The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 now goes to the committee stage but a number of issues remain to be clarified.
With the exception of one or two TDs the government did not oppose the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill calling for the ban on the sale of alcohol in pubs on Good Friday to be lifted and so the ban, introduced in 1927, could be dropped next year if the Government incorporates the Good Friday amendment – as proposed by Independent Senator Billy Lawless and co-sponsored by Senators Michael McDowell, Victor Boyhan and Gerard Craughwell – into its long-planned Sale of Alcohol Bill which is expected to be published this Autumn.
This will replace legislation relating to the “sale, supply and consumption” of alcohol.
Pubs take in just under a third of their weekly business on a Friday and Easter Week’s Holy Thursday is one of the biggest off-licence sales days of the year, according to Senator Billy Lawless.
A 2016 DCU study found that the Good Friday ban costs the on-trade some €30 million.
However at yesterday’s Second Stage reading of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality David Stanton TD pointed out that the proposed amendment of the general rule in section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 would serve to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in off-licences and public houses but would not remove the restriction in respect of restaurants operating on the basis of Part II of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988.
“The 1988 Act created a Special Restaurant Licence to cater for the specific needs of the restaurant sector,” he stated, “It means, for example, that applicants are not required to extinguish an existing licence in order to obtain such a licence. Sales for consumption off the premises are not permitted however. According to the Revenue Commissioners up to 500 Special Restaurant Licences are currently in use across the country.”
He continued, “Section 14 of the 1988 Act specifies the permitted trading hours for premises operating on the basis of a Special Restaurant Licence. It prohibits the sale of intoxicating liquor at any time on Good Friday. It would clearly be anomalous – as well as potentially discriminatory – to amend the law in order to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses which happen to operate as restaurants or otherwise provide meals for customers but not in restaurants holding Special Restaurant Licences.
“Section 56 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 deals with prohibited hours in registered clubs; these are members’ clubs which hold a certificate of registration from the District Court under the Registration of Clubs Acts. According to the Courts Service, over 500 clubs currently qualify as registered clubs.
“In order to obtain registration, a club must incorporate requirements in relation to its management and operation into its rules, including rules which are broadly analogous to the licensing code.
“They must contain a rule which provides that intoxicating liquor shall not be supplied, subject to minor exceptions, to members or their guests at any time on Good Friday.
“In order to retain the current symmetry between the rules of registered clubs and licensed premises in relation to the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday, an appropriate amendment to the Registration of Clubs Acts would be required.
“There are other references to Good Friday in the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2011 which the Private Members Bill does not address and failure to do so could create other legal uncertainties. For example, the definition of ‘weekday’ in section 1 of the 1927 Act excludes Good Friday. Section 7 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1960 permits the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor by guests in a holiday camp in the context of a substantial meal but only between 6 pm and 9 pm on Good Friday.
“It is for these reasons that the view had been taken at Government level that adjustment of the Good Friday rules should preferably be considered in the context of the Sale of Alcohol Bill,” he concluded, “As I mentioned already that Bill is intended to update the law relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in licensed premises by repealing in their entirety the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2011 and the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008 and replacing them with streamlined and updated provisions more suited to modern conditions. This would mean that changes to licensing arrangements for Good Friday could be considered holistically and in a comprehensive way, rather than in a piecemeal manner.”