Tuesday, 19 December 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): The Bill introduces modest and limited amendments to the Licensing Acts. Its main aim is to ensure that shops and supermarkets that have licensed sections can open as if it was a weekday on any Christmas Eve or 23 December that falls on Sunday. The last time Christmas Eve or 23 December fell on a Sunday was five years ago. This year Christmas Eve is on Sunday and then  the legislation will not be relevant until the year 2000 and I cannot say who will be here then.
The Bill has a simple and straightforward purpose. It recognises that people like to shop, eat out or simply meet their friends for a drink on Christmas Eve, even when it falls on a Sunday. It will facilitate retail businesses and consumers alike in the immediate run up to Christmas. In the interests of fairness, its provisions will extend to other licensed premises and registered clubs.
With Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday this year, restricted trading hours would apply to premises licensed to sell alcohol, like shops, supermarkets, pubs, restaurants and off licences. Were that to remain the position, it would cause unnecessary difficulties for people who rely on food shops being opened during their final preparations for the festive season. I have in mind people shopping for fresh foods in the run up to Christmas and those persons who like shopping up to the last moment; people for whom such shopping has become a tradition. Of course, many people like to shop and sample the Christmas atmosphere as family groups on Christmas Eve. There are also those who, because of work commitments or because some family members are living or working away from home, find it difficult to organise a family shopping day until Christmas is almost upon them.
The present position under the Licensing Acts is that, when Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, licensed premises cannot open for business until 12.30 p.m. and have to close their doors between 2.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. For the owners of, and shoppers in, most premises with off licences this would mean an unpleasant day. One could easily envisage the chaos that would ensue in supermarkets, especially at the check-outs, if the available shopping time was shortened on what is one of the busiest days of the year. Some shop owners might take the view that trading on Christmas Eve would be so disjointed, it would be better, safer even, to keep their premises  closed all day. Uncertainty as to which shops would open and which would close would add to the problems for shoppers.
Pubs and off licences will be able to open as if it was a weekday on what is normally a very busy day for them, a day on which persons who may not have met one another for a year may want to socialise over a drink. The supply of meals in hotels and restaurants with wine or pub type licences would be restricted without a change. Such premises would not be able to open between the hours of 3.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m.
That is why I have decided to introduce this short Bill, which this year will do no more than allow shops with licensed sections, pubs, registered clubs and restaurants with licences, to operate on Christmas Eve as they did last year and ever other year that it falls on a weekday. It will not provide for later opening hours in public houses because their closing time on Sunday nights and week nights during the winter months is 11 p.m.
Section 2 will allow licensed premises to operate weekday permitted hours on any Sunday that falls on Christmas Eve or on 23 December. Section 4 extends that concept to restaurants and hotels that serve alcohol with substantial meals. Section 5 extends it to registered clubs and section 6 extends it to restaurants with special restaurant licences. Section 3 will allow licensed premises which also have non-licensing business to operate the weekday mixed trading provisions of the licensing Acts on any Christmas Eve or 23 December that falls on a Sunday.
Section 2 amends the general permitted hours provision of the licensing Acts so the hours that apply to premises such as public houses, hotel bars and restaurants with full licenses as well as off licences and supermarkets which retail the full range of alcoholic drinks, will, on any Christmas Eve or 23 December that falls on a Sunday, be the same as if either such day was a week day. I am including in my proposal any year that 23 December falls on a Sunday, as the  arguments for week day hours on a Christmas Eve Sunday also apply to any 23 December that falls on a Sunday. The net effect of section 2 is that the premises I have referred to will be able to open for licensed business at 10.30 a.m. on Christmas Eve this year and will not have to close between 2.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m.
Section 3 deals with mixed trading. For anyone who may not be familiar with the concept, mixed trading, in the context of the licensing Acts, refers to businesses which involve both the sale of drink — licensed businesses — and the sale of other commodities, referred to as non-licensed business. The licensing Acts make allowance for the demands of such businesses by permitting them to open early during weekdays for non-licensed business only. This is to facilitate, for instance, the delivery of goods from suppliers to businesses such as a grocery with an off licence. Section 3 will enable these week day mixed trading provisions to apply to the premises concerned on a Christmas Eve or 23 December which falls on a Sunday. That means shops with off licences attached will be able to open for non-licensed business at 7.30 a.m. on Christmas Eve this year and shops and supermarkets with off licences will be able to open for non-licensed business at 9.00 a.m.
