I move amendment No. 19:
In page 12, line 4, to delete "sections" and substitute "section".
This is a purely technical amendment to correct a misprint in the Bill.
Vol. 1 No. 7
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 12, line 4, to delete "sections" and substitute "section".
This is a purely technical amendment to correct a misprint in the Bill.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 12, line 13, to delete "shall" and substitute "may".
This is an important issue and I have mixed views on it. I endorse fully what the Minister wants to do in amending the Intoxicating Liquor Acts to provide for the temporary closure of premises where the offence of selling drink to underage people occurs. On a previous amendment I said there should be a labelling system so that sales from off-licences and on-licences can be identified in order to combat under-age drinking. I wish to assist the Minister in this regard, but also wish to debate the issue of a mandatory closure penalty, which is very severe and one we should reflect upon before providing for it.
New section 36A(2) under section 13 states:
Where the holder of any licence for the sale of intoxicating liquor by retail in any premises is convicted by the District Court of an offence to which this section applies, the Court shall, in addition to any penalty imposed, make an order ... for the closure of the premises concerned or any part thereof for a period-
(a) not exceeding 7 days in respect of a first such offence, or
(b) of not less than 7 and not more than 30 days in respect of a second or any subsequent such offence.
It means that where sale to a person who is under age is proven, there is no option but for the court to impose a closure order. Subsection (2)(a) says “not exceeding 7 days in respect of a first such offence”. Therefore, it could be for a shorter period. We should reflect on this as the vintners’ associations certainly regard it as an extraordinarily onerous burden to place on them. It is a very difficult area to police, something nobody would disregard.
People have given testimony about the law in the US where anybody under 21 years of age does not think of going into a premises because the penalties which are placed on the sellers of alcohol to those who are under age are very clearcut and draconian. Maybe this is the position towards which we should be moving, although there is an irony in that it is probably much easier to get a revolver in the US than a can of beer. Notwithstanding that, the US seems to have an effective bar on young people drinking. Perhaps the Minister is correct in what he is doing. I would like to tease it out a little more because the notion of an automatic penalty is very serious.
We all think of illustrative stories. A very good friend of mine was asked by a friend, who owned a bar in Chicago, to manage the bar and to go to Louisiana to manage a bar there during an expo. One night two police officers came to the premises, walked behind the bar, handcuffed her and took her to jail because it was alleged that a minor had received drink in the bar which she was managing. It was a shocking experience for the woman, but it underscores the severity with which the US authorities regard the sale of drink to those who are under age. There is a certain tolerance level here. In every household youngsters are given a sip of drink and they have a familiarity with it, which I think is not a bad thing. There should not be a mystique associated with drink and it should not be absolutely taboo until a magic age, after which there is a licence to indulge and over-indulge. A healthy attitude, and an experience and understanding of drink through a normal development, results in a more balanced attitude to drink.
I must bow to the experience of the Minister in all of this since he has first hand experience of growing up in a pub. I have a slight reservation about a mandatory order in this regard and I would welcome the views of the Minister as to why he reached the decision that a mandatory procedure is required.
Deputy Howlin makes a very reasonable case. Currently the law is straightforward. If a person is charged with serving drink to minors or those who are under age he or she can put up the argument that they reasonably believed the person served was over 18 years of age. The court must accept that argument if the person can establish it with any degree of certainty because, clearly, a case must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Everybody accepts it is difficult for a person to tell whether an individual is over 18 years of age, particularly in the case of teenage girls it can be extremely difficult. In those circumstances the Garda is finding it extremely difficult to obtain convictions against the very small minority of those in the licensed trade who serve those who are under age.
The question which then arose was how best to solve the problem, level the playing pitch for the Garda and tackle the scourge of under-age drinking through law enforcement. It was clear that the existing defence had to go because once it remained it was becoming more difficult if not impossible to obtain a conviction. In getting rid of that we had to decide what to introduce in order to give the person serving - supermarket owners, publicans and their staff - an even break. We came up with a section of an Act, enacted in 1988 when the licensing laws were last amended, which provided for the introduction of a voluntary identification card by way of regulation.
That power had existed for the best part of 12 years but was never exercised. In April last year, I signed the necessary regulation to bring identification cards into force for the first time in the history of the State. At that stage, a 19 year old person who wished to have a drink and about whose age doubts may have arisen, was at liberty to go into a Garda station, pay a nominal £5 fee and produce his or her birth certificate and photograph to be sent to the Phoenix Park after which an ID card, which was more or less tamper-proof, was issued. If that person now goes into a public house to obtain an alcoholic drink and is challenged about his or her age, he or she need only produce the card. The intention in introducing this regulation in April 1999 was to ensure that there was a lead-in period. To date, only 10,000 cards have been obtained countrywide.
Where are they available?
They are available from Garda stations on the production of the documentation and fee outlined above. The cards are produced in the Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.
Was any organised promotion undertaken in regard to the cards?
The regulation was introduced in advance of this legislation to give people in the trade an opportunity to become accustomed to the idea. In spite of some publicity carried out at the time, there was not any major take-up of the card. Deputy Howlin is correct in suggesting that in order to promote the card, a proper advertising campaign is required. Once this legislation is passed, I intend to organise such a campaign.
When this legislation is enacted, if a publican, supermarket owner or anyone else who dispenses or serves drink has a doubt about a person's age, they will only need to ask for the card. If a person does not have the card, the strong advice is that he or she should not be served because if such people are served, publicans etc. will subject themselves to the penalties outlined in this legislation. There will be mandatory closure on conviction but it should be stressed that it will not be a mandatory seven day closure. It would depend on all of the circumstances of a case as to precisely what penalties would be imposed. Obviously, the prosecutor would outline the circumstances of the case and a court would decide on the duration of the closure and whether that would apply to part or all of the premises up to a maximum of seven days. A closure order could conceivably be for five minutes, half an hour or half a day.
That would be unlikely.
It might be unlikely but if extenuating circumstances were to exist, the court would have that power. The court would also have the power to decide that a lounge should be closed but that the public bar could remain open. It may appear to some that the court's power goes a bit too far in this regard but we must examine it in the context of law which existed previously which, in truth, was ineffective.
There is no doubt but that the incidence of under-age drinking has increased significantly. Reference was made on Second Stage to the fact that drink is probably a greater problem now among young people than drug abuse. It is a fact that the age at which people present themselves at alcohol treatment centres has fallen dramatically. One can only infer from that that people are accessing drink at a much younger age. More to the point, they are abusing alcohol at a much younger age. We need only look at the situation which prevails on the streets of every city, town and village in this country on the night of the junior certificate results. Parents have contacted me and the Department to say that this night is a nightmare for them because their young teenage sons and daughters come home helplessly drunk. This is a serious problem which is increasing all the time.
We have been offered an opportunity here to make a difference in the fight against under-age drinking and we can either avail of it or dismiss it. There are no alternatives. Let me outline an extreme case. If, for example, every person charged with an offence in relation to under-age drinking were to say that the premises was crowded on the night in question, the section being proposed here would not be worth the paper it is written on because it would not be possible to obtain convictions. It is not as if the licence will be taken from the licence holder or that they will not receive sufficient warning. I am not saying that this problem is widespread throughout the trade because it is not but there is a minority of cases where this is occurring, places which are, to a large extent, known to the Garda.
If we are to make a meaningful effort in regard to under-age drinking, this section should be implemented as it stands. If, on the other hand, the sanction were to become discretionary - I note that Deputy Howlin is in two minds about this - then, it would be pointless. In the final analysis, licence holders who uphold the law will not have anything to fear but those who flout it will feel its full force.
The Minister has made a compelling argument which has gone a long way towards convincing me to favour his proposal. If I could take his final statement at face value, that those who obey the law will have nothing to fear, I would fully support his proposal. However, people are concerned about errors or mistakes which could arise. Many licence holders are family people who are dependent on the trade and even the effect on reputation which could arise from a closure order could do long-term damage, aside from the immediate impact of the closure. I am minded to side with the Minister because the objective here is a worthy one but I am fearful that unforeseen or undesirable consequences could arise.
On the subsequent offences issue, if two, three or four under-age people were to be served alcohol on a single occasion, could that constitute a multiple offence which would automatically require a closure of more than seven days?
Theoretically, serving four young people on a single occasion could constitute the one act of under-age drinking. I would anticipate that the Garda would take action in respect of the strongest case and that they would explain to the court that there was a relatively widespread problem in regard to under-age drinking on the premises. Whether a problem was widespread or once-off would be important in the context of what sanction the court might impose. If it were a once-off occasion whereby a person was served by mistake, I believe the court would take a very lenient view of that. However, if several young people were served alcoholic drink, the court would take a far more serious view. It is important that the circumstances of the case would be outlined and we have provided for that.
