Wednesday, 8 December 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Ms O'Sullivan: On a point of order, I find it difficult to understand how we could have submitted amendments for Report Stage before the end of Committee Stage because that would have meant second guessing how the House would divide on the issues which arose on Committee Stage. I know Fianna Fáil backbenchers were orchestrated into going out to the plinth and—
Ms O'Sullivan: Is there an assumption that they would do the same here on Committee Stage? In other words, is there is an assumption that the Government benches will vote in a certain way so that we know what amendments we should submit on Report Stage? In other words, we second guess the decision of the House in relation to amendments on Committee Stage.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is a long standing practice in this House that in order to facilitate the office, which would not be able to produce the amendments and circulate them if they were given to it after Committee Stage, that amendments are submitted before or during Committee Stage. If for any reason an amendment was accepted on Committee Stage, it could be withdrawn. That is the longstanding practice. There is no other way business can be done in accordance with the order made this morning that all Stages be taken together.
I find it difficult to move an amendment when we do not have it before us. Amendment No. 1 seeks to reinstate section 1, which was changed on Committee Stage. The reason we tabled this amendment is to reinstate the Bill other than section 7, which was a controversial element. In order to do so, we have to reinstate section 1. This will enable us to introduce this legislation.  There was one anomaly, that is, section 7, but we believe the other sections, which the Minister plans to introduce in the new year, should be introduced in this legislation. It is crucial that we get this matter out of the way and get proper legislation on intoxicating liquor through the House so that we may debate thoroughly the new intoxicating liquor Bill which will be introduced in the new year. I do not want to see what happened with the gun licensing legislation happen to this Bill. It was rammed through the House without Members having an opportunity to see it.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Deputy O'Sullivan on tabling Report Stage amendments. It is unfair on Members who have an interest in the Bill and who tabled amendments on Committee Stage if they do not have an opportunity to table amendments on Report Stage. I move this amendment to ensure that we can reinstate the other elements of the Bill which are welcome, with which the Minister agrees and which my colleagues and I believe should be introduced now to enable us to thoroughly go through the Bill next year without having to rush to introduce it before the change in hours.
Mr. Enright: I strongly recommend that the Minister accept this amendment. I am amazed the Minister has deleted this section. It is ludicrous that pubs are prevented from opening between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays. In the case of a recent match, a pub was closed by gardaí, as they were obliged to close it, with the result that people could not see the game. Many matches are televised and people cannot enter pubs to see them before 4 p.m., which makes a joke of the situation. Other matches conclude at 3 p.m. and people may want a drink afterwards. People going out for the afternoon enjoy refreshments and may want to avail of facilities in pubs also. During the summer families going to the seaside often visit bars. It would be grossly unfair and unwise of the Minister not to accept this amendment.
When I heard the initial announcement that pubs were to open all night on new year's eve I thought it was a joke or that someone in RTE had made a mistake. That measure proposed keeping pubs open for 22 hours. We are seeking to keep pubs open for two extra hours on Sunday. If the Minister wants the Bill to work and goodwill from all sides, including publicans, common sense demands the pubs be left open from 2 to 4 p.m.
Acting Chairman (Ms Coughlan): Given the context of the amendment there may be a little meandering going on. Deputies should stick to the point if at all possible. Every Member here has the eloquence to do so.
Mr. Flanagan: On the point, rather than on the pint, we are engaging in farce. The Minister is treating Parliament and the Legislature with total and utter contempt. The Taoiseach announced on the Order of Business a fortnight ago that a short  Bill entitled the Intoxicating Liquor (No. 2) Bill, 1999, would be introduced before the end of the year. This is the Bill. When the Minister brought it in I thought we were having a funeral service. The bell rang, people gathered for the wake and the Minister went to get snuff, but an hour later he is still here. There will be no drinking at this wake. It is high farce. No wonder this Parliament is deemed irrelevant in certain quarters when the Minister proposes Committee Stage amendments which seek to gut his own Bill. The Bill has already been gutted by Fianna Fáil backbenchers.
