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Question

9. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will be bringing forward new measures to tackle underage drinking. [15527/17]

Answer

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The position is there are robust provisions in place regarding the sale and the consumption of intoxicating liquor by persons under the age of 18 years. The law in this area was most recently amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which amended the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004 and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 with the aim of reducing access to alcohol and at the same time strengthening measures to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour.
The sale of alcohol products to underage persons is prohibited under licensing law. As the Deputy knows, it is an offence under section 31(2) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, as amended, for a licenceholder to sell or deliver, or permit another person to sell or deliver, intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 years of age. This applies equally to premises with off-licences, including supermarkets, convenience stores and similar outlets, and those with on-licences such as public houses. The penalties were substantially increased in 2008. On conviction for a first offence, a mandatory closure order of between two and seven days will be imposed, together with a fine of up to €3,000. The penalties for a second or subsequent offence is a closure order of between seven and 30 days and a fine of up to €5,000. In addition, the licensee is required to continue to pay staff for the duration of the closure period.
Moreover, under section 32 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is an offence for a person to purchase intoxicating liquor for delivery to, or consumption by, a person under the age of 18 years or to deliver intoxicating liquor to such a person. Under section 33 of the 1988 Act, as amended, it is also illegal for a person under 18 years to buy intoxicating liquor or to consume it in any place outside their home or in another person's home where they are present by right or with permission.
There is very detailed legislation about this. Clearly, the implementation or monitoring of it is a highly challenging issue. We know we have a very serious problem in respect of young people's drinking, which is not least seen in our road statistics. Alcohol features in many of the fatalities we see on the road, particularly among younger people. It is a group we need to target in this regard.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 also provided the Garda with significant additional powers to address the problem of alcohol sales to persons under the age of 18 years. Section 14 contains provisions which allow a garda who believes with reasonable cause that a person is under 18 years and that that person, or anyone accompanying that person, is in possession of intoxicating liquor for the purpose of consuming it in a place other than a private dwelling, to seek an explanation and if not satisfied with the reply, he or she may seize the intoxicating liquor if it is not handed over voluntarily.
Section 14 of the 2008 Act also makes provision for the test purchasing of alcohol products. The primary objective of the scheme, which entered into force on 1 October 2010, is to enable the Garda to target those licensed premises which are suspected of engaging in illegal sales to young people. This scheme provides the Garda Síochána with an additional instrument in its overall enforcement programme.
The Garda national age card scheme is an important proof-of-age mechanism in respect of the sale of intoxicating liquor. The scheme is administered by An Garda Síochána and has facilitated the Garda, in co-operation with the licensed trade, to address and combat underage consumption of intoxicating liquor.
The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which was amended by the 2008 Act, also permits An Garda Síochána to seize bottles or containers containing intoxicating liquor where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner. Incidents of public disorder and anti-social behaviour arising from the abuse of intoxicating liquor are investigated by the Garda and dealt with in an appropriate manner, including by caution, fixed charge penalty notices or commencement of proceedings.
In addition, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, the overall objective of which is to reduce alcohol consumption and to address the underlying causes of alcohol misuse, includes a number of provisions aimed specifically at children. For example, the Bill makes provision for restrictions on the content, placement and volume of alcohol advertising. The aim of the restrictions is to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising and to break the positive associations between alcohol and lifestyle, for example, advertisements linking alcohol with social or sporting success. The Bill also prohibits the sponsorship by alcohol companies of events where the majority of individuals taking part are children or aimed particularly at children. The Bill commenced Committee Stage in the Seanad on 26 October last and I understand from my colleague the Minister for Health, who is responsible for the Bill, that it will recommence Committee Stage in the Seanad during the current session of the Oireachtas.