Such businesses are simply being allowed to commence their non-licensed business on Christmas Eve this year as on every other year that Christmas Eve falls on a weekday. The licensed business will commence at 10.30 a.m. This is the reason, not always well understood or appreciated, persons can purchase their shopping in, for example, supermarkets from 9.00 a.m. on a weekday but have to wait until 10.30 a.m. to purchase alcohol.
Section 13 of the 1927 Intoxicating Liquor Act, as amended, allows less restrictive hours to apply to the sale of alcohol with meals in hotels and restaurants. Section 4 will extend the more generous week day provisions to 23 or  24 December which falls on a Sunday. Thus, that section will allow, for example, a family which is delayed by shopping or other reasons, to obtain a meal in any of the premises concerned at any time in the afternoon of the coming Christmas Eve. Without this amendment it could not do so between 3.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. It will also allow hotels and restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks with substantial meals on a 23 December that falls on a Sunday as if it were a week night, i.e. until 12.30 a.m. When 24 December is a Sunday, alcoholic drinks can only be served and consumed with substantial meals until midnight, because, except where there is specific statutory intervention, Christmas Day is a closed day in licensed premises.
Section 5 extends the proposed changes to registered clubs and section 6 extends them to restaurants with special restaurant licences. In the case of restaurants with special restaurant licences, the usual Sunday afternoon times when alcoholic drinks cannot be served with substantial meals is slightly different from other licensed premises — it is 3.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. Therefore, this year persons eating out in such restaurants on Christmas Eve will be able to have a drink with their meal no matter what time of the afternoon they are eating.
Like the Minister for the Environment I too call for sanity and care on our roads over Christmas. There has been a marked change in peoples' habits when it comes to driving without drink and it is essential that this change extends to all. The Garda will enforce the law vigorously and I appeal to drivers to have patience when queues of traffic build up at Garda check points as we will all be winners in the end if fewer people drink and drive.
I look forward to the co-operation of the Senators to these proposed modest changes in the law. I also expect and look forward to other issues relevant to the licensing Acts being raised. I will listen carefully to any points made. While this legislation does not allow for  a widespread review of the licensing Acts in the short term, it is only a matter of time before such a review is required.
When this Bill went through the Dáil, we dealt with many matters, such as pubs in tourist areas, selling drugs in licensed premises, opening hours, deregulating and confining hours, not allowing drink to be sold in certain places etc. However, the purpose of this Bill is to ensure this proposal is operable by 24 December. The next time this becomes relevant is in the year 2000. If I had allowed the Dáil debate to colour my actions, it would have been that year before this change was made.
I ask for a short debate not because I believe Senators will make invalid points on the licensing laws but amendments asking me to look at similar cases for St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve were put down. I do not believe that any other day in the year meets the same circumstances that I am trying to tackle here — that is, the combination of a family shopping day and the kind of celebrating that people do around Christmas time. The same thing does not necessarily apply to some of the other days that were mentioned, but that is not to say that at a later stage people might not make comments about that. I suggested in the Dáil that licensing legislation — some of it dating back many years — could be reviewed by the committees of the House.
Nothing is more destined to raise a head of steam than matters which require licences, such as fish, taxis and drink. We have an antenna that builds up a huge head of steam about anything we need a licence for. Relevant changes were suggested to me by Members in the Dáil but even minor changes to the licensing laws can have a knock-on effect for other groups, for example, those concerned about the use of alcohol in our society.
I make these concluding remarks so Members will not think that I am being discourteous or ungracious. I hope I have built up a record in this House of normally being very open to amendments.  However, in this instance, I will get my retaliation in first by saying that I will not be in a position to accept amendments.