Mr. Flanagan: It has the greatest relevance to the parliamentary farce the Minister engaged in this afternoon. He wants the House to give him a Committee and Report Stage reading to his satisfaction, and he should be ashamed of himself. It is a year and a half since the committee report was published, making 75 recommendations. Some were taken on board by the Minister earlier in the year, while half an hour ago some were removed from legislation. Although it was proposed by the Minister in June, he now tells us he is getting rid of it. He dissociated himself from his colleague, the Minister for candles, who told the country it could drink all night on the eve of the millennium. He decided he did not want that. The only reason we are debating this legislation is to facilitate the Minister with the millennium.
This is not the first time reform of intoxicating liquor legislation was introduced on the eve of Christmas. We did it in 1995 to facilitate the larger supermarkets, which wished to remain open to sell intoxicating liquor on Christmas eve. During that debate, the then Minister for Justice sowed the seed of the all-party committee when she said such a committee should engage in round table discussions on the best way to reform and consolidate our liquor licensing code. The current Minister was a member of that committee and made valuable contributions to it. Who has handcuffed him since he became Minister? Who has imprisoned him and thrown away the key?
Mr. Flanagan: What is wrong? Why can somebody not deal with this? For the second time in ten years we are here on the eve of Christmas debating Mickey Mouse legislation that the Minister has emasculated before our eyes this afternoon in an act of unprecedented political sabotage. He should be ashamed of the way he has treated the House.
Mr. Flanagan: What does the 1999 legislation mean? It is a Mickey Mouse Bill with only one section and a promise from the Minister to come back in January with a new Bill, but we have heard it all before.
Ms O'Sullivan: I support the amendments tabled by Fine Gael Members. I have already made a protest as to why I have not put down amendments. I used logic and decided to wait until after Committee Stage to see what happened before putting down Report Stage amendments, but obviously logic does not enter the equation at this point. Maybe it does not enter the debate at all.
In seeking to restore the definitions in the Minister's original Bill we are seeking to restore that Bill. We are trying to restore what was in the Minister's mind in June with improvements from the Opposition, which is the normal practice of legislation here and in other legislatures. We are trying to include what the Minister originally intended for the Bill, but now we are being asked to deal with the millennium and to ignore other aspects of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts, 1927 to 1988, though even the Minister and his colleagues admit these need amending. I know Deputy Collins speaks from experience when he indicates the need to amend these Acts, though we may not agree on how they should be amended.
All sides of the House have had plenty of time to consider the matter. We are trying to carry out the Minister's intentions from earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see the Bill when it is finished, as it will be tiny and inadequate, dealing with one night in a millennium. I support the amendments.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Amendment No. 1 deals with definitions. We seek to retain the existing section, which the Minister proposes to delete – it states that the Act of 1927 means the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1927 and the Act of 1988 means the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1988. These are the two key precedent Acts and our key amendment is based on them. That amendment seeks to do four things: to have pubs open to 12.30 a.m. all year round; to amend the law to abolish the holy hour; to regularise the disco situation; and to ensure that St. Patrick's Day, for example, will no longer be treated as a Sunday but as a weekday.
I propose that following the words “the Act of 1927”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, and before the words “the Act of 1988”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, the Minister should have inserted the words “the Act of 1962”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, because that Act is referred to in the Minister's amendment. The Minister has culled, deleted, dismantled and demolished the Bill. The only addition is the introduction of  amendment No. 6 in his name and amendment No. 8.
Regarding section 7, which relates to the time for the consumption of intoxicating liquor supplied during permitted hours, the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, as amended by section 27 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, shall apply to this section with effect from the end of the period of time referred to in subsection (1) of this section. Will the Minister examine whether the 1962 Act should be included as one of the defining Acts.
By attempting a shortcut, the Minister has not only done a disservice to the procedure of the House but to a body of well thought out amendments tabled not for vexatious reasons but to introduce sane regulations to broaden the scope of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, to provide reasonable flexibility at different ends of the spectrum and to introduce amendments which the Minister has broadly accepted in spirit.
