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Question

516. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice her planned reforms to licensing laws; and when she anticipates being able to publish these legislative proposals. [47747/21]

519. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice if steps can be taken to waive or delay the reintroduction of the €410 per night special exemption order in order that some financial pressure can be lifted from the Irish pub and nightclub industry that has experienced a difficult time over 19 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47768/21]

Answer

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): I propose to take Questions Nos. 516 and 519 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Justice Plan 2021 and the Programme for Government commits to reviewing and modernising alcohol licensing.
My Department has been actively engaged with the Night-Time Economy Taskforce looking at innovative approaches to support and develop a vibrant, diverse night-time culture and economy in Ireland. Reforming and modernising our licensing law is an important part of how we do that.
On 15 September 2021, I received Government approval to draft the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill 2021 to reform and modernise licensing laws in Ireland. We are delivering on the first stage of that commitment and setting a course for how we will do it.
The outdated Licensing Acts, Registration of Clubs Acts, and the Public Dance Hall Act 1935, will all be repealed and replaced with updated and streamlined 21st century provisions relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in licensed premises and registered clubs. This will radically reform, streamline and simplify our licensing laws.
The larger body of work on the consolidation and reform of the licensing laws is at an early stage of development and the reform of licensing law is a complex process. Any reforms will be developed with a supportive approach to businesses and the interests of public health, consumers and communities will be central to implementation. For this reason, it is my intention to engage constructively with stakeholders as that work progresses.
Separately, on 15 September, Minister Catherine Martin published the Report and recommendations of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce, which I welcomed. The work of the Taskforce has included wide stakeholder engagement. Liquor licensing reform in general as well as Special Exemptions Orders was the subject of many submissions and presentations received by the Night-Time Economy Taskforce and has formed part of their deliberations.
The recommendation made by the Night-Time Economy Taskforce to review licence fees, including the Special Exemption Order fee, will be taken forward by my officials. It will require further consideration in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Courts Service.
Separate to this review and the fees applicable to Special Exemption Orders, and in acknowledgement of the Covid restrictions, on 21 July 2021, it was announced that the Government had approved a waiver of specified court fees and excise duties for vintners for the second consecutive year. On 29 August, Minister Humphreys signed the District Court (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2021 to give effect to what was approved by Government:
- to waive court fees relating to the renewal of specified pubs and other liquor licences in 2021; and
- to waive excise and stamp duties associated with those court fees for 2021.
In addition, Revenue has waived the excise duty on on-trade liquor licences renewals.
These fees and excise duties have been waived again in 2021 to support vintners and other licensed premises. I know that the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on these businesses and Government is keen to support them in any way we can. The waiving of these fees and duties is an important signal of that support.
Pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants are all benefitting from this measure, helping to stimulate economic activity and employment as the sector returns to activity in line with Government and public health recommendations.