The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern, T.D., has today published the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. The Bill is based on recommendations set out in the Report of the Government Alcohol Advisory Group which was presented to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 31 March 2008.

Publishing the Bill, Minister Ahern said, "This Bill contains some important reforms of the licensing laws and public order legislation to address the adverse consequences of alcohol abuse in our society. The measures proposed are a balanced response to problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking."

The Minister said that the strategy underpinning the draft legislation is one which tackles the increased visibility and availability of alcohol through off-licences while tightening the conditions under which premises with on-licences qualify for special exemption orders permitting them to remain open beyond normal licensing hours. The Bill strengthens enforcement provisions, particularly in relation to underage drinking, and increases penalties for certain public order and licensing offences.

The Bill also contains a number of measures to curtail drinking in public places, especially by those under 18, including allowing the Gardaí to seize alcohol. The Gardaí will also have powers to seize alcohol from anyone (regardless of their age) where the consumption of the alcohol in a public place is causing, or is likely to cause, annoyance or nuisance or a breach of the peace. The Minister said the new powers will add significantly to the effectiveness of the Garda response to drinking in public places.

Minister Ahern said: "The new powers are designed to prevent problems arising. They allow the Gardaí to take early and effective action to nip problems in the bud." He added that "The new powers will be especially welcomed by traders and householders in areas which have been suffering from the scourge of drinking in public, with all the related problems that can bring with it."
The Minster said that he will be seeking the assistance and co-operation of both Houses of the Oireachtas to achieve the early enactment of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. "I know that there is broad support for steps to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse and I look forward to enactment of the Bill before the summer recess.".

The Minister added that arrangements are being made for the introduction of fixed penalty charges for the public order offences of drunkenness and disorderly conduct in a public place. The Minster said: "The introduction of these charges represents a significant development in the enforcement of our public order laws. Fixed charges are efficient and effective and they have attractions for all concerned; the offender avoids a criminal conviction, the Gardaí will not be tied up with attendance at court and the courts will, I hope, see a reduction in this type of case. I am planning to bring the new arrangements into operation to coincide with the enactment of the new Bill."

The Bill and the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum are available on the web sites of the Oireachtas and the Department- www.oireachtas.ie and www.justice.ie.

 4 June 2008


Note for Editors

Late last year, the Health Research Board published its Overview of ‘Health-related consequences of problem alcohol use’. It drew attention to the fact that alcohol consumption in Ireland has increased significantly over recent decades. In fact, we have one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the European Union. In 2006, alcohol consumption levels in this country were about 30% higher than the EU average.

Moreover, we have a particular problem with binge drinking which is far more common here than in other EU countries. The 2007 Eurobarometer survey found that 34% of Irish drinkers consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting compared with the EU average of 10%. When asked about the frequency of consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion, 54% of respondents in Ireland stated that they did so at least one a week. This was the highest figure recorded for any of the countries in the survey. Ireland emerges clearly with the highest level of binge drinking.

The health-related consequences of excessive alcohol consumption are by now well known. They include an increased incidence of accidents, injuries, domestic violence and suicide. Adverse social and economic consequences include absenteeism and loss of productivity. And I do not need to spell out the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on levels of crime, public disorder and anti-social behaviour.

The Bill also addresses the proliferation of premises with theatre licences. The Advisory Group reported that in the first three months of 2008 almost 100 theatre licences were issued as compared with 76 such licences during the previous year. Traditionally, the licensing laws provided very lenient opening hours in theatres and clearly this facility was now being used to get around the licensing laws. Under the terms of the Bill, the sale of alcohol in premises operating under theatre licences will be limited to regular closing hours, unless they seek and are granted extended opening hours under a special exemption order by the District Court.

Premises seeking special exemption orders which permit late night drinking in pubs and nightclubs will have to comply with the fire safety standards, maximum occupancy capacity and have an operational CCTV system.

Appendix

The main provisions of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 are as follows:

Sale of alcohol

· Wine off-licences, which may be obtained at present directly from the Revenue Commissioners, will in future require a District Court certificate.
· The grounds on which objection may be made to the grant of a District Court certificate for any off-licence will be extended to include consideration of the needs of the neighbourhood and the adequacy of the existing number of off-licences in the area.
· Off-sales of alcohol will be permitted only between 10.30 a.m. and 10.00 p.m. (12.30 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. on Sundays).
· Provisions permitting early morning opening of public houses in the vicinity of fairs and markets will be repealed.
· In future, alcohol products must be displayed and sold in supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. in a specified area which is structurally separated from the rest of the premises or, where such separation is not possible, alcohol products must be displayed and sold from behind a counter (this will not affect specialist off-licences or duty free shops).
· Test purchasing of alcohol products will be permitted and it will apply both to on-licences and off-licences; appropriate safeguards for the protection of the young people concerned will be required.

Extended opening hours

· The public order ground on which the Gardai may object to the grant of a special exemption order by the District Court, or its duration, is being strengthened.
· In future, the District Court may not grant any such order unless the premises concerned comply fully with fire safety standards.
· A new statutory requirement to have a CCTV system in place in premises availing of special exemption orders for events to which the public are admitted are taking place, i.e. nightclubs and late bars, is being introduced.
· In future, premises with theatre licences may only remain open after normal closing times if a special exemption order has been obtained from the District Court.

Public order

· New powers will permit a member of the Garda Síochána to seize any bottle or container which is in the possession of a person who appears to be under the age of 18 and which the member suspects, with reasonable cause, contains alcohol which has been consumed, is being consumed, or intended to be consumed, by a person under 18 years in a place other than a place used as a private dwelling.

· New powers will permit the seizure of bottles and containers containing alcohol where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder and which may be used to require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner.

Alcohol promotions and discount sales

The Bill provides for the making of detailed regulations in future to prohibit or restrict advertising or promoting the sale or supply of alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of any quantity of intoxicating liquor or of any other product or service. Regulations may also be made which will prohibit events or activities which are intended or likely to encourage excessive consumption of alcohol.

Penalties and sanctions

Certain fines in the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004 and fines under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 are being increased (Schedules 1 and 2). In addition, a minimum closure period of two days will apply in the case of convictions for certain offences under the Licensing Acts.