I predict that the proposed closing times of 11.30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays is a recipe for confusion. The proposed changes are guaranteed to cause confusion. The gardaí may forget to turn over the page of a calendar and arrive at a licensed premises on a Thursday night at a certain time. The tourist trade is all-year round and the fact that a licensed premises can stay open later at weekends does not suffice in terms of meeting the necessary demands that are being sought. I do not have much contact with the Licensed Vintners Association, the Dublin based organisation, but I have a good deal of contact with the Vintners Federation of Ireland, a largely rural-based organisation—
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): It is that time of year. The licensed trade down the country is supportive of the proposed extension of closing time, although if it were introduced it may not automatically extend the existing closing time but it should have the option to do so.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —during the earlier Stage from both the Minister and his colleague. They tended to take the view that we were representing a solo opinion on this issue and the Minister subsequently in a conversation with me made a point—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am also supportive of this amendment and I was a mover of a similar proposal on an earlier Stage. The Minister received directly a letter from the Vintners Federation of Ireland on 17 June and a further letter on 18 June with an accompanying text, a proposed amendment that is 100% reflected in the detail of the amendments proposed by Deputies Higgins, O'Sullivan and myself. I refute—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is an important point and I look forward to giving the Minister and Deputy Collins further insight into this correspondence which they will surely find on their respective desks.
Mr. O'Donoghue: There is little point in my repeating all of what I said earlier other than that it is clear that the two provisions that it is proposed to delete from this legislation will be included in the more comprehensive Bill – they will not be abandoned. I have made that clear a thousand times.
Regarding the issue of late night drinking on the millennium, the millennium committee originally proposed that it should be permitted all night and I was amenable to that. For practical reasons it then recommended that closing time should be extended to 1.30 a.m. and I was amenable to that, which shows, to use Deputy Higgins's words, that I am receptive, open, flexible and magnanimous.
Mr. Éamon de Valera once said, “The antagonisms of the young I can bear as having something generous about them, but the antagonisms of the old I cannot stand because they are ingrained in the marrow of the bone.” That is why I will address myself very briefly to Deputy Naughten.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Naughten should be antagonistic and he should fight his corner as best he can, but he should not predicate arguments on falsehoods, and of these he is guilty of two at least. He stated that the proposals in respect of the hours are my proposals. That is false. He stated that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had a very poor record in the  production of legislation and that, too, is a falsehood. It may surprise him to learn that since late June 1997 when I took office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform 24 Bills have passed through this House and the Seanad and they are on the Statute Book. It may surprise him to learn further that I currently have 11 Bills before the House and the Seanad and 28 Bills in the course of preparation. That is a record by any standards, but I am not talking about myself or my accountability as political head of the Department, I am speaking of the civil servants who have worked very hard since I became Minister in the Department and I am sure before that time. It is wrong that a young Deputy should make those kinds of allegations and they should not be countenanced. I advise the Deputy, for what it is worth, that from my experience as a Member of this House it is not worth his while behaving like that. It was important to say that.
Regarding the issue Deputy Ó Caoláin raised, I regret he does not hold me in the same esteem as many of his colleagues, but that is a matter for him. To be honest, it does not worry me because judging by his behaviour, it would be worth nothing anyway. He should know more than most why I was not in a position to be in this House to defend this legislation from criticism during the summer. I explained earlier that I was in Hillsborough all that week and that I could not be in two places at the one time. I explained that the provisions, which I propose to delete from this legislation, are not as relevant or pressing now for the simple reason that we are not entering the summer months – we are heading into the winter months. I explained it is my intention to include those proposals in the comprehensive legislation before the summer.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Reforming the intoxicating liquor law is not a simple matter for the simple reason that a balance must be achieved, and that balance is of considerable importance. It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the trade held a different view from that reflected in the proposals that will come before the House. I discussed the proposals with the trade. I cannot be responsible if the trade changes its mind. The proposals that will come before the House, as I outlined, have been the subject matter of a considerable amount of debate between myself and the trade.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Flanagan may consider this is Mickey Mouse legislation providing for the extension of opening hours to 1.30 a.m. on the night of the millennium. He may be perfectly correct, but the position is that this is an attempt to allow people to enjoy themselves, and the law  must be amended if they are to do so legally. It is as simple as that.