Yes, the circumstances and any other information the court may consider to be of assistance in dealing with the case is provided for in subsection (3). On balance, I am willing to support the Minister's proposal. I couch my support in that little bit of concern that people, through inadvertence or a mistake on a night, might suffer a consequence that might be very damaging to them. However, since the objective of tackling under-age drinking is such a worthy one, I withdraw my amendment.
I move amendmentNo. 21:
In page 14, before section 14, to insert the following new section:
"14.-The Act of 1988 is hereby amended by the substitution of the following section for section 40:
'40.-(1) The Minister shall provide for a national identity card to be administered by an Garda Síochána. Each identity card shall display the date of birth, the revenue and social insurance number and a photograph of the person to whom the card is issued.
(2) A licensee or a person authorised by the licensee may refuse to sell alcohol to any person who fails on request to produce the official Garda Síochána-issued identity card.'.".
On the issue of under-age drinking - the age threshold is decreasing - and trying to include as many controls as possible to deal with a problem of epidemic proportions, forgery of identify cards is rife and can become a thriving industry. These cards can be forged expertly. It can be very difficult to tell the difference between the genuine article and a forgery. They can be bar- coded, laminated, reproduced, photographs can be switched and so on. Sections 40 and 41 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, had two provisions dealing with age cards which the Minister brought into vogue last year. Age cards are now available from Garda stations throughout the country. However, this system is rather patchy and is not uniform. A number of people use them but this is not being applied on a uniform basis. These are also being forged, even though there is a specific section dealing with penalties in relation to the forgery of what is a Garda document.
We need to tighten up on the ID card system to ensure it is as universal as possible. This is why I have proposed my amendment which reads, "The Minister shall provide for a national identity card to be administered by an Garda Síochána [which is the case at present]. Each identity card shall display the date of birth, the revenue and social insurance number...". The reason I included the revenue and social insurance number is that each teenager at 16 years of age automatically obtains in the post an RSI card and RSI number which will apply in relation to insurance, social welfare, income tax and so on. Obviously this will be based in a national data bank and by including the RSI number, one will be able to check back to the data bank. We should tighten the system as much as possible and include a photograph and RSI number.
When drafting this amendment, I was tempted to include one's blood group but I felt that might be going too far. However, everyone is now blood grouped at birth and this could also be useful if one were involved in accident and a blood transfusion was required. I do not think any measure would be overly stringent in trying to curb the plague of under-age drinking which is of epidemic proportions. This is the reason I tabled this amendment which also includes the wording, "A licensee or a person authorised by the licensee may refuse to sell alcohol to any person who fails on request to produce the official Garda Síochána-issued identity card".
One of the grievances of publicans is the threat of temporary closure which is mandatory. I support this measure. Their second grievance is the removal of the defence of reasonable belief. What I am attempting to do is to include a provision whereby a licensee could demand that where there is a doubt in relation to one's age - it is very difficult to discern between a 16 year old and 19 year old - the licensee would, as part of his substitution for the removal of the defence of reasonable belief, be in a position to demand the Garda ID card. If the Garda ID card is not produced, the licensee should be in a position to refuse to serve that person. This would also ensure that as many young people as possible would avail of the £5 option and obtain the official Garda ID card from a Garda station. A university card, youth club card and so on should not be accepted or used as a defence for a publican who tries to defend his case having served alcohol to someone who is under age.
At face value, one might be inclined to accept Deputy Higgins's amendment. However, on consideration of it, I cannot do so. I acknowledge there is a lot of merit in what the Deputy is proposing but I foresee a number of difficulties. First, the national identity card is meant for a person who is relatively close to 18 years of age or over that age but whose age might be doubtful from the perspective of the person serving him or her. If one were to extend it to people of all ages, one would be insisting that a 19, 20 or 21 year old who might have no wish to purchase alcoholic drink would be obliged to have an identity card. We must consider how intrusive that might be. If we take it a step further where everyone must have an identity card irrespective of his or her age, and if the licensee or the person authorised by the licensee may refuse to sell alcohol to any person who fails on request to produce that card, then I can envisage a situation where, for example, somebody as old as myself could be refused purely on the basis that I did not have the card with me. We can extend that a little further by taking minority groups in society against whom a person might have some form of prejudice. This excuse could be utilised in order to stop that person gaining entrance to the premises. I do not think this is the intention behind Deputy Higgins's amendment but that excuse could be used. I have no doubt there is a small minority of people who might utilise the provision in that way.
I am aware the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs has plans to ensure everyone has a identity number. However, the carrot and stick approach being taken may on balance be the best way forward. This means that any young person about whose age there might be a doubt, who is over the age of 18 and who does not wish to purchase alcoholic drink, will not have to have a card. The first advantage is that those who wish to purchase alcoholic drink will be obliged to have a card, otherwise they can be refused if the publican believes they are under age or there is a doubt about their age. The second advantage is that a publican, owner of a supermarket, off-licence or whatever who might be minded not to allow access to minorities for no good reason will not be in a position to do so if the card is not mandatory. In other words, the fact that an individual has not got a card cannot be used in a discriminatory fashion if it is obvious the person is over age.
On balance, I believe the best way forward is what I have suggested and in those circumstances I regret I must reject Deputy Higgins's amendment. The national voluntary card scheme contains all the robust protections required to make it effective. It is a high quality card which has in-built security features against tampering. It is true there currently may be forgeries but I am assured that once this card is recognised generally it will be relatively tamper proof.
Has the Minister been lobbied by the Vintners' Federation of Ireland in this regard? The briefing material Members received from the VFI stressed the point that if the defence of reasonable belief is removed an accompanying safeguard must be put in place. The federation suggested a national mandatory ID scheme. A publican should be allowed to refuse to serve someone who fails to furnish ID. Carrying ID should be optional but a young person who wishes to prove he or she is over 18 years could carry one. This would protect the publican while making a gesture towards curbing under-age drinking.
Deputy Higgins was a little late for the start of the meeting. I have explained that the national ID card scheme which is discretionary under the 1988 Act will be promoted heavily when this legislation is passed. A major promotional campaign of the scheme will take place and people will have the option of obtaining the card at their local Garda station on presentation of a birth certificate, photograph and a nominal fee which will be sent to Garda headquarters. The card will be forwarded to the Garda station to be given to the applicant. There will be a major promotion of the scheme with this objective.
I welcome that. Will the Minister look at the format of the card? Features such as an RSI number would give a reference which could be checked. Despite all the safeguards, cards are being forged. Ingenuity knows no bound.
I will look at that and see if something can be done.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 15, before section 15, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:
"15.-Part lV of the Act of 1988 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 41:
'41A.-(1) The holder of a licence in respect of licensed premises and the secretary of a club registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904, to 2000, shall display in a conspicuous place in the licensed premises or club premises concerned a notice containing a statement of the offences provided for in this Part.
(2) The notice shall be in a form or forms prescribed by regulations made by the Minister.
(3) A person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding-
(a) £250 in the case of a first offence, or
(b) £500 in the case of a second or any subsequent offence.
(4) Regulations under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as practicable after they are made and, if a resolution annulling the regulations is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the regulations are laid before it, the regulations shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.
(5) The provisions (relating to the display of notices) of subsections (4) and (6) of section 34 and subsections (3) and (6) of sections 35 and 36 are repealed.
(6) This section shall come into operation on such day as the Minister may by order appoint.'.".
Amendment No. 22 introduces a section to the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, and is designed to strengthen the law further in relation to under-age drinking. Amendment No. 23 extends to clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts important provisions of the 1988 Act relating to under-age drinking.
Amendment No. 22 will consolidate the current law and the requirement to display notices under Part lV of the Act of 1988 relating to under-age offences. In the 1988 Act, section 34(4) relates to the display of notices in relation to children, section 35(3) relates to the enforcement of exemption orders banning people under 18 and section 36(3) relates to banning people under 18 from off-licences.
There is no requirement in existing law for notices to the effect that it is an offence to sell or supply liquor to under-age persons or that it is an offence for under-age persons to demand liquor. These are obvious omissions and the amendment seeks to rectify them. I propose that the form of notice be prescribed by order. This allows a certain flexibility in that subsequent changes to the notice, should they be required, would not need to be provided for in primary legislation. The notice will be in a form that would apply to all outlets and will set out the law and the offences in clear language.
The purpose of amendment No. 23 is to bring registered clubs within the same regime in relation to offences for under-age drinking as apply to licensed premises. Under present law - section 42 of the 1988 Act - a registered club must contain in its rules the following: that no excisable liquor shall be sold or supplied in the club premises to any person under the age of 18 years. However, unlike licensed premises, there is no range of provisions which apply to clubs to cater for under-age offences. Notwithstanding the fact that a registered club is not a licensed premises, it is considered appropriate that where a club is in breach of its own rules there should be appropriate sanctions that can take effect immediately. Many club premisese are frequented by young people and it is desirable that young people and adults alike are left in no doubt as to the law.
