On-trade

Justice Minister gets Cabinet approval for licensing reform

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has received Cabinet approval for her draft Bill to reform Ireland’s antiquated licensing system.
Minister Helen McEntee believes the laws are in significant need of reform and has now published the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill to outline how she intends to implement these reforms.

Minister Helen McEntee believes the laws are in significant need of reform and has now published the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill to outline how she intends to implement these reforms.

The present system is based on a patchwork of 100 laws – some of which are over 200 years old and two-thirds of which pre-date the foundation of the State 100 years ago.

Minister Helen McEntee believes the laws are in significant need of reform and has now published the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill to outline how she intends to implement these reforms.

“This will lead to one modern piece of legislation to regulate the sale of alcohol,” she said, “It will aim to support the development of night-time culture and the night-time economy.

“It will also aim to support the industry, protect and back our pubs. And it will help people to open a pub where some may have shut, start a venue, a club night or an exhibition space, creating jobs and enriching our culture as they do so.

“It should not be easy to obtain and keep a licence. In comparison to many other countries we have a restrictive licensing system. Under my proposals, that will remain the case.”

“It should not be easy to obtain and keep a licence. In comparison to many other countries we have a restrictive licensing system. Under my proposals, that will remain the case.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has backed the reforms.

“I believe the reforms that Minister McEntee is proposing will be good for hospitality businesses, boost the wider experience economy and generate employment,” he said, “It will also give people and performers more autonomy about how, when and where they socialise. Ireland’s licensing laws are out-of-date.”

Our nightlife does not compare favourably with that of other European countries when it should be as good as anywhere in Europe, he stated.

“Rural pubs are closing, as have many nightclubs in urban areas, while the number of off-licences is increasing. It is not all about alcohol and should not be but is part of the picture. It’s about cutting red tape and streamlining regulation. These reforms should be seen in the wider context of the government’s efforts to improve the cultural and entertainment offering in our towns, cities and rural areas.”

To provide a greater opportunity for community voices to be heard, as well as to streamline the current system, responsibility for licensing will move from the Circuit Court to the District Court.

The system will be streamlined by significantly reducing the number of licenses available and online renewal will be possible where there are no objections.

Overall, this will help to reduce the costs involved whilst maintaining an accessible and transparent system in which the HSE, communities, local authorities and Gardaí can raise any necessary concerns around public safety and public health.

The grounds on which an objection can be made will, amongst others, include:

  • the number of similar premises in the same area
  • the unsuitability of the proposed premises for those living in the neighbourhood
  • for licence renewals, a new category of objection that the premises were not operated in a manner which protects staff, patrons and performers from harassment, including sexual harassment – this is in line with Minister McEntee’s Zero Tolerance plan to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

Minister Helen McEntee explained that the pub has a central role in Irish cultural life and the reforms will support pubs and the hospitality industry.

“The local pub is an institution where we so often come together” she said, “to chat over a drink or food, to host community events, to celebrate and to mourn.

Minister Helen McEntee explained that the pub has a central role in Irish cultural life and the reforms will support pubs and the hospitality industry.

Minister Helen McEntee explained that the pub has a central role in Irish cultural life and the reforms will support pubs and the hospitality industry.

“I believe it is an institution worth protecting and that we should support our publicans – so many of whom have built up local businesses over decades, through generations of the same family.

“In moving the licensing process to the District Court, we are reducing the cost of making applications and fees for publicans.”

The Minister also announced that she is also making permanent the changes introduced during the pandemic to facilitate outdoor service with the Seven Day On-Licence remaining the foundation of the trade generally.

To support the development of the Night-Time Economy and ensure our licensing system meets the needs of modern society and economy, Minister McEntee, among other reforms, is also proposing:

  • the creation of new annual permits for late bars and nightclubs to replace the current system where a Special Exemption Order is required every time such a venue wants to open after normal hours
  • this builds on previous measures introduced by the government to support the late-night sector such as the decision to halve the cost of SEOs in Budget 2023
  • opening hours for late bars should remain at 2.30am and to bring Ireland in line with other European countries, nightclubs will have the option to remain open until 6am – with the requirement that alcohol cannot be served after 5am, with dancing able to continue until closing time
  • it is envisaged that this will largely be availed of by bigger nightclubs and venues, mainly in cities and will not be availed of by many nightclubs
  • nightclubs and late-night bars must adhere to strict requirements for these permits – they will require court approval for such permits, with objections allowed from fire authorities, the HSE, An Garda Síochána and local communities
  • they will be required to have CCTV on the premises and have security staff properly accredited with the Private Security Authority
  • nightclubs must also have 20% of their floor allocated for dancing and a live band or DJ must be playing
  • all venues must protect staff, patrons and performers from harassment, including sexual harassment in line with the new Night Time Economy Charter and the government’s Zero Tolerance Plan to tackle Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based violence.

“Our late-night venues and nightclubs are at the heart of night-time culture,” said the Minister, “Nightclubs are an integral part of the life of a city. We do not just experience music on the dancefloor. Clubbing is culture which drives creativity and shapes attitudes.

“Our late-night venues and nightclubs are at the heart of night-time culture," said the Minister, "Nightclubs are an integral part of the life of a city. We do not just experience music on the dancefloor. Clubbing is culture which drives creativity and shapes attitudes.