With regard to more comprehensive legislation, I have made the position clear. I will introduce comprehensive legislation, the first in more than 30 years. Deputy Flanagan's party was in Government for a considerable number of the intervening years, yet it did not introduce legislation in this area.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The Deputy may regard this as high farce, but the people for whom I am legislating may not regard it as such and neither does the trade. He may regard it as high farce but the people for whom I am legislating and the trade do not regard it as high farce.
Mr. O'Donoghue: As regards the holy hour, Deputy Belton said people would have to wait for a drink until Monday. That is high farce but the Deputy is entitled to say it. I recall the late Pat Upton saying that the reason the weekday holy hour was abolished in Dublin was to try to get civil servants back to work after lunch. One of the civil servants who was here with me that evening sent me a note stating that the reason was to get Deputies back to the Dáil after Question Time when the bar was still open.
Mr. Naughten: I apologise to the Minister if I misled the House. I thought he was proposing to abolish the closing hour between two o'clock and four o'clock on Sundays. I thought it was his intention to get rid of the Saturday night anomaly. If I am wrong, I apologise unreservedly to the House but if I am right, I do not know what the Minister is talking about.
Mr. Naughten: I am disappointed the Minister is not willing to accept the amendment which is his proposal. We have no difficulty with the legislation, apart from one section. Yet the Minister has decided to delete six of the eight sections and to dramatically amend the others in the legislation he proposed last June.
Mr. Flanagan: The Minister said that was the basis of the Bill when he responded to the arguments put forward on this side of the House. The only enabling aspect of the legislation is an extra hour and a half on the eve of the millennium. Could the Minister confirm that those engaging in the consumption of intoxicating liquor on that night will not have to eat the leftover chicken or turkey from the Christmas festivities in order to have a drink within the law?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Should the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, be referred to in the definitions as it is one of the anchor pieces of legislation referred to in the Bill? It seems that the 1988 and 1962 Acts are relevant from the point of view of the descriptions or definitions in the Bill. As far as we are concerned, the 1927 Act is also relevant. It must be amended as we propose to do in amendment No. 2.
As regards the special exemptions, that is a different matter. If people wish to apply for special exemptions on the night in question, they are free to make an application to the court in the usual way. I am sure Deputy Flanagan understands that it would be necessary to comply with the normal conditions attaching to special exemptions which would include the provision of food. Only those premises which have restaurant certificates, a publican's licence and dance licences will be in a position to obtain a special exemption.
Mr. Naughten: I am disappointed with the Minister's response. He has the opportunity to amend this legislation to ensure that his original proposals are passed in time for the new year. This could have been his contribution to the millennium. In the original legislation introduced last June, the Minister proposed that licensed premises could stay open for 36 hours, yet he will not allow them to stay open for two hours on Sundays. Deputy Flanagan made a valid point that on New Year's Day people will have to eat the cold turkey left over from the previous day if they want to have a drink. I ask the Minister to reconsider accepting the amendment.
“2.– Section 2 (inserted by section 25 of the Act of 1988) of the Act of 1927 is hereby amended in subsection (1) by the deletion of ', or between the hours of two o'clock and four o'clock in the afternoon' in paragraph (b), and the said subsection (1), as so inserted and as amended by section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1995, is set out in the Table to this section.
(1) Save as is otherwise provided by this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to sell or expose for sale any intoxicating liquor, or to open or keep open any premises for the sale of intoxicating liquor, or to permit any intoxicating liquor to be consumed on licensed premises—
Provided that where in any year the 23rd or 24th day of December falls on a Sunday, then the provisions of this subsection which relate to a weekday during a period which is not a period of summer time shall apply to such a Sunday as if it were such a weekday.”.
This amendment amends section 2, inserted by section 25 of the Act of 1988, of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, by deleting in subsection (1)(b) the provisions prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor between the hours of 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, thereby allowing licensed premises to open for business during these hours.