I feel sure Members of the commitee will be in a position to support these sensible amendments.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 15, before section 15, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:
"16.-Sections 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36A (inserted by this Act) of the Act of 1988 shall apply in relation to a club registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 2000, as if any references in those provisions to the holder of a licence and to licensed premises were references to the secretary of such a club and to that club’s premises and with any other necessary modifications.”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 16, subsection (1), between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:
"(iii) the floor area of the new premises is not in excess of 2,000 square feet.
This amendment relates to the extinguishing of licences and the granting of licences in new jurisdictions. I have been lobbied strongly by publicans, particulary in Cork, Galway and Dublin, who fear that in the transfer of a licence from a remote rural area to a large urban area the licence might be transferred from a standard sized pub of 400 or 500 square feet to a super barn or massive mecca of 20,000 square feet. It is feared that these massive new emporiums will damage existing businesses and have an undesirable social aspect.
Publicans have lobbied to have a size restriction placed on premises to which licences have been transferred. I have explained to them that planning restrictions could deal with thisproblem. However, publicans have lobbied on this issue and that is the reason for this amendment.
I support the idea in Deputy Higgins's amendment. The creation of drinking barns in Dublin has altered the norm of drinking and the social atmosphere of the pub. The transfer of a multiplicity of small pub licences into Dublin might result in a plethora of these large drinking barns.
My initial reaction is to deal with this matter through the planning rather than the licensing process. However, the Government has, for example, taken action on a social need basis regarding out of town supermarkets because of the damage they do to the hearts of towns. A size limit has been imposed on out of town supermarkets. The amendment, therefore, is not unprecedented although it is crude, as a weapon.
Planning applications for pubs in Dublin are often objected to in areas where planners had envisaged a pub as part of a group of small retail outlets.
Yes, neighbourhood centres. Communities often oppose the provision of public houses in such places. It can be difficult to provide a facility which is needed and wanted but which many people do not want to have next to them. There are many facilities of that nature.
The amendment is useful in addressing this issue. If this is not the most effective mechanism to deal with it, does the Minister have an alternative?
The proposed amendment is one which I cannot support. It seeks to limit the size of a new licensed premises in an arbitrary manner and only in certain circumstances. The amendment is, in fact, a protectionist measure designed to protect existing publicans who may fear competition from substantial new outlets.
I have made it a postive element of the new licensing arrangements that existing licensees will not be able to object to the grant of a new licence on the basis of the effect such a premises would have on the trade of existing premises in any locality. To do so would be to ensure that no premises would be capable of being established in areas of need. In that context I see no merit in the present amendment. It would have the same effect in that while existing licensees in an area would be able to increase the size of their premises new entrants to the trade would not and would therefore suffer a competitive disadvantage. If I were to accept the argument that a potential licensee who extinguishes a licence should be statutorily constrained as to the size of the premises he or she wishes to construct, should we not also debar existing licensees who currently operate small pubs from increasing the size of those pubs? Many publicans in our cities and towns have extended their existing premises to meet a demand. We should not exclude new entrants from doing the same. The size of any new licensed premises is best determined in the context of planning and market forces considerations and therefore I agree with the expressed view of Deputy Howlin that this may be "a crude weapon".
While I believe the amendment is protectionist, I know Deputies are concerned about the growth of "superpubs" and the undesirability of this development. This may be related, in some cases, to the inflexibility of the existing licensing system. That is part of the answer. There is a certain market, particularly among the 18 to 35 age cohort, for such premises - it is not just a case of the bigger the better but the louder the better also - where there is a variety of bars offering different forms of entertainment and opportunities for social interaction in different parts of the premises.
Why did we not go on a fact-finding mission to these premises before proceeding with the Bill?
We can arrange that once the Bill is passed.
It will be too late then.
I will be glad to participate in it——
We would not be able to hear each other.
——but whether the clerk of the committee is prepared to foot the bill is another matter.
We could rig up some committee entertainment allowance.
The changes in the licensing system which will follow the enactment of this Bill will address the true market situation where a market need is identified by permitting greater mobility of licences from over-provided for and mainly rural areas to locations where there is a demonstrable need for such licences. Once the provisions of this legislation regarding the licensing of premises are implemented, there will be a greater number of licensed premises in areas of greatest need. This should result in opportunities for the establishment of the more intimate type of premises which some Deputies and older customers might prefer. I would not be confident, however, that is what will be demanded in all circumstances.
The difficulty here is that there are a number of market forces to be taken into account, of that there is no question. As I said, some people just love noise. They are normally in the 18 to 35 year old group, although judging from my experience at home, one does not have to be 18 to love noise; one can be a lot younger. It is really horses for courses. The objective of the exercise in the broad thrust of this legislation is to liberalise the licensing regime, such as it is, to the extent that we can, and I believe we have succeeded in doing that.
I estimate there are about 600 dormant licences currently in the country, in other words, they are not being used at all. I anticipate that many of those will hopefully end up in areas of greatest need. There is also the possibility under this legislation that a person whose pub is not doing well in County Mayo, for example - although I heard all pubs were doing well there - would be able to transfer his or her pub to Tallaght or——
The licence, whatever about the pub.
How stands the amendment?
The Minister is saying that market forces allow the regulatory authorities, planning agency and, in this case, the local council to decide——
Horses for courses.
--but I would prefer if the Minster would at least reserve to himself or the Garda authorities some say in respect of this aspect of it. Would he be prepared to contemplate an amendment to the effect that the floor area of the new premises shall not be disproportionately excessive to that of the extinguished premises, in other words, a loose interpretation of it rather than, as he said, a specific crude instrument of actually defining a maximum square footage.
Very tiny places could have licences.
A shibeen in Mayo, for example, whose licence is transferred could suddenly become a 20,000 or 30,000 square foot premises.
Not without a very good bank manager. I prefer to leave the floor area and all of that business out of the licensing laws and in with the Department of the Environment and Local Government where it properly belongs. It was Deputy Howlin who said it could be regarded it as a crude weapon. It is because we are introducing planning legislation into a licensing Bill which is being put forward by my Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Licences have always been determined in terms of square footage and——
There was provision in the 1988 Bill for restaurants regarding the floor area and my personal opinion is that it made no sense and it is getting the bullet here.
It is daft.
I agree with Deputy Howlin that it is daft. I would caution against bringing square footage and all of that into this business. We have enough troubles.
I think the Minister is right.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 16, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) Subsection (4) shall not have effect in respect of-
(a) an application for a declaration in respect of proposed licensed premises under section 15(1) of the Act of 1960-
(i) of which notice was given pursuant to rules of court to the appropriate country registrar or district court clerk before the commencement of this section, and
(ii) in relation to which such a declaration was made (whether before or after such commencement),
(b) an application for the grant of a certificate entitling the applicant to receive a licence under section 3 or 4 of the Act of 1902 or section 13 of the Act of 1960——
(i) of which notice was given pursuant to rules of court to the appropriate county registrar or district court clerk before the commencement of this section, or
(ii) on the hearing of which it is shown to the satisfaction of the Court that a declaration was made by the Court under section 15(1) of the Act of 1960 before such commencement in respect of the premises concerned.".
This amendment is proposed for the purposes of clarity. It makes clear that where the proceedings of the grant of a certificate or the grant of a licence have already begun under existing laws contained in sections 3 or 4 of the Act of 1902 or section 13 of the Act of 1960, which sections are repealed by this Bill, the applicant can complete such applications. The amendment is modelled on section 20(4) of the 1962 Act which introduced a similar saver in respect of applications under way prior to the commencement of new provisions relating to the grant of licences, for example, the one mile rule.
It is much less clear.
What could be clearer?
I move amendmentNo. 26:
In page 16, subsection (2), line 40, after "licence" to insert "or who has held a restricted licence within 10 years of the passing of this Act and who has not been disqualified from holding such a licence.".
Given that we are regularising the licensing position and, as we said on Second Stage, we are now putting in place a regime which will be in existence for the next 20 years or so, now is the time to enable people who have fallen out of favour for some reason or another to regularise their positions. Take the example of a person in a rural area operating under a hotel licence. I have a particular case in mind which came before the courts recently. The number of rooms required for a hotel now is ten but after a period of time this hotel was converted into a domestic premises used by the family. These people would have been trading for the best part of 27 or 28 years under a hotel licence when effectively they had a pub. They had no Revenue problems and their certificate was renewed every year but the problem was not spotted by the Revenue authorities. It was only when this matter was brought to the attention of the courts, obviously by a person in the locality, that they were found to be trading illegally. A small number of people were involved but such people, who were meeting their taxation liabilities and innocently trading under that licence, now find themselves out of business. Given that we are regularising the position for 60 licensees, etc. this might be the time to examine the possibility of introducing an amendment to enable these people to regularise their positions and come back within the law.
