107. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider revising the licensing laws to extend the opening hours of licensed premises such as public houses in order to mitigate the loss of earnings caused by restrictions on indoor services being provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36608/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): On Friday last, I was pleased to announce the enactment of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021.
Notwithstanding local authorities powers’ to make bye-laws, this important piece of legislation introduces changes in the law to allow for the sale and consumption of alcohol in relevant outdoor seating areas, where those outdoor seating areas have been permitted by the relevant local authority on public land, or where they are on private land abutting the licensed premises, as provided for in the Act.
These relevant outdoor seating areas are deemed to be part of the licensed premises while this legislation remains in force. As the Deputy will be aware, the Act has been introduced in response to the unique circumstances of the pandemic and therefore is time-bound. The provisions of the Act will remain in place until 30 November 2021, but can be extended for up to 6 months at a time, if a resolution is passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Importantly, this legislation provides the clarity that has been sought and ensures that we can deliver on the Government’s commitments for an outdoor summer and to give certainty to thousands of businesses and their staff that they can remain open and continue to serve their customers in a safe and compliant way.
The Act preserves the existing obligations on licence holders, including to maintain good order on their licensed premises, and the relevant trading hours. Failure to do so will be grounds for objection to the renewal of the licence, even if, at the time of renewal, the licensee has ceased to operate the outdoor seating area. It should be borne in mind that, in the context of supporting business to operate in outdoor seating areas, extended hours would not be suitable for many licensed premises operating in these outdoor areas in light of community and neighbourhood concerns. There is a balance of considerations in all such decisions.
The Act also makes it an offence not to comply with a direction by a member of An Garda Síochána to take any steps necessary to ensure compliance with the licensing legislation. This is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to €2,500 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months. Compliance with the relevant COVID-19 health regulations will also apply to outdoor seating areas.
From a longer term perspective, the Justice Plan 2021, published on 22 February, commits to reviewing and modernising alcohol licensing. It is my intention as part of the work of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce looking at innovative approaches to support and develop a vibrant, diverse night-time culture and economy in Ireland, to bring forward legislation that will contain proposals to update the law relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in licensed premises and registered clubs, by replacing both the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018 and the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008 with streamlined provisions more suited to modern conditions. Trading hours for licensed premises will be part of that legislative review.