I understand the concerns that people have in relation to the purchase for delivery of alcohol products and am very conscious of the detrimental effects of alcohol dependency on families and society.
In terms of assessing whether a review of legislation is required in relation to the delivery of alcohol, however, it is essential that there is a clear understanding of what the current regulations are under existing legislation.
There is no dedicated licence for online sales of intoxicating liquor but licensees of licensed premises may engage in online sales subject to certain restrictive conditions.
As matters stand, under existing legislation where alcohol is purchased online, the same restrictions on the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor apply, including the restrictions in relation to hours of trading and the provisions in relation to the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor to young persons.
Under section 17(3) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, it is an offence for a licensee, with intent to evade the conditions of the licence, to take intoxicating liquor from the licensed premises for the purpose of its being sold on the account or for the benefit or profit of the licensee, or to permit any other person to do so. The penalty on conviction is a fine of up to €1,500 for a first offence and up to €2,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
Section 31 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, as amended, makes provision for offences relating to the sale and delivery of alcohol products to persons under the age of 18 years. It is an offence under section 31(2) for a licensee to sell or deliver, or to permit any other person to sell or deliver, alcohol products to any person for consumption off his or her licensed premises by a person under the age of 18 years in any place except with the explicit consent of the person's parent or guardian in a private residence in which he or she is present either as of right or with permission. On conviction for a first offence, a mandatory closure order of between two and seven days will be imposed by the court, together with a fine of up to €3,000. The penalties for a second or subsequent offence is a closure order of between 7 and 30 days and a fine of up to €5,000. In addition, the licence holder is required to continue to pay staff for the duration of the closure period.
With technology that facilitates video calls being commonplace in the conduct of business in a broad spectrum of contexts, there do not appear to be any practical impediments to vendors verifying the age of purchasers who purchase alcohol from their homes. The purchase must be completed from their home in advance of delivery.
The Government Alcohol Advisory Group considered specific issues relating to 'distance sales' of intoxicating liquor in its 2008 report. It took the view that sales of alcohol products which have been ordered by telephone or text messaging and which are paid for on delivery do not comply with licensing law requirements and are, therefore, illegal. The Group recommended that the Gardaí target “dial-a-can” and similar delivery services with a view to prosecuting the offending licensees. Any information concerning transactions of this nature which are contrary to the provisions of the licensing acts should, therefore, be brought to the attention of the Gardaí for investigation and possible prosecution.
In conclusion, there is substantial existing legislation to regulate the delivery of alcohol services in Ireland and, as matters currently stand, I do not propose to introduce new legislation in this area. However, I do appreciate that, with the Covid-19 outbreak, habits of consumers have been affected and the share of purchases online has increased substantially. These changes may be temporary or they may be the beginning of longer term trends. It is perhaps too early to tell what impacts these changes may have and whether increased online sales and delivery of alcohol will, on balance, provide increased convenience and choice to consumers and new revenue streams for small rural pubs or have negative impacts on society that require further regulation. It is in that context that I remain open to reviewing the situation should compelling objective evidence emerge indicating that a further examination of the legislation regulating these matters is warranted.