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NOffLA Speaks – Test purchasing

The Garda Síochána introduced a test purchasing scheme to check for incidents of the sale of alcohol to minors 12 months ago. The National Off-Licence Association welcomed its introduction as such a scheme has been a central part of NOffLA’s Responsible Trading in the Community programme for several years and membership of the association is dependent on member outlets being RTC certified.

The test purchasing scheme permits the Gardaí to send a person who is 15, 16 or 17 years old into a licensed premises for the purposes of purchasing alcohol. If a sale takes place, the premises concerned will be prosecuted.

Recent test purchases in the Clondalkin area highlighted the benefits for outlets operating under the Responsible Trading in the Community scheme. Those outlets which passed the garda test purchasing scheme put their experience down to the default behavior as a result of the training they had received under the scheme.

Without doubt, one of the biggest challenges facing off-licence staff is in determining if a prospective customer is of legal age to purchase alcohol. It is vital that off-licence staff are vigilant at all times. NOffLA recommends a “challenge 23” approach, i.e. anyone who seems to be under 23 years of age should be asked to provide identification. The Garda Age card should be the main form of I.D. sought as it is the only age document that will stand up in court.

The sale of alcohol to any person under the age of 18 years is an offence under the Liquor Licensing Acts (2000-2008) and failure to comply can result in the following penalties:

• A minimum fine of up to €3,000
• Possible endorsement of a licence
• Temporary closure order of a minimum of two days

NOffLA took particular note of the stated objective of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, when he announced the initiative a year ago: "I want to stress that the objective of the scheme is to ascertain whether a licensee is complying with the law, not to trap an unwary licensee into committing an offence. The test purchaser must answer all questions about their age truthfully." Such an approach should provide a level playing field for those retailers who are committed to operating their business in a professional and responsible manner.

The Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC) programme, created and implemented by the National Off-Licence Association, has come to be recognised as one of the most successful initiatives for tackling the alcohol misuse and underage drinking problems in Ireland over many years.

RTC provides retailers with the opportunity to receive up-to-date information on legislation and an appreciation of the impact of the laws on the work place. In addition the course incorporates the skills needed to help deal with difficult situations that could potentially put a retailer’s livelihood at risk.

All NOffLA members must hold RTC accreditation. Members are reminded of the importance of achieving – and maintaining – this professional standard. We look forward to seeing similar standards of responsible trading across all Irish alcohol retail outlets.

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