Mr. Lanigan: Perhaps the Minister is anticipating Bills she might introduce in the Seanad in the very near future because within her remit she will confront enormous difficulties. This, however, is not one of them.
I started off going out with my parents on Christmas Eve for a meal and having a few jars in certain hotels. Now, going through the natural evolution of life, I find myself in a situation this year where I will have 14 people sitting down to lunch in a certain pub restaurant on Christmas Eve. I do not think that my grandchildren would be terribly enamoured at being thrown out of the restaurant at a certain time. Christmas Eve is a time of celebration when families get together. I am delighted that my father, Mick Lanigan, will be there, as will my son, Michael Lanigan, and his son, Michael Lanigan.
Mr. Lanigan: ——without having to say to the superintendent in Kilkenny, “The Lanigans are in, so you won't raid will you?” At present, shops are opening on Sundays and on what were called holy days. People might not understand the change that is taking place in society nor the fact that some people can only get together at Christmas. I do not think there will be any great change in the style of living or the style of Christmas because of the changes that will be made.
The Minister mentioned that this legislation might become operative again in the year 2000, but that is a year too late. The changeover from 1999 to 2000 will be the big deal, while the change from 2000 to 2001 will not be a great deal.
Mr. Lanigan: Somebody here is looking for an extension of time on a Saturday night. There are others who think the Intoxicating Liquor Acts are too liberal and that every publican is a drug dealer. Such people suggest that the situation we living in should be changed. It is nonsense to think we can change people's attitudes by restricting the liquor laws. People who serve intoxicating liquor have been extremely careful over the years. In the courts it has been proven that they tried to abide by the Intoxicating Liquor Acts as best they could.
There have been times when people went over the top and misused the situation. Generally speaking, however, if one takes the social aspect of society, publicans have done a fantastic deal with the public providing them with outlets where they can mix and converse in a safe ambience. That is a fact. There have been a small number of cases where people have not abided by the rules. I am 57 years of age, going on 58, and I cannot remember five people who have lost their liquor licences because they did not abide by the rules.
 There is a need to examine the licences under which people who sell liquor operate. I have no doubt that trading on Sundays does not generate any more business for supermarkets or shops than trading from Monday to Saturday does. Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year. I will get my turkey from a certain shop on Sunday and I will bring my three grandchildren and my father into a restaurant. Obviously, my grandchildren will not be taking intoxicating liquor but this change means we will all be able to stay in a restaurant and enjoy its facilities during times that were prohibited last year. I thank the Minister for bringing forward this necessary piece of social legislation which is not going to change society.
Mr. Howard: I am a licensed vintner. I compliment the Minister on introducing this desirable legislation, which I support. Although I will not table amendments, I will take up the Minister's invitation to refer to other issues. However, I am conscious that the Minister said she would retaliate first. This is a welcome step and is an indication of a reforming attitude for which the Minister is noted.
 This legislation is long overdue. The Minister is revising outdated legislation. She referred to the 1927 Act, but the founding statue dates back to 1833. As Senator Lanigan said, great changes have taken place in society since then. The Minister accepts that the time is approaching when society will insist on updating legislation which has its roots in a statute dating back to 1833.
When the results of this extension on Christmas Eve is reviewed by the Minister, I hope she will be encouraged to go further during the year. Although she indicated that she would not look too favourably on other dates, certain times during the year require special consideration. Senator Lanigan referred to New Year's Eve and the difficulty of trying to get people to leave a licensed premises when they want to ring in the New Year. It is something which only those of us engaged in the trade must confront head on. I am conscious of the difficulties my fellow publicans face. That is a date to which the Minister should extend this legislation, but there are others.
We are unique in Europe as regards our opening hours. The Minister expressed consideration for families shopping on Christmas Eve who wish to have a meal together like the extended Lanigan family where four generations will sit down together in comfort.
In the coming months the Minister should extend that consideration to tourist areas. Tourists find it extraordinary that on a summer's evening when it is still daylight our liquor licensing laws oblige them to leave the premises in which they are enjoying themselves. That does not happen in other European countries, yet we continue to treat tourists in this way. It does not help that  industry which is so important to the economy.