“Our late-night venues and nightclubs are at the heart of night-time culture,” said the Minister, “Nightclubs are an integral part of the life of a city. We do not just experience music on the dancefloor. Clubbing is culture which drives creativity and shapes attitudes.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen the numbers of nightclubs in Ireland reduce significantly in recent years. Some estimates have suggested that we only have 80 nightclubs, down from over 500 20 years ago, to 300 in 2009 and only 80 today.

“To support Irish nightclubs – and ensure that our night-time culture is equal to that in cities across modern European cities – I’m proposing that nightclubs would have the option of staying open until 6am, with the requirement that alcohol cannot be served after 5am.

“The proposed legislation also strikes a balance between maintaining strict controls and safeguards while supporting our night-time culture and economy.”

New enforcement measures in the General Scheme of the Bill include:

  • strengthening conditions around the online sale of alcohol – online sales must be paid for in advance and the person delivering the alcohol must check that the person receiving the delivery is 18 or older. Failing to do so will be an offence
  • allowing An Garda Siochána apply to the District Court for a temporary Closure Order where a licensed premises has failed to comply with a direction to preserve order on their premises
  • allow An Garda Siochána to issue fixed charge notices for offences such as being ‘found on’ licensed premises during prohibited hours, consuming alcohol on such premises during prohibited hours and falsely representing oneself as being resident in licensed premises for the purposes of obtaining alcohol.

Off-licence hours

Off-licence opening hours will be standardised across the week and off licences will have the option of opening from 10.30am to 10pm seven days a week – a change from the current position where these hours apply six days a week, with Sunday sales only permitted from 12.30pm on Sunday.

 

Off-licence opening hours will be standardised across the week and off licences will have the option of opening from 10.30am to 10pm seven days a week.

Off-licence opening hours will be standardised across the week and off licences will have the option of opening from 10.30am to 10pm seven days a week.

On-Licence extinguishment

After a transition period of three years following the enactment of the Bill, Minister McEntee proposes to remove the extinguishment requirement whereby anyone seeking to open a new premises or an off-licence must first purchase a licence from an existing licence-holder in order to do so.

The General Scheme proposes an amendment to the so-called ‘extinguishment’ provision which sometimes proves an impediment to opening a new pub in towns and villages where some premises have shut, particularly in rural areas.

Often, these licences are sold in closed transactions to a large supermarket chain to be used for the purposes of an in store off-licence in an urban area. And the cost of a licence can be prohibitive for someone seeking to open a new pub in a rural town which may need it.

The ‘extinguishment’ requirement will remain in place for off-licences however and will only be applicable to licences already in existence on the enactment of this Bill. No new licences granted under this Bill could be sold for extinguishment purposes.

“I do not believe we need a dramatic increase in the number of new pubs,” said the Minister, “But, in circumstances where a town has lost its pub we should acknowledge that the community has lost one of its focal points. The current system makes it difficult for anyone who wants to open a new pub in towns and villages where a pub has closed its doors.

“To help develop a vibrant night-time economy and culture, support our pub sector and especially help our rural towns and villages, the ‘extinguishment’ requirement for pubs should be wound down.

“However, I believe there is a strong public health rationale for maintaining it for off-licences.

“Publicans and those who operate venues are required to run an orderly business – and alcohol is served in a controlled environment.

“Alcohol is consumed at home in an uncontrolled environment and removing the extinguishment requirement for off-licenses would not support the development of night-time culture and the economy.

“But reforms to provisions such as these, over a century old, require a period to allow people readjust.

“That’s why I’m proposing a three-year transition period following the enactment of this Bill – during this period, the extinguishment provision will still apply.”

“I want to ensure that smaller cultural institutions and galleries can help breathe life back into our towns and that is why my proposals allow smaller venues apply for what will be called a Cultural Amenity Licence."

“I want to ensure that smaller cultural institutions and galleries can help breathe life back into our towns and that is why my proposals allow smaller venues apply for what will be called a Cultural Amenity Licence.”

“Cultural Amenity Licence”

To further support night-time culture the Minister proposes to create a new “Cultural Amenity Licence” for galleries, theatres, museums and other cultural venues.

This would apply to small cultural venues in towns and villages and not just larger national venues in our cities. This will be available strictly for venues where the sale of alcohol is not the main activity on the premises and is only for the convenience of people attending the venue for another reason such as an exhibition and it will only be allowed for a set period of time – between one hour before and one hour after a performance takes place.

These licences will also require court approval and will have to meet the same requirements as a fully-licensed premises – to ensure a level playing field.

“Supporting night-time culture is not just about national cultural institutions in our major cities” said the Minister “vibrant night-time culture can reinvigorate our towns and villages too.

“I want to ensure that smaller cultural institutions and galleries can help breathe life back into our towns and that is why my proposals allow smaller venues apply for what will be called a ‘Cultural Amenity Licence’.”

It is the Minister’s intention to consult further following the publication of the General Scheme of the Bill, including pre-legislative scrutiny at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice.

In summary, the Minister stated, “This proposed licensing reform was a key recommendation of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce which I established to drive a more vibrant, diverse and sustainable Night-Time Economy”.

Welcoming the proposed reforms, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said, “This Bill will bring transformational change to the sector and it is a change that will be seen in every city, town, village and parish in the country. The stepping forward of this crucial legislation will, I believe, also help breathe new life into our rural economy.

“Reinvigorating our towns and villages is a key priority of this government and I believe this Bill will give a much-needed boost to our rural pubs, clubs and economies as a whole.”

The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin commented, “The new Bill will allow us to take back our nights and represents a crucial milestone for all those working in the Night-Time Economy and for all those who have long campaigned for a modernisation of our licensing laws”.

 

 

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