The amendment proposes to make an insertion into subsection (2) of section 16 the effect of which would be that the Revenue Commissioners would issue a full licence to a person who holds a restricted licence or who has held a restricted licence within ten years of the passing of this Act and who has not been disqualified from holding such a licence in respect of any premises and subject to the conditions set out in subsection (4). However, the conditions set out in subsection (4) are that the licence should have been held for the whole of the five years immediately preceding the commencement of the section or if not for five years, that the person should have inherited the premises, being given the premises by a relative or purchased the premises as a going concern within that period. In those circumstances, I fail to understand the intention of the amendment. Arguably, it could have been intended to mean that anyone who at any time in the past ten years held a restricted licence in respect of a premises shall now be entitled to receive a full licence, but in respect of what? Could the section mean that where a person left the trade ten years ago he or she should be entitled to have the premises licensed again
The purpose of the conversion scheme is to assist persons currently in the trade. There are a relatively small number of them, often living in rural areas, who find it difficult to make a living because they are obliged to close on Sundays. It is not the intention of the section to revive licences that were surrendered or in respect of premises that have long since ceased to trade. Under the Bill licenceholders who are trading will be able to convert their licences to ordinary seven day licences and compete with other premises on a level footing.
I am attaching certain conditions to the conversion scheme to ensure that the scheme benefits genuine licenceholders who wish to continue trading rather than speculators who might consider this scheme as a way of making a quick killing by selling on such licences.
Deputy Higgins put forward a relatively strong case. Under the 1902 Act, people were granted licences that subsequently became known as "hatch licences". Those licences attached to premises that had a certain number of rooms and the licenceholders were entitled to serve drink through a hatch. It is a type of a hole in the wall concept. It is our latter-day pass machine.
A drink link.
Yes. Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1960, people who held hatch licences were given the opportunity to convert to a public bar licence.
They got the opportunity to fully hatch.
Yes, they were given the opportunity of hatching - of serving drink in a public bar setting. Any person who had a hatch licence at the passage of the 1960 Act was given the opportunity to convert to a bar licence, but a condition attached, which also attached to the hatch licence, that one had to continue to operate one's premises as a hotel. There are still a few premises with a hatch licence. If a person decided to sell his licence, he could not sell it with selling the premises.
That brings us to the nub of the problem. Some people still hold hatch licences under the 1902 Act, although they are few in number. There are also people who converted their hatch licences to bar licences under the 1960 Act. That means they did not have to serve drink through a hole in the wall, but could serve it across the counter. Those people cannot sell their licences without selling their premises. If they wanted a full licence, they would have to buy in one. Most of those premises, whether the licenceholders converted the hatch licence to a bar licence under the 1960 Act or the licenceholders still hold hatch licences under the 1902 Act, have been operating as public houses for the most part.
With no hatch.
No catch, no hatch - I do not know about that, but there is no doubt that several of them operate as public houses. Deputy Higgins is correct, as time went on, their licences continued to be renewed, as if they were ordinary pub licences.
The difficulty is how to resolve the problem in this area? The Law Society, from the perspective of its members, is desperately anxious that this area be regularised so that there will be certainty in the law. I imagine there are anything up to 200 premises concerned taking account of such licenceholders under the 1960 Act and under the 1902 Act, with a minority of them being licensed under the 1902 Act.
There is an argument for the conversion of the remaining such licences under 1902 Act to bar licences under the 1960 Act. Those who hold hatch licences under the 1902 Act should be given the opportunity their fellow hatchers were given in 1960 to convert to a full bar licence.
Is that option not still open to them?
No, it is not.
Was there a time frame within which they could convert their hatch licences to bar licences?
It is still an option, but they would have to extinguish an existing licence. That is the difficulty.
Given that we are in agreement that people who have a six day licence should be allowed to convert to a seven day licence within 12 months by paying £2,500 to the Exchequer, the argument could be made that those with a hatch licence under the 1902 Act who did not convert a bar licence under the 1960 Act should be given that opportunity. However, whether we should go a further step——
To detach the rooms.
——and provide for detaching the rooms and allow such licenceholders to have a seven day licence is another matter. Would it lead to arguments from other sectors who would say that given that we provided that measure for those licenceholders why can we not provide a similar measure for them?
Or for ones who went out of business very recently.
Yes. I will examine this matter between now and Report Stage. It is far more difficult to go that further step than it might appear. There is a strong argument to provide for the conversion of a hatch licence under the 1902 Act to a bar licence under the 1960 Act, but whether we should provide beyond that is difficult to know.
I notice the Minister's reluctance to revisit these issues.
I have a reluctance to revisit them, but there is an injustice in relation to people with hatch licences under the 1902 Act of whom there are very few. One of those licenceholders came to see me about this matter during the week and outlined his position. I recognised the justice of his cause, but it is difficult to know whether we should go the further step I outlined. People with a hatch licence who converted to a bar licence under the 1960 Act have been operating since then, seven day licensed premises. As their premises are attached to their licences, they find they are at a great disadvantage.
The only disadvantage is that they cannot sell on their licences.
They have to maintain the rooms.
Their licences are contingent on them keeping the rooms.
That is the problem.
Many of those premises would be old and it may not be viable for the licenceholders to do up the rooms. There are licenceholders in limbo, so to speak.
Others might like to contribute to the debate, as I do not want to monopolise it.
I am familiar with one or two people in those circumstances who are experiencing difficulties. In introducing any change, the Minister will have to consider a time frame. The owners of some large hotels with hotel licences would go ballistic if they thought other licenceholders could convert to a seven day licence. When considering this matter, the Minister might examine the number of rooms involved and the date. I know of two of three people with premises comprising of ten rooms to which, what is termed, a "hotel licence" attaches. It is not financially viable for them to provide accommodation in those rooms but they could make a living out of their bar trade. This matter would have to be discussed in consultation with the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. I agree that the number of such licences is small and perhaps the Minister could check back to the 1960s on this matter.
That would meet the criteria required. We are talking about premises in isolated rural areas and people having inherited them. Such licenceholders comply with most of the provisions.
Otherwise, they would have to buy a full licence.
Rather than upset the equilibrium of the Bill, I would be prepared to consider those licences that were held on or before 4 July 1960, which is the date upon which the 1960 Act came into force. That would involve a very small number.
On or before that date?
Yes, on or before 4 July 1960. If I do not do it by reference to date, what Deputy Coughlan said will happen. People will say they have hotel licences and ask why can other licenceholders get such a licence and they cannot. We have to consider the situation in the context of the people who did not convert their hatch licences.
Will the Minister consider that for Report Stag?
Is the amendment withdrawn?
Mr. Walsh, who is next to me, said "we will try to do that", but he is looking forlorn.
Were people with hatch licences able to convert them directly to, what we would call, "a licence", or did the hatch licences become hotel licences? They did not convert to seven day licences.
Any licence is considered a hotel licence of a type. There was a hatch licence attached because——
For the rooms.
Yes. Under the 1960 Act, those licenceholders were given an opportunity of not only serving drink through the hole in the wall but having a bar attached to the hotel.
They were not what we would call pub licences. They are not pub licences and that is the problem.
They still need the premises.
And if we do what we are proposing here, those limited numbers would be allowed the opportunity which they did not take up in 1960.
Does that meet Deputy Higgins's point? Is it a case under the 1960 Act that a person had to maintain the accommodation? Is it a general notion of availability or is an actual accommodation rate required?
To be registered.
If it was actually a registration facility——
With Bord Fáilte?
Yes. If I do what we are thinking of doing, it still will not make a hatch licence a pub licence.
Is what the Minister suggesting now not already available under the 1960 Act? He is not actually doing anything at all.
I am not doing anything at the moment.
No, but the 1960 Act is still not repealed.
That is right.
So, if somebody had a hatch licence under the 1902 Act, is it not up to them now to apply to the Revenue to convert it now without reference to this Bill? What is the Minister proposing?
It does not solve the problem.
Is the Minister proposing something different?
I am not proposing anything at the moment. This is very complicated. I am proposing to examine the question of hatch licences granted under the 1902 Act which did not convert under the 1960 Act, which licences would have been given prior to 4 July 1960. That is all I am saying I am doing. I am not saying what I am doing.
That does not solve the problem.
We do not know whether it will solve the problem but it is what I am proposing.
It is hardly worth the bother.
That is very ungracious.
That is well intentioned but it does not actually address the problem of the two or three people about whom Deputy Coughlan and I are speaking. What about the people, and we are talking about a very limited number, who were trading illegally as hotels but who now want to convert to a pub licence without actually paying for a pub licence?
Extinguishing another licence. That is what we are trying to do.
There is no way that can be done.
There are certain things one can do in legislation. It is a question of upsetting the equilibrium of the Bill. That is the difficulty. I am prepared to examine the situation before July 1960. I think it is best left until I bring forward whatever proposals will be brought forward. We will discuss it further then.
Will you accept that, Deputy Higgins?
Will the Minister look at it on Report Stage?
Amendment No. 27 is in the name of Deputy Ring, who is not present.
Can it not be moved in his absence?
No. He would have to be present and then it would have to be moved by a substitute.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 17, line 33, to delete "Licensing" and substitute "Public Houses".