The merits of this proposal have been spelt out. As Deputy Belton said, the provisions are a hang over from the days when we were a British colony. They have long outlived their usefulness and they are anachronistic but they are still in our legislation because the Minister has not amended them. One is breaking the law if one serves the liquor between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock. As Deputy Flanagan said, Sunday afternoon is now a social occasion. Pubs have effectively become restaurants where people eat and entertain and they have invested heavily.
Sunday is a day of rest and recreation. Many sporting events take place and many pubs specialise in providing large screen coverage. There is multi-channel television on which sporting events from all over the world can be beamed into any pub in Ireland. From a commercial point of view, pubs are considerably constrained by this anachronistic provision. That is why we ask the Minister to accept this, even if it is as a seasonal gesture. We are not introducing this; it was a section which the Minister and his officials drafted, published, introduced to the House and told us on Second Stage that it had all the merit in the world. Now we find the Minister is aborting the provisions of a Bill he lauded in such glowing terms.
The Minister announced this Bill with considerable fanfare. We are asking him to accept what he drafted, lauded and introduced to this House four months ago. If he accepts it, we will gladly accept it. We said that when it was first introduced. We felt that the other provisions of the Bill did not go far enough. The Minister should accept something he proposed.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I support the proposed amendment. I reaffirm the importance of the inclusion of these measures. The current provisions for Sunday afternoons belong to days gone by. They do not reflect the needs or the reality. They are applied more in the breach than in the observance. We must face this reality.
This Bill is important. Key measures have been put before the House in a series of amendments in the hope that these measures would be included as soon as possible, reflective of need. That applies not only to the amendment before us but to the broader measures proposed. My earlier contribution will be reflected again in a later amendment vis-à-vis late opening hours.
In all the contributions I have made in this House I have dealt with the issues. I have never resorted, as the Minister did in his earlier response, to personally directed insults like those which he has just levelled at me in this House. In my two and a half years here some Members of the Opposition have tried to goad me in that way and I have never responded. That is the first time, however, that such comments have been directed at me from the Government benches and certainly never before by a Minister. It is with great disappointment that I note it.
I will continue with the role I am elected to perform, to press the amendments to legislation which are worthy of support. Accordingly, I join  the earlier speakers and recommend that the Minister accommodates the measures proposed at the earliest opportunity – today.
Mr. Flanagan: The Minister has indicated that the only change in the law from his emasculated legislation or his Committee Stage butchery is that people can now drink for 90 minutes more on the eve of the millennium.
Mr. Flanagan: At the start of the millennium, when Brían Boru was coming on horseback from Clare to Clontarf on the eve of the battle, did he say “Lads, we should hold on because it is five to two and we will have to wait outside Clontarf Castle until 4 o'clock to get a drink before we meet Sitric. Be back here at 4 o'clock and we will have a goblet of mead before heading back to Clare”?
The Minister belittled me for describing this as high farce earlier but, in case the Chair has become confused, the Opposition is now impressing on the Minister the need for him to revert to what he said he would do in June. I cannot remember a dissenting voice in the House when the proposal to abolish Sunday closing was introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey. We all agreed. There is an all-party committee report which shows that this House said it is time to do away with the barrier of closing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on a Sunday for the same reasons mentioned by other Deputies. Those reasons are as plain as day. The Minister introduced them to this House six months ago. The provisions were debated and agreed upon before he ran for cover.
He has come back to the House this evening and said that was not what he meant, that we better make sure the pub doors are firmly locked between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every Sunday. If they are not locked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is prepared to let the Garda Síochána turn a blind eye to the reality that Sky Sports and other satellite broadcasters are shown every Sunday in pubs throughout the State. The Minister and the Garda Síochána know that. The Minister tells us he is sorry but the doors must remain closed or the blind eye must be turned. That is zero tolerance.
Mr. Collins: I do not understand why the Fine  Gael Party feels this amendment is so urgent. Deputy Jim Higgins said that Sunday afternoons are a social occasion. He is right. Any premises serving meals can serve drink. The Minister has made a commitment to include this in the Bill he will introduce early next year.
Mr. Collins: The Deputy is mistaken, I did not say that. I am talking about this amendment. If it was that urgent, why was it not done? It will be done. How long did we wait for the committee chaired by Deputy Flanagan?
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