the cultural influences that cause us to drink more or how we can counteract them, but I suspect that going down the prohibition route is not the way to go. However, there is one group in respect of whom I most certainly support an absolute and complete prohibition and that is underage drinkers. This is where we can make a change by at least postponing access to alcohol. Such a change might allow their brain cells to develop normally, even up to 18 years of age, and might reduce anti-social behaviour and that ultimately might produce a cultural change if young people can be diverted into other appropriate forms of entertainment. It is absolutely unforgivable to sell alcohol to minors or buy it for them. We should pursue addressing that issue to the end. To buy alcohol for minors amounts to child abuse. No measures to tackle such abuse are too stringent or extreme.

It is clear that our children have absolutely no difficulty getting alcohol. We see them in our green spaces, parks and laneways drinking all summer long between now and Hallowe'en. Their conduct is characterised by drunkenness, raucous behaviour, open fornication in the fields, vandalism and joining rampaging mobs who terrorise innocent citizens and leave scenes of litter, broken glass and condoms in places where we are supposed to able to bring small children to play. It is intolerable and citizens rightly demand a better standard of enforcement against such behaviour. The tragedy is that in many cases the children we see drinking at all hours of the day and night are as young as 12 or 13.

It is not only young people who engage in such behaviour, and I do not want to overstate that it is always young people who are involved, but too many of them do engage in it and it is the worst possible start in life for them. Most of them survive having engaged in such behaviour and become responsible citizens, but too many are swallowed up by this culture of irresponsible, brutish drunken behaviour and lose respect even for themselves, never mind others.

The one measure that can stop underage drinking and is supported by evidence throughout the world, which is absent from the Bill, is a national identity card system. It is incomprehensible that this one, fail-safe measure continues to be resisted. All the arguments against such a scheme — that it is a right-wing proposal that is restrictive of personal freedoms and so on — have been refuted. On the contrary, it protects personal freedoms and may protect our children. There is a myriad of good reasons for the use of identification cards, such as ease of travel, improved efficiency of administration of all State services, reduced fraud and, crucially, as an anti-terrorism tool. However, none of these is more important than the compelling need to protect our children from excessive and unsupervised drinking.

The existing voluntary scheme involving the Garda identification card is an absolute farce. It has no standing among young people and offers no protection either to them or to alcohol retailers. Every teenager in the State knows how to acquire a fake identification card. This has been the position for years and it has spawned a huge industry for replacement birth certificates and passports, with a sudden increase in the number of lost passports. There are undoubtedly other dubious spin-offs of which we are not even aware.

The Bill introduces the concept of test purchasing. I have no objection to this provision, which seems a reasonable proposal in the absence of an effective identification card scheme. However, it is an acknowledgement that shopkeepers and off-licence owners can be fooled and that the current Garda identification card scheme offers no protection.

We could stop the sale of alcohol to young people overnight via the introduction of an official, non-reproducible card containing a computer chip with personal information. This Bill is concerned with curtailing anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol, most of which involves underage drinking. The single most efficient measure in this regard is the introduction of an official identification card. It would leave sales outlets, which receive so much criticism, with absolutely no excuses. I am confident such a scheme will eventually be introduced, but this Bill represents a missed opportunity to do so. We cannot continue to ignore a measure that would undoubtedly be effective.

The Bill contains measures I welcome, some of them dealing with inadequacies in earlier legislation. I welcome the provisions which give gardaí powers to seize alcohol and to anticipate public order offences by requiring offenders to desist from drinking where the consumption of alcohol can reasonably be expected to lead to a crime. The absence of legislation allowing for this type of anticipation of crime was one of the issues which tied the hands of gardaí in the past in regard to public order offences. There was no point in residents reporting incidents of underage drinking and anti-social behaviour because it was necessary for gardaí to witness the offence being perpetrated in order for action to be taken. This will be a useful measure until such times as gangs of young drinkers realise they cannot continue to behave with impunity and that the Garda, with the co-operation of local communities, is serious about enforcing the law.

I welcome the outbreak of common sense in respect of the amendments which the Minister has either introduced himself or accepted from the Opposition. These include the changes in regard to the sale of wine, the operation of early houses and the code of practice measures that will be implemented on a trial basis by retailers.

The wide availability of alcohol in our society has led to many social problems. Easy access to alcohol in shops, petrol stations and supermarkets is contributing to underage and binge drinking. Last year's Eurobarometer survey found that 34%of Irish drinkers engage in binge drinking more than once a week, compared to an EU average of 10%. This illustrates the extent of the problem in this country.

Walking into most shops, the first item that greets one is the display of wine or beer. I welcome the proposal regarding the separation of alcohol products from the general retail area. One often sees supermarket shoppers putting alcohol in their trolleys before they even look at the food. I would go further and argue that alcohol displays in shop windows should be outlawed.

I support the proposals to restrict the hours of sale of off-licences to between 10.30 a.m. and 10 p.m. This will help to reduce the number of public order offences. However, limiting opening hours for licensed premises on Sunday nights will not go far in solving the problems associated with alcohol abuse. According to the Garda, Sunday nights are usually quiet.

A shortcoming of the Bill is the failure to provide for staggered closing times for nightclubs. It makes little sense to allow customers of all such venues to emerge onto the streets at the same time, particularly in Dublin's busy city centre. This will serve only to facilitate anti-social behaviour and make policing more difficult. However, I welcome the proposal to increase the provision of closed circuit television systems on busy streets. I also welcome the Minister's announcement that early houses will not be negatively affected by this legislation. The early houses located near the quays in Dublin have been serving alcohol to dockers and shift workers for many generations and do not represent any threat to public order.

The increase in licences granted in recent years suggests that profit-making comes before respect for people’s health and well-being. Between 2003 and 2005, the number of shops selling alcohol increased by 35%. However, in spite of the increased availability of alcohol, we are doing nothing to shake off our reputation as binge drinkers. We now have 4,300 off-licences in the State, or one for every 750 adults. In my own local area, there are 19 licensed premises within five minutes of each other. We have made alcohol so easily accessible that we should not be shocked at the extent of anti-social behaviour in our communities.

I welcome the move to apply the same rules to wine retailers' licences as pertain to beer and sprit licences. I agree that all types of alcohol sales should require District Court certificates. Deputy Mitchell and other Members spoke about the absence of an effective identification card scheme. Many underage people gain access to nightclubs using another person's identification card. This is a serious problem and action must be taken to curb it.

I am disappointed that the Bill does not implement expert recommendations on the labelling of alcohol products in a manner similar to the labelling of tobacco. Messages warning of the potential damage to health caused by alcohol would encourage people to reconsider the volume of alcohol they consume. It is particularly important that young people are made aware of the health issues.

As a parent, I welcome the provision allowing gardaí to seize alcohol from individuals who appear to be under 18 years of age. The introduction of on-the-spot fines for people found to be intoxicated or disorderly in a public place is a move in the right direction. However, similar penalties already exist but seem to have been forgotten. The State has an important role to play in ensuring licensing laws are enforced and that public order legislation is adequate and effective. Garda juvenile liaison officers do a great job but they cannot be made fully responsible for the behaviour of our young people. The bottom line is that individuals and parents must be responsible for their own use or abuse of alcohol. I am frequently shocked to observe young people intoxicated as they leave their own homes. I am confident they have not obtained this alcohol from a pub or off-licence but rather that it is freely available to them in their homes.

At the end of the summer, 15 and 16 year olds who have obtained their junior certificate results will want to celebrate their success. We must ensure there is a range of alcohol-free venues in which children can socialise. It is wrong that young people going into these alcohol venues are charged outrageous entrance fees and between €4 and €5 for a bottle of water or soft drinks. This is a growing problem that needs to be addressed. Given that we speak about the need for areas in which children can enjoy themselves this is one that should be examined.

Debate adjourned.