This amendment is to correct a misnaming of the relevant Act.
We now move to amendment No. 29. Amendment No. 30 is related so the proposal is to take amendments Nos. 29 and 30 together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 18, subsection (1), line 13, after "which" to insert "takes place over not more than 7 consecutive days and".
These amendments concern section 19 which provides for special liquor licensing subject to the authorisation of the District Court of certain events at race tracks or racecourses. The amendment of section 19(1) makes a limit of seven consecutive days on the duration of any authorised event. The amendment of subsection (2) of the section makes it clear that where an authorised event extends beyond one day, the sale of intoxicating liquor will cease 30 minutes after the end of the event on each day of the event.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 18, subsection (2), to delete lines 28 and 29 and substitute the following:
"(ii) ending 30 minutes after the conclusion of the authorised event or, as the case may be, 30 minutes after the conclusion of the proceedings on each day on which it takes place,".
I move amendmentNo. 31:
In page 19, before section 22, to insert the following new section:
"22.-A person who is the holder of a wine retailer's on-licence attaching to a supermarket may, subject to the same conditions specified in his or her wine retailer's licence, offer beer for sale.".
The Minister will be aware of a group known as the Licensing Information and Consultancy Service, which holds him in the highest esteem.
And our distinguished colleague here present.
Mutual love and reverence know no bounds. The grievance that the supermarket owners have is that they are the only group involved in the trade who are not catered for in the Bill. They say the restaurants, hotels, pubs, clubs and everybody else have been given some additional accommodation but that, for some reason, they have been excluded. Currently if a person has a wine licence they can sell wine but if somebody comes in looking for beer they cannot sell it to them. They feel discriminated against by virtue of the fact that they are not allowed to sell beer as well as wine when there is now a further accommodation for restaurants which are now allowed to sell and serve beer under the Bill. That is the reason I have brought forward this amendment. I believe they have a case.
I have had many representations from the medium sized supermarket owners who say they cannot compete with Dunnes Stores, Quinnsworth and others who have an off-licence, which is a totally different licence to that needed to sell wine. They believe it is much more difficult to compete and in that regard we were asked to reconsider the sale of beer. The proposals vis-à-vis restaurants are practical but if someone wants to buy a bottle of wine they can do so in a supermarket. I do not agree with the sale of spirits but in the context of wines and beers, perhaps that could be considered. I am not sure whether there would be adverse reaction from the off-licence trade regarding this matter but supermarkets like Londis and Mace find it very difficult to compete with larger supermarkets. They believe it is unfair competition. It almost a rule of thumb in today’s world that when people are shopping they buy their off-licence products in the large supermarkets. Perhaps the Minister will reconsider this matter or is there some untoward reason he cannot do so?
We have all had the most concerted communications from this particular group. They certainly used my fax machine over the past number of weeks. The group has made a reasonable case. I had a jaundiced view at the outset because I was thinking of off-licences having to compete with a wine licence holder selling a broad range of alcohol. It is a growing practice, certainly in the rural counties, for virtually every petrol station to sell a variety of foods and drinks, and they invariably have wine licences, but whether they should be able to sell beer as well is something I have reflected on. If there is a good reason for them to have wine, there is sufficient reason for them to have beer, for example, the patriotic reason that the likelihood of producing wine in this jurisdiction is limited even in the sunny south east while the likelihood of producing beer is greater. For the majority of people, beer is the alcoholic drink of choice.
On balance, I support the amendment. Deputy Higgins made a strong case that other groups are facilitated in the legislation, particularly restaurateurs who argued the same case that they can sell wine to visitors but are precluded from selling beer unless they have a full licence. This was presented as an anomaly and surely the same argument prevails in relation to wine licence holders in this area. The visitor who eats in a restaurant and has that choice should have the same choice when he or she shops in a supermarket or a convenience store that has a wine licence.
The amendment would not damage the Bill. It would introduce balance in terms of the various groups that the Minister has sought, with reasonable effort, to accommodate. The most aggrieved group at present is supermarket owners. The broad community would be happier if the amendment was accepted.
I am sure the Minister is well apprised of the arguments. The argument that appealed most to me was that they are at a severe disadvantage vis-à-vis larger outlets and supermarkets that have off-licences and that they could not provide a service in a small town or village. It is also anti-competitive with regard to their survival in terms of the services available in small towns. If a person purchases a bottle of wine for a picnic or Sunday dinner, it should not add much to——
Remember what time one has to buy it on a Sunday morning.
One should buy it on Saturday then.
The Deputy is determined to buy her drink on a Saturday night.
As Deputies Higgins and Howlin said, the Minister has attempted to accommodate other groups. This is welcome and we recognise the difficulties involved in trying to accommodate them all. However, in view of the pressure these smaller outlets feel under with regard to competition, their point is valid. From a social perspective, it would not be any more harmful than being able to buy wine.
It is not the case that supermarkets have been ignored in the Bill. We have allowed places which are involved in mixed trading to open at any time of the day or night to sell groceries. This was not the case previously. In addition, we have also allowed such supermarkets to open for the sale of intoxicating liquor at 8 a.m. on any weekday——
Go to seven days.
——and 12.30 p.m. on Sundays for the reasons I outlined yesterday. Therefore, it is not the case that there is no change with regard to supermarkets in the Bill.
In addition, many supermarkets have full off-licences. They are already catered for in the sense that they had to purchase those licences. If we were to move relatively easily to a situation where a supermarket would not only be entitled to sell wine, because he or she holds a wine retailers off-licence, but also beer, it would come close to granting a full licence to a supermarket without asking that supermarket to purchase a licence. At the very least, that would gravely upset the equilibrium of the Bill.
This is a very important equilibrium.
It is an important equilibrium because an Oireachtas Joint Committee dealt with these issues for some time. Talks were then held with the drinks industry. Several sectors were crossed in order to come up with some form of consensus to move forward.
I am the first to accept that many intricacies, complexities, contradictions and even mazes are involved in our intoxicating liquor laws. It may not be well known but most Ministers for Justice, whenever there was talk about opening the intoxicating liquor laws for revision——
They headed for the drinks cabinet.
They headed not only for the drinks cabinet but also for the wigwam. Having emerged from same, with a feather in my head, we must proceed carefully. The amendment would allow the holder of a wine retailers off-licence to sell beer. As Deputy Higgins made clear, it is prompted by section 22 which permits members of the public to enjoy a glass of beer with a meal in a restaurant which holds a wine retailers on-licence and a restaurant certificate. However, it is not correct to argue as a consequence that because a shop has a wine off-licence or on-licence attached, it should also be permitted to sell beer.
A beer retailers off-licence is granted on foot of an application to the District Court in common with all other such applications, for example, an application for the granting of a certificate for a spirit retailers off-licence or a full publicans licence. It is a condition that an existing licence or licences should be extinguished. No such requirement exists for the granting of a wine retailers on-licence or off-licence. There is, therefore, no examination of the character of the applicant for a licence and no opportunity to examine the fitness of the premises in terms of its location or suitability.
The amendment, if it was accepted, would mean that every shop would be able to apply for a licence to sell beer without the need to submit to a court examination. It would eliminate once and for all the song "The Pub with No Beer", but the proposal would have profound implications in relation to the availability of alcohol and the enforcement of the underage provisions if liquor was suddenly to be made available in such a multiplicity of outlets. Under the Bill as it stands, there is already provision for a relaxation of the law with regard to the extinguishing of licences so that in future a licence may be sourced from anywhere in the State and only one extinguished licence is required in all cases.
In addition, a publicans licence can be offered directly in substitution for an off-licence. Those provisions should provide greater mobility of licences and increase opportunities for access to the trade. The arrangements for the acquisition of an off-licence are the same as those which apply to the acquisition of a publican's licence, that is, the applicant must extinguish an existing licence and submit to a court examination.
If a supermarket owner wishes to have a beer retailers off-licence and a spirit retailers off-licence, he or she must extinguish an existing beer retailers off-licence and an existing spirit retailers off-licence. However, these can now be sourced from anywhere in the State as opposed to the city-rural rule that currently applies. Only one of each is required and no population proofs or one mile rule will apply. Alternatively, the applicant can extinguish an existing publicans licence in substitution for such licences.
I have gone far enough for the moment in opening up the licensing trade. As I said earlier, a proper balance has been achieved in the Bill. At the same time, a good deal of updating and progress in the licensing system has also been achieved. However, as I said, this is merely a beginning. It is my intention that the commission on licensing will examine the whole issue of licensing and a particular aspect of that examination will be the nature of the off-licence.
Allowing a person to have a glass or pint of beer with a meal in a restaurant is not the same as allowing a supermarket to sell beer. The purchase of a glass of beer with a meal in a restaurant is restrictive, while allowing supermarkets to sell beer in the manner suggested would have much broader implications. Deputy Howlin said the equilibrium is important, but the amendment would upset the equilibrium and balance I have sought to bring to the Bill, not just from the point of view of the licensed trade, but from the perspective of parents, under age drinking and so on. A number of factors must be considered before reaching a conclusion. On balance, therefore, I must reject the possibility of popularity held out by Deputy Howlin.