I always feel discriminated against — other interests in the licensed trade may not agree with me — when I am told to clear my premises at 11.30 p.m. A number of people who leave my premises will go down the road to a disco or a club where they can continue to drink for many hours. There is no question of a meal being served in the disco or a members' register being produced in the club, although they are requirements of the law. Of the three outlets, I and those who trade in seven day licences premises are the only ones who are expected to fully comply with the law. That is discrimination and it must be considered. I would not mind if everyone closed at 11.30 p.m. or 2 a.m. once we all had the opportunity to compete on a level playing pitch. Summary justice requires that that be considered in the near future and I would expect a reforming Minister to do so.
I join the Minister's appeal for care on the roads over Christmas. We all know about the mayhem in the licensed trade 12 months ago because of legislation which the Minister for the Environment and his colleagues in their wisdom amended. There is a responsibility on those involved in the trade to try to reduce the number of accidents caused by drink driving. I am satisfied that is happening this year. I compliment the gardaí I meet travelling to and from Leinster House in recent weeks on their courtesy. They are doing an excellent job and ensure that roads are safe.
I wish to refer to a discussion I heard on the radio two weeks ago. A senior garda officer said that an analysis of road accidents showed that the greatest cause of accidents on the road is speeding followed by careless driving and then people under the influence of medication and drugs. The fourth cause is drink driving. He also pointed out that the number of accidents due to speeding is almost double the combined figure for the next two causes. Last week driving through fog to get to the House I witnessed outrageously dangerous  driving and speeding by other drivers. A combination of speed and dangerous driving was involved. I know I have strayed from the content of the Bill but I am sure the Minister will not have any objection to that. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House.
I welcome the Bill on behalf of my colleagues in the licensed trade. We encourage her in the light of the experience that will emerge from this Christmas Eve to look at other special days, or more importantly, to look at providing a level playing field for all who operate in the licensed trade in terms of hours. I do not mind what the closing hours are, provided they are adhered to by everybody. I feel unreasonably disadvantaged if I have to tell people to leave my premises when I know they can go to two other types of premises where the law will not be observed as carefully as I am obliged to observe it.
Tourism is an important industry; it is a growing industry. We are getting a higher proportion of tourists from continental Europe — I welcome this — but they simply cannot understand being obliged to leave licensed premises while there is still daylight because, in their own country, many of them would only be going to a licensed premises.
Mr. Howard: No. As I say, I want a level playing pitch for all who operate public houses. We will play our part in ensuring that we operate our premises in a proper and orderly manner, we will facilitate the tourists and in that way play our part in helping the national economy. The legislation is welcome, I congratulate the Minister for bringing it in and I wish it a speedy passage through the House.
Mr. Cassidy: As chairman of a company which has two hotels in this town, I too have vast experience in the tourism  industry. I fully respect the responsibility and honour with which most people in the liquor trade carry out their duties. They have the good of their customers in mind. I concur with Senator Howard in regard to the level playing pitch. It is not fair that a publican has to let his customers out at 11 p.m. in winter to comply with the law when they can go to the local disco. They do not have to pay any admission charge into the local disco and there is no meal there. This is against all the regulations. I asked the Minister the last time she visited this House to clarify this point. Somebody is not doing their duty in that regard.
It costs millions of pounds to locate a hotel in a particular community and hotels give very high employment. Any hotel worth its salt employs 25 staff in a 30 bed unit or over 50 staff in a 100 bed unit. One establishment in this town employs 400 in a hotel that can seat up to 1,200 people in its conference centre. That is massive employment. There must be a level playing pitch for the ordinary seven day licence publican. No public house must be allowed to stay open. I would like to know, if a pub has a special restaurant licence, whether it must sell a certain percentage of its takings to be classified to have a licence, and do the Revenue Commissioners supply certificates in that regard? If not, how are they allowed to serve drink until 2 a.m. when, if they have a restaurant certificate, they can only serve for one hour after the pub is supposed to close anyway?
Some 90 per cent of venues run until 1.30 a.m. or 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I am unfortunately one of the 10 per cent. In particular in rural Ireland they do this not because they want to, but of necessity. The week's entertainment now takes place on Saturday night. Years ago it used to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday, now it is Saturday. Sunday night does not have anything like the value it used to. I agree with Senator Howard that the Minister is a reforming person; we look forward to great things in the future from her. Sunday night  could be forfeited for Saturday night as people congregate on a Saturday night and some 68 per cent of those Catholics still go to Mass on Saturday evenings. I would welcome any change that can be achieved.
I also concur with Senator Howard, a man of wide knowledge who has the respect of the public licensed trade, about New Year's Eve this year. Must hotels close at 11 p.m. for one hour, reopen at 12 midnight and serve for one hour? That is the legislation, as far as I understand it, in regard to Sunday night. That is unfortunate; it is unfortunate that the other House is in recess because as Members know, on New Year's Eve, you have to ring out the old and ring in the new. This is all happening when the pubs and hotels are closed. It is not common sense. All good legislation must make common sense.
I welcome wholeheartedly the changes in regard to 23 and 24 December, they are necessary social changes. I do not partake of intoxicating liquor; I am one of the 200,000 members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, but I see the need for this change. However, to leave the situation in regard to New Year's Eve as it is must have been a massive oversight because on New Year's Eve the meal is generally served around 10 p.m. and you cannot have a drink with your meal because the premises must close for one hour between 11 p.m. and midnight on a Sunday night. In the winter, hotels are obliged to close at 10 p.m. and may serve food for one hour afterwards, that is, 11 p.m. Senator Kiely would know about this, he has attended many functions in the course of his political and sporting career. It is impractical to expect the Garda to enforce this provision where premises must close between 11 p.m. and midnight on New Year's Eve.
Both the taking and the discussion of drink are among our favourite national pastimes; there is no doubt about that. Measures regarding pub opening hours and drink driving limits and such are subjects always calculated to excite heated debate. The publicans lobby regards any moves to regulate the consumption of alcohol as a personal affront. The Bill before us is a common sense piece of legislation to allow the sale of intoxicating liquor, subject to normal weekday licensing hours this Christmas. To a large extent our licensing laws have served us well and I favour their retention and improved implementation. However, the problems associated with alcohol will not be reduced by retaining legislation on the Statute Book. Ireland must be one of the few countries which bans its indigenous liquor, poitín.
Mr. Sherlock: At a time when elderly people are being attacked in their homes and children are being offered drugs on street corners, it is surely absurd for the Garda to spend time searching for illegal poitín distilleries. Can Members imagine the Scots prosecuting whiskey distillers? Ironically, the health dangers associated with poitín are due to the illegality with which it is brewed. In this regard, I welcome the campaign by Canon Donal O'Driscoll — the retired parish priest of Ballycotten — for its legalisation and the establishment of legal poitín distilleries, subject to proper controls.
Mr. Sherlock: The current licensing hours regulations should be maintained and strictly implemented. I am concerned at the ease with which licence holders can obtain extensions at weekends and for special festivities.
The rigour of our licensing hours legislation is not matched by the rigour with which we prosecute alcohol-related offences, particularly those relating to minors. In 1994 proceedings were initiated against only 27 off-licence proprietors, 17 of whom were convicted, for selling liquor to children under 18 years of age. Fewer still were prosecuted for allowing unaccompanied minors to enter their premises. Yet we have all seen children buying alcohol in off-licences and licensed premises.
I am disappointed at the application of the law which prohibits the sale of intoxicating liquor to people under 18 years of age. When children reach 18 years of age they will, at least, be mature and know whether they want to partake of alcoholic beverages. However, young people of 14, 15 or 16 years of age can obtain alcohol in licensed premises or at discos. That is not good enough and great emphasis should be placed——
Mr. Sherlock: There is a prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquor up to 18 years of age and this should be applied. Heavier sanctions should be placed on proprietors who contravene the legislation. I would also like to see a much clearer physical distinction made between the grocery and off licence business of liquor selling retailers. It is unacceptable that children should be forced to walk through rows of shelves containing bottles of alcohol to reach grocery sections in an off-licence store. I would like to see the introduction of legislation to prohibit off licences which do not sell groceries from stocking sweets, snacks and other goods which children are likely to purchase.
Mr. Farrelly: I welcome this legislation. Since the Minister came to office I have made representations in connection with the issue of late opening on Saturday nights. When I was growing up people went out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and there was no problem but that is not now the case.
A problem exists in relation to hotels across the country where alcohol cannot be served after 12.30 on Saturday night. Will the Minister consider the possibility of developing legislation to take account of this problem? A hotelier contacted me yesterday and stated he had received five or six summonses on Saturday night for having people on the premises after a particular time, none of whom had been served with alcohol but were merely finishing their drinks. I do not believe this hotelier should be prosecuted as on Friday and Sunday nights people can drink until the early hours of the morning.
Mr. Farrelly: We must be radical and state this fact. As a result of doing so, the industry might not lose so many days to absenteeism. I acknowledge it is not the only reason that many workdays are lost. However, I would like to see the statistics regarding those people who miss work on Mondays as opposed to other days in the week. As public representatives, we have different ways of considering the country's problems and this problem is one of which I am acutely aware.
Senator Sherlock raised the issue of young people being allowed to drink alcohol at discos but I am not aware of any in my constituency. However, I understand that there is a disco near where I was born which sells alcohol to children of 14 or 15 years of age. This is wrong.
I attended a function a number of years ago and I was asked why as a public representative I would not do something about young people being served alcohol on that premises. I made the point that perhaps those young people did not buy the alcohol themselves, that someone else purchased it for them. This is often the case. I would appreciate the opportunity to have a longer discussion on this matter. We must deal with this problem and regularise the way we think and the way in which we would like to see our society work for young people. We can make a serious and positive contribution in this regard.
I spoke to the Minister in relation to this matter on a previous occasion. Perhaps she will consider the introduction of legislation to deal with the problems to which I referred. Our request will improve the lives of many people and the statistics of those who miss work on Mondays would change dramatically.
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I thank Senators for contributing in such a knowledgeable, caring and responsible  manner. As Senator Howard stated, there are points to be made about our laws which date back to 1833 and a time when circumstances were very different. I also thank Senators for their understanding of the role that alcohol plays in the lives of underage drinkers and families, which can lead to domestic violence, etc. Any debate in connection with licensing laws cannot take place in a vacuum. Alcohol is being sold and we must be conscious that any changes might have an effect on people's lives, apart from the people who enjoy a social drink and the 99 per cent of responsible publicans and hoteliers. I welcome the fact that Members tempered their remarks in this regard.
Section 12 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962 allows specifically for special exemptions to be granted for any Sunday that is New Year's Day, New Year's Eve or St. Patrick's Day so the far-sighted legislators in 1962 saw there would be a problem. For some reason they did not think of Christmas Eve.
Mrs. Owen: It means now we can safely get rid of that. There is no doubt it is an anomaly that on New Year's Eve you can get an extension at midnight but must shut at 11 p.m. and not serve drink for an hour.
There are other implications which have to do with staffing, the availability of transport, etc. I was anxious not to extend this legislation into an area where someone would have an argument for another day. Those who are interested can quote section 12 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962 for New Year's Day, New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day which are already covered for special exemptions.
Senator Howard and others raised the question of tourism with regard to public houses, hotels and restaurants with licences and it is an area which requires examination. I would be less than honest if I did not say that tourists are not always thrown out of the pubs at closing  time. In no way can I condone the breaking of any licensing law but I am quite sure there are Senators who would be able to tell me anecdotes of times when they might have been in a pub at 11.5 p.m., 11.35 p.m. or 12.5 a.m. in a tourism area. It is fair to say there is a case to be made for examining facilities for tourists who are, after all, able to lie on in the morning as they do not have the same pressures as when they are working. It is not a simple matter of picking tourism areas and allowing later opening hours. Everywhere could claim to be a tourism area and if we provided for that, we might as well change the laws prevailing everywhere. If we just selected places like Kilrush, Ennis, Dingle, