Thursday, 16 May 2019

Ceisteanna (13)

Jim O'Callaghan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the licensing Acts can be amended to provide a separate licence for venues which predominantly provide music; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21102/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

Irish people have a significant interest in music and enjoy attending live events and performances as well as listening to recorded music. It is not unusual for people to want to be able to enjoy an alcoholic drink while attending a music event. Unfortunately, the intoxicating liquor licensing laws are archaic and the cost involved discourages people holding small music events from getting a licence. Does the Minister have any proposals to change the licensing laws to enable those who wish to promote small music events to obtain such licences?

A licence under the provisions of the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018 and issued by the Revenue Commissioners following submission of an appropriate court certificate by the applicant is required in order to permit the sale, supply or exposure for sale of intoxicating liquor in specified premises. As the Deputy will be aware, such licences are renewed annually.

The performance of music and public entertainment in premises, irrespective of whether the premises are licensed for the sale, supply and consumption of intoxicating liquor, is regulated by Part IV of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890, which applies to premises located in urban areas where an urban authority has adopted the appropriate provisions.

I understand that local authorities that have adopted Part IV to include Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Where Part IV applies, premises that are ordinarily used for public music or other entertainment of like kind must be licensed under that legislation. Such licences are issued by the District Court.

I appreciate that Deputy O'Callaghan's concern is to facilitate music and entertainment venues but I do not underestimate the difficulties that would be involved in arriving at a statutory definition of "venues which predominantly provide music" that would faithfully reflect the intentions of this House. I invite Deputy O'Callaghan to assist this debate by making a submission, which I would be happy to give careful consideration to. I am aware of the current debate concerning the promotion and fostering of a more diverse and vibrant night-time culture in and indeed beyond Deputy O'Callaghan's constituency. I have an open mind about enhancements to current arrangements. Any changes to the law in this area would require proper consultation with relevant stakeholders, including representative bodies, groups representing local residents, the local authorities and, not least, An Garda Síochána. I am conscious that any changes would need to be organised and managed in a manner that will not cause undue inconvenience or nuisance to local residents nor create an undue risk to public order. Any proposed changes would also need to have regard to the preservation of a fair competitive environment for competing businesses.

I thank the Minister for his response. I recognise that this is not a straightforward area. He referred to the public health Acts dating to 1890. When combined with the Licensing Acts, which I think date to 1833, that highlights that we are dealing with an archaic system of licensing laws and also for having music events while at the same time having some alcoholic beverage available to people listening to the music. We need to consider other approaches. I will take on board what the Minister said about perhaps making a submission. We need to recognise that some people want to organise music events and do not want the predominant aspect to be everyone coming in for a drink and listening to music as a secondary matter. Some people want to organise music events predominantly but also want to be able to sell alcohol at those events. It works fine in circumstances where there is a big concert in, for example, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where people are able to spend a lot of money to get a licence to sell alcohol for a particular occasion. When one is a smaller music provider, it does not work that well. I have met people from Give Us The Night. I think the Minister previously displayed an interest in providing some form of new licensing mechanism for people who want to predominantly put forward music so that people can listen to it without having to go through the vast expense of paying for a one-off licence.

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for commencing an important conversation on this issue. I was previously Chair of a liquor licensing committee here. These areas of law are complex and we need balance. Deputy O'Callaghan speaks of what is primarily a music entertainment venture but one that facilitates the sale of intoxicating liquor. Would the liquor or the music be most prominent? I want to acknowledge the basis for the operation of late bars, operating as they do on the basis of a publican's licence, with a special exemption order allowing the District Court to exempt the holder of a licence from general licensing hour restrictions on occasions. The Deputy mentioned venues. This is an area that I believe is worthy of consideration, including the basis on which theatres, conference venues and such sell intoxicating liquor.

I recognise that we have a serious problem with alcohol in this country. The last thing that I want to do is try to reform the licensing system so that pubs can stay open later because they have the excuse of music. We need to refocus the licensing system. Maybe we could do something that was done in the UK in 2005 when it modernised its licensing system. I think the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in that country spearheaded the change. We need to have a conversation about it. Unfortunately, the absence of recognition for music venues means that we have this substantial number of huge pubs where people congregate and all leave at the same time at 2 a.m., spilling out onto the streets. We need to recognise that there is another method of entertainment for night-time activity in Ireland. It can involve alcohol but does not have to be dependent upon alcohol, and alcohol is not the primary reason. Many people want to go out to listen to music without the necessity of going to a pub but they want to be able to do it in the knowledge that they can have one or two drinks and listen to and enjoy the music.

I have an open mind on the further development or enhancement of what can be described as current arrangements. I stress that any enhancement or further consideration will involve proper consultation. Proper consultation will involve a number of stakeholders. However, that should not be a barrier to seeing how best this issue might be addressed. I am conscious that any changes would have to be adequately and properly managed. I would be happy to engage further with Deputies in the House, in particular Deputy O'Callaghan. I acknowledge the principle behind the parliamentary question.

Questions Nos. 14 to 17, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.