I am aware of the time restrictions on this debate, but I do not accept the Minister's argument that the proposal would upset the equilibrium of the Bill. The supermarket owners are the small players, the people with their backs to the wall. These will be hit most if the Grocery Order is not renewed. They are under huge commercial pressures from competitors, such as Dunnes Stores and Tesco, who would have no problem getting or buying as many licences as they wish, irrespective of the cost.
The argument that this will extend the availability of alcohol does not hold because it is available on premises with a wine licence. The proposal is to extend the on-wine licence to enable the stocking of a few cans of beer. Arguments about floor areas and the suitability of the premises are peripheral. Most of the supermarkets are doing a very good job at their own expense to renovate their premises, maintain standards and keep the family business going. Most of the groups we met presented strong cogent arguments. This group made a very strong case and it would not upset the equilibrium of the Bill to accept the proposal.
To sell intoxicating liquor in commercial quantities one must have a licence. Most of the licensed and off-licensed premises are owned by families. They are obliged to purchase a licence if they want to go into the trade. Deputy Higgins suggests that I all but give a full licence to the supermarkets who have not purchased one, because the only thing they would be excluded from selling would be spirits.
Which is a huge tranche of turnover.
This would mean that the small family publican and small family involved in the off-licence trade would be at a severe disadvantage in that respect because people buy in multiples at supermarkets. I am trying to be as fair as I can to all, and it would upset the equilibrium of the Bill because it would mean, for example, that the small family publican who may or may not have a small off-licence must now compete with the supermarket down the road. It is not as simple as it looks.
That is being done at present.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 19, subsection (1), line 39, to delete "subsection (3)” and substitute “subsection (2)”.
This is a technical amendment and corrects a misprint in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are cognate on amendment No. 33 and amendments Nos. 33 to 35, inclusive, be taken together by agreement.
I move amendmentNo. 33:
In page 19, subsection (1), line 39, to delete "beer" and substitute "any alcoholic beverage".
Does this deal with restaurants?
Yes. In this section a person referred to as a licensee is the holder of a wine retailer's on-licence attaching to a restaurant within the meaning of the 1910 Act. He may offer beer, subject to the conditions specified in subsection (3). The Minister is making a concession to the restaurants to allow them sell beer for consumption on the premises. The amendment proposes that they should be allowed any alcoholic beverages. At present they can sell wine. The Bill will allow them to sell beer. A strong case was made by Irish Distillers to allow the sale of spirits. They argued that Gaelic coffee, of which the basic ingredient is, I hope, Irish whiskey, is included in the menu of many restaurants. It appears illogical not to extend the concession to include the sale of spirits in a restaurant.
Section 22 introduces a relaxation of the law as it relates to the sale of alcohol in restaurants and permits the holder of a restaurant certificate wine on-licence to serve beer with a meal. The amendment provides that restaurants to which a wine on-licence is attached should be permitted to sell any alcoholic beverage. A restaurant which operates under the special restaurant licence, as provided for under the 1988 Act, or a restaurant to which a publican's on-licence attaches may already supply all forms of intoxicating liquor, that is, wines, beer and spirits, with a substantial meal during the hours set out in the legislation.
The amendments to the law in relation to the special restaurant licence contained in the Bill will have the effect of encouraging more restaurants to apply for that licence, thereby increasing the number of off-licences that will be able to offer the full range of drinks. I am complementing this desirable change by permitting restaurants with a wine on-licence to serve beer with a meal. Taken together, these measures greatly assist the restaurant sector. The bizarre situation where wine could be supplied in a licensed restaurant but not local beers has now been corrected. This provision reflects consumer demand and it will facilitate the tourism trade. It gives restaurateurs the opportunity to provide the type of service they wish or what would be workable in a specific locality.
If spirits were to be permitted in restaurants I consider that the only practical way to provide for this would be through the introduction of a full licensing procedure, perhaps modelled on the special restaurant licence. Under current law, or arising from this Bill, a person with a wine on-licence does not submit to a Circuit Court examination as to fitness. If restaurants were to be permitted to stock the full range of alcoholic drinks, a Circuit Court licensing process would be desirable.
I am giving further consideration to the question of the form that the licensing of restaurants takes and I may, if the issues can be resolved satisfactorily, return to it on Report Stage. The main issue concerns the consequences of the operation of the special restaurant licence that would arise if all restaurants were permitted to serve spirits as well as wine and beer. In effect, such a decision would spell the demise of that form of licence. That is a major step.
The matter is one that might best be left for further examination by the Commission on Licensing, which will be established in the near future following the enactment of the legislation. I ask the Deputy not to press the amendment because the issue is not as straightforward as it may first appear. It would mean the demise of this kind of licence. It is a difficult area and it might be best left to the Commission on Licensing to look at it closely.
I do not wish to withdraw the amendment. The Commission on Licensing is looking at the licensing laws, but I am concerned that is a long-term project. Would the Minister be prepared to consider the matter between now and Report Stage?
I will look at it, but given the complexity of the matter I cannot make any promise, nor hold out any great hope that it can be addressed in that time. The Commission on Licensing will look at the matter. The commission must report to the Minister within 18 months of its establishment and he or she can then decide what to do about this issue. I hope to establish the commission within a month or so of the enactment of this legislation.
Will it be established by the end of the summer?
I hope so. My idea is that it will look at the entire situation so that a future Minister will not have to trawl the countryside before introducing legislation. That is what Ministers have had to do. It is not appreciated outside the House how much consultation takes place or how long meetings can last.
It is as complex as the taxi licences.
What will be the composition of the commission? Has the Minister decided on it yet?
My intention is that the commission will be apolitical, that it will consist of people who actually have an interest in the trade such as the drinks industry, consumer interests, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and parents' groups. It is my intention that everybody with a vested interest in this particular subject will be represented in order that there will be a broad-based commission.
Who will represent the drinkers?
I do not know how the Minister will get consensus on such a broad issue with Irish Distillers versus the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, for example.
Having had some experience of a different issue, my gut feeling is that it is not possible to build a consensus because people have different views, all of which are legitimate. In a forum like that it is like a committee creating a camel because inevitably one is piecing together a bit for one and a bit for another. We really need somebody to advise and a Minister to decide on the principle of the policy.
The Minister must decide on it in the end. If there are minority reports, majority reports, interim reports etc., in the final analysis the Minister must make the decision.
I fear that the Minister is creating a talking quango.
I am not trying to create one.
I withdraw the amendment but I will re-enter it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 21, to delete lines 5 and 6 and substitute the following:
(a) in the definition of ’licence’ in subsection (1), as amended by section 50 of the Act of 1988, by insertion of ’or a wine retailer’s off-licence granted under section 49 of the Act of 1910’ after ’1860’, and
(b) by the deletion of subsection (9A) (special restaurant licences), as inserted by section 18 of the Act of 1988, and subsection (10) (production of statutory declaration on renewal of certificate).”.
This amendment is consequential on sections 31 and 32. Section 31 removes restrictions on the grant of a wine retailer's off-licence. In consequence of this, it is important that persons can object to the renewal of such licences. Section 4 of the Courts (No. 2) Act, 1986, provides for an objection to the renewal of a wine on-licence. This amendment provides that the right to object would also apply in the case of renewal of a wine off-licence. Section 32 removes the occupancy requirement regarding the grant of a beer retailer's licence.
I move amendmentNo. 37:
In page 21, subsection (2)(a), line 17, after “devoted to” to insert “community,”.
Section 25 deals with the registration of clubs and the functions in registered clubs. The Bill states that a registered club shall not hold any function on its premises unless the function is for the benefit of the club as a whole, related to the club's objects and organised by the club, and only members of the club and their guests are present at it.
Subsection (2) states that subsection (1) does not apply to any function where the proceeds, after deducting the expenses of the function, are devoted to charitable or benevolent purposes. I seek to extend that to include community functions. It is restrictive to confine the use of the club to charitable or benevolent purposes. After all, many of the clubs are the hub of the community. They make their premises available for the playing of games, for meetings and to ensure that the youth of the area are well employed or have enough diversionary activities to keep them out of the lure and danger of the pub and other scenes. In view of the fact that club premises are such a focal point in the community, to confine the use of the club's premises to charitable or benevolent purposes is much too restrictive. Any of us who met the clubs, particularly the Cork GAA club which made an oral presentation, were extremely impressed with the strength of their arguments. That is the reason I tabled this amendment.
Cork will need some consolation after last Sunday and therefore I will accept the amendment.
That is a once-off. I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 21, subsection (2)(b), line 19, after “member” to insert “(or a member of his or her family),”.
This amendment is for the purposes of clarity. It ensures that a club member is not prohibited from using the club premises for the purpose of organising a function for his or her family members.
I move amendmentNo. 39:
In page 22, to delete lines 18 and 19 and substitute the following:
"'(d) any notice published in a church newsletter, club publication or displayed in a public place within the functional area of the club.’.”.
Section 27 seeks to address a real problem regarding how clubs may advertise functions etc. It states:
Section 45 (restriction on advertising of functions in registered clubs) of the Act of 1988 is hereby amended in subsection (2)-
(a) by the substitution in paragraph (c) of "members, or" for "members.", and
(b) by the insertion of the following after that paragraph:
"(d) any advertisement in so far as it relates to a function at which intoxicating liquor will not be served.".
I welcome the inclusion of section 45(a). I seek in my amendment to delete lines 18 and 19 in page 22 and substitute the following, “any notice published in a church newsletter, club publication or displayed in a public place within the functional area of the club”. Effectively the scope of clubs to advertise is limited at present. They can advertise on club premises etc., but the club cannot advertise outside the premises a function which is being held for a third party. There should be flexibility and the scope to advertise should be broadened to enable the club to make the general public aware that a function is being held.
The form of advertising which my amendment seeks to introduce is still a restricted one, that is notices published in a church newsletter, club publication which is the club's own organ, or displayed in a public place within the functional area of the club, for example, a shop window.
I strongly support this cleverly worded amendment. It is an issue at which I looked and on which I did not table an amendment because I did not strike a balance between the general right of advertising and the restriction on advertising. However, this is a cleverly worded acceptable amendment which deals with the community nature of a club and the right to disseminate information within its own membership and its broader community without going any further. It does not trespass on the issue of broader advertising. It is a useful and positive suggestion which I hope the Minister will accept.
This amendment provides that the ban on advertising of any function held on the premises of a registered club should not apply to a notice published in a church newsletter or a club publication or displayed in a public place within the functional area of the club. This amendment, if it were to be accepted, would permit private members' clubs to advertise widely through posters, billboards etc. events at which alcohol would be served.
Section 45 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, restricts the advertising of social functions by clubs which are registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904. There has been some adverse comment on licensing courts regarding serious abuses at discos etc. run in registered clubs, and section 45 is designed to curb such abuses. However, section 45 permits advertising in respect of the publication of a notice inside the premises of the registered club in which the function is to be held and in respect of any circular issued by a registered club to its club members.
As the law currently stands, it is illegal for any group to advertise any function other than one related to sports, games or physical recreation even where no alcohol is being served. In this scenario it is not possible, for example, for a group to advertise the holding of a residents' association meeting in club premises. Section 27 lifts some of these restrictions in that it allows registered clubs to advertise community events on their premises where intoxicating liquor will not be provided in conjunction with the event. This is a recognition that in certain cases club premises are used by members of the wider community for meetings, and I have no difficulty with such events being publicised.
However, we must recognise at the same time that it is because of the fundamentally private nature of a club that it is entitled to supply alcohol to its members and guests. A club is not a licensed premises and it should not be seen as such or as setting itself up as such. The section as it stands serves to strike a balance between the fundamental private nature of the club in terms of the conditions under which it can supply intoxicating liquor to its members and guests of members, and the position of the club in the wider community where its facilities such as meeting rooms may be made available to groups in that wider community. For this reason I cannot support an amendment that would grant a registered club the right to advertise any function, to persons other than its members, at which intoxicating liquor will be served.
The Minister's reply is extremely disappointing. The Minister concentrated on isolated incidents where clubs have abused their position by not properly regulating various functions. Any person who is conversant with the activities of GAA, golf and rugby clubs will testify to the fact that they are extremely well run and well managed and that any functions they hold are well regulated and properly policed. It is very rare that the Garda authorities would be called out to such functions as a result of trouble erupting.
We are discussing functions which are held for benevolent, charitable or community purposes, we are not discussing youths who are out of control. We are not discussing extravagant advertising on local radio stations, we are discussing advertising in three specified ways, namely, in local church newsletters, in club magazines and by putting up a few posters in an area. I do not see how that will breach the intentions behind what the Minister and I are separately trying to achieve.
Virtually all the money clubs obtain from such functions is ploughed back into developing their facilities. Such clubs must achieve a certain commercial profitability in order to continue to exist. None of the money they obtain from functions goes into people's back pockets or is used for private purposes, it is used for public purposes and for the development of community spirit. I urge the Minister to reconsider his position in respect of this minor but important provision. Acceptance of the amendment will not upset the equilibrium of the section.
What is the position regarding advertising a function on a website or e-mailing people about it?
I am sure the Minister will be able to respond to that point.
It is an interesting concept.
I am somewhat surprised by the Minister's attitude to the amendment. Given his background and his strong association with rural communities, he will be aware that in many communities local clubs are the only focus for community activity. For example, in my constituency, St. Martin's GAA club is the hub of social activity - it is the only source of such activity - in the Piercestown area. The notion that community activity would not be advertised in the community is unreasonable.
It is not as if we are discussing a city where large licensed facilities are in competition, this is quite different. The section is concerned with community functions, at which alcohol will be available, in local GAA, golf or rugby clubs. By and large, such functions take place in local GAA clubs in rural communities and I am familiar with a number which are extremely well run. These are often the only places at which such functions can be held. It is desirable for local communities to be involved in functions organised around sporting occasions and I believe the section will be breached if it is not amended because most communities automatically place notices in church newsletters. We should be supporting rather than opposing this. The Minister, with his particular knowledge and experience of rural communities, should understand the importance of the amendment and I ask him to reconsider the position.
One of the points made by the Cork GAA club is that all of its members are known to it and it is in a position to monitor and regulate all the facilities in which events are held. That is very important.
With regard to Deputy Barnes's point about e-mail, I do not believe that came up when the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act, 1904, was passed. Members made a number of good points and the I accept that there is a community aspect to the functions under discussion. However, the section cannot be amended in the way suggested by Deputy Higgins because section 25 states that a registered club shall not hold any function on its premises unless the function is for the benefit of the club as a whole, related to the club's objects and organised by the club, and only members of the club and their guests are present at it. Section 25(2) states that subsection (1) will not apply to any function where the whole proceeds, after deducting the expenses of the function, are devoted to charitable or benevolent purposes - the Bill has been amended to include community purposes - or which is organised by a registered club for a member and at which only the member and his or her guests are present.
In the context of section 27, which deals with restrictions on advertising and where a new paragraph will be inserted in respect of advertisements, we could include that if a function was held to which subsection (2) related, the notices to which Deputy Higgins's amendment refers could be published and displayed. However, this would only apply to functions held for charitable, benevolent or community purposes. We will reconsider the position from that point of view.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 22, before section 31, to insert the following new section:
31.-Section 37 of the Licensing Act (Ireland), 1874, is amended by the deletion, in the definition of '"New license", "new excise license" and "new wholesale beer dealer's license"' of ', or, if granted, has been annulled or has not been in force during the preceding six months'.".
Section 37 of the Licensing (Ireland) Act, 1874, requires an application for an intoxicating liquor licence to be lodged within the first six months of the licensing year, namely, by 31 March. On the other hand, section 4(2) of the Courts (No. 2) Act, 1986, requires an application for an automatic renewal of a licence to be lodged during the course of a complete licensing year, namely, by 30 September of the following licensing year. If the applicant fails to renew the licence within that period, he or she must make an application to the Circuit Court for a certificate or a new licence. This is in contrast to the 1874 legislation which applies a six month deadline and is, in that respect, contradictory to the more recent legislation. It has been represented to me that the 1986 procedure is better. The amendment I have tabled coheres with that procedure.
It is clear, from the debate on the Bill, that many items of legislation in the licensing area overlap and there is a need to introduce a consolidation Bill. On foot of the enactment of this legislation, will the Minister undertake to contract out for an experienced person - I can provide him with the names of a number of eminently suitable individuals - to draft such a Bill? In dealing with the Bill before us, we have had to consult every Act in this area dating back to 1874 in order to cross-reference matters properly. This issue takes up a disproportionate amount of court time and there is a definite need to introduce consolidating legislation. Will the Minister give a commitment that he will commission the drafting of such legislation following the enactment of the Bill?
I am glad the Deputy mentioned contracting it out because we would not be able to get around to it. It is a mammoth task.
The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and Revenue have done it. The only way to do it is to contract it out. There are very good people who will take it on as a major task. It should be contracted out.
I will not contract it out while the staff in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are dealing with this Bill.
Once it is enacted.
Whether I do is not a matter of great concern to them.
I am sure they would be delighted.
We will discuss it within the Department.
The need for it is unanswerable.
I accept the need for consolidation in this area, of all areas. The earliest Bill which still governs the situation in the country, or at least parts thereof, dates back not to 1874 but to 1833. There are 55 different Acts governing Irish intoxicating liquor law which is a massive amount of legislation. The first Bill dealing with intoxicating liquor in the State was towards the end of the 17th century. As I said before, a great deal of drinking-up time has gone under the bridge since then. Mr. Walsh corrects me - it is 1635.
The 17th century.
Is there a commitment to do that?
I would like to see the legislation consolidated but it is a matter which I would have to discuss with the staff in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I will raise it again on Report Stage so the Minister might consider it.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 23, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:
34.-"Where any person receives from the Circuit Court or District Court a certificate entitling the person to a licence, the Revenue Commissioners shall not grant the licence unless the certificate is presented to them within 12 months of the date on which it was issued.".
This amendment will ensure that where there is an application for a new licence or a licence granted by virtue of an ad interim transfer, the appropriate certificate of application must be presented to the Revenue Commissioners within a period of time, that is 12 months. The concern of the Revenue Commissioners is that as no time limit currently exists, persons are submitting certificates that are a number of years old. This practice is not conducive to good administration of the licensing system and the amendment adjusts the law in this area.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 23, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:
"34-Advertisements for alcohol and labels on bottles, cans and other containers from which alcohol is sold shall display in legibly printed form the message 'GOVERNMENT WARNING - ALCOHOL CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH’.”.
Alcohol is a drug and is a mind-altering substance. It is readily available with limited and liberal controls. If one buys a packet of Anadin, aspirin or paracetamol, there are warnings about excessive dosage. On Second Stage we listed the endless litany of alcohol-related illnesses, including cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, cancer of the mouth and throat etc. There is a direct relationship between the excess intake of alcohol and a recognised number of illnesses. A warning might have some effect in making people aware of this. The health warning on cigarette packets and advertisements has some impact on reducing the number of people smoking. It might be worthwhile considering this amendment.
I have given some consideration to this amendment and I have reservations about it - it will probably be accepted now. I was privileged to be Minister for Health when tobacco controls, warnings etc. were perennial issues at the EU Health Council. I think that the more products on which one puts health warnings, the more they are ignored. It becomes almost pro forma and meaningless. The problem with tobacco is that it is exclusively bad - it has no redeeming characteristics. Alcohol is a social good to some degree while excessive intake of alcohol is a social evil. It relaxes many people and it is healthy and social to take alcohol in moderation.
It can also be good for one's heart.
I remember when I was Minister for Health, the president of one of the national health societies explained to me in some detail how red wine creates happy molecules, and it did me no end of good to hear that. If the Government warns people about everything, it diminishes the impact. It could be said that playing hurling is bad for you and there would be warnings on everything. I do not mean to demean the intent of this amendment or underrate the terrible damage caused by excessive intake of alcohol, but I would prefer to have an impact from a Government statement. I know there is a surgeon general's warning on every alcoholic drink sold in the United States. They have taken that route but I would not be minded to do the same.
I hope I am not paraphrasing St. Paul incorrectly when he said: "Drink wine for your many infirmities and give up water." If the point has been reached, without being in any way facetious, where one is reaching for the packet of Anadin, the notice Deputy Higgins wants on the drink could be put on that instead. There is merit in the intention of the amendment. However, it is not a feasible or appropriate proposition. We are all conscious that when taken to excess, alcohol can cause significant health problems. However, the effect of alcohol is not just in the realm of the health of the individual abuser, social and economic consequences can follow from alcohol abuse.
One approach might be to place the type of message proposed by Deputy Higgins on the product. On the other hand, it might be questioned whether such a warning should be placed on a product that some would claim as beneficial to health when taken in moderation. The more appropriate way to ensure alcohol is treated with the respect it deserves is perhaps through public education programmes that stress the negative as well as the positive aspects of alcohol. While I appreciate that alcohol can, in some cases, endanger health when abused, it may be that it should be placed in the same category as tobacco consumption which, by definition, is unhealthy and injurious. In any event, the matter is one that comes within the area of responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children and it is, no doubt, something he will continue to take into account in his ongoing review of this general area.
As a former Minister of Health, Deputy Howlin made the point very well that there is a danger that it would become pro forma and people would not take any notice if one continued to add to the list of products on which there are health warnings. The warning relating to tobacco is obviously important and the general public are asked to heed it as a serious matter. Deputy Howlin is right that tobacco is all bad and does not appear to have any positive functions. In the circumstances, while I understand and respect the motivation behind Deputy Higgins’s amendment, it might be best left at this point.
I am not pressing the amendment. As the Minister and Deputy Howlin said, tobacco has been proved to be damaging to health. The warning states that tobacco seriously damages one's health. However, the warning in this amendment states that alcohol "can", which is the operative word. We can debate this on Report Stage.
I move amendmentNo. 43:
In page 23, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:
"34.-The consumption of alcohol in all public places, both indoors and outdoor, which are not licensed for same shall be illegal. A person found guilty of contravening this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £500 or to a community service order.".
This may be a matter for local authorities but they are slow in dealing with this issue, that is, the abuse of the welfare of the community, particularly the elderly, by the consumption of alcohol outdoors, especially in the summer when people have drunken parties which result in public disorder. Significant damage is caused to property and a great deal of physical violence also occurs. Alcohol is a greater contributory factor to public disorder than drugs. I suggest that the consumption of alcohol in places, indoor and outdoor, where it is not licensed to be sold should be illegal and that a person found guilty of contravening this section should be liable to a fine not exceeding £500 or to a community service order, or both. From what I know, this proposal was put to us by the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association when it met the committee. Perhaps the Minister will respond.
I readily agree with the Deputy that abuse of alcohol in open public places leading to disorderly and anti-social behaviour is not something anyone should be asked to tolerate. However, the amendment is too wide in its application. For example, it would mean that adults at a picnic in a park, by the seaside or another public place could not enjoy a bottle of wine or a glass of beer. We must be able to distinguish between people drinking in unsocial circumstances and possibly causing disturbance and adults drinking in a non-threatening atmosphere such as having beer at a picnic.
There are a number of means open to society to protect itself from threatening or anti-social behaviour. Local authorities, under the Local Government Act, 1994, have by-laws regulating the consumption of alcohol in public places. We heard on Second Stage how this provision is being used to some effect in Cork, and I am confident that many local authorities which have a problem with drinking in public places would be able to follow the Cork lead in this matter - Deputy Howlin said the same is true of Wexford.
Where public drinking leads to disorderly behaviour, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, strengthens the capacity of the Garda Síochána to deal with that type of situation. Offences created by the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, include: intoxication in a public place - section 4; disorderly conduct in a public place - section 5; and threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place - section 6.
The Act also gives gardaí important new powers to deal with persons committing such public order offences. Section 8 provides that a garda may, where a person is acting in a manner contrary to the relevant public order provisions of the Act or otherwise loitering in a way which causes apprehension for the safety of persons or property, direct that person to desist from such behaviour and to leave that place in a peaceful and orderly manner. It is an offence for a person to fail to comply with such a direction.
I also draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that the licensing laws already contain a number of substantive measures to deal with drinking in public places, specifically as far as underage persons are concerned. Section 33 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, makes it an offence for a person under 18 to purchase alcohol, whether in an on-licence or off-licence, or to consume it in any place other than a private residence. Gardaí have the power to confiscate alcohol in the possession of underage people. While the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, contains a wide range of controls designed to tackle the problem of underage drinking, the Bill strengthens the provisions regarding the supply or sale of intoxicating liquor to underage persons. The code of law which now applies is adequate. I do not propose to support the amendment which is fundamentally flawed and framed without comprehending the strength of the existing law.
I will not press the amendment. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the situation regarding the consumption of alcohol outdoors. If a person drinks outside a pub at a table under a canopy, and while one would not wish to be a spoilsport as they are not causing public disorder as such, are they effectively in breach of the law?
It would depend on the circumstances. For example, if a person were acting contrary to public order or if he were loitering or something similar, he would be in breach of the law. However, the physical act of drinking out of the bottle would not constitute a criminal offence.
What about rambling outside with a pint in hand?
It would if it caused apprehension for the safety of people or property, for example. Gardaí would then be entitled to ask that person to desist from that behaviour and to move on. The position can also be covered by by-laws, such as those which have been passed in Cork and which Deputy Howlin said have been passed in Wexford.
I move amendmentNo. 44:
In page 23, before the Schedule, to insert the following new section:
"34.-A special alcohol monitoring unit shall be established within an Garda Síochána in order to monitor the operation of this Act and to liaise with the Health Promotion Unit of the Department of Health and Children.".
I will not press this amendment as I understood the Minister to have said that there will be a massive advertising campaign for ID cards.
I would not use the word "massive", but we will have an advertising campaign in so far as budget will allow.
It should not just be advertising. It should include promotion through schools and youth clubs.
It will not just be advertising.
That is what I was going to suggest.
I promise I will not be in the advertisement.
Do you take this man for 18?
I tabled an amendment which I could not be present to move as I had a priority question taken in the Dáil. Will the Chairman clarify if it is possible to move the amendment now or to table it for Report Stage?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to move it at this stage because we have gone beyond it. As the Deputy knows, anyone can table an amendment on Report Stage.
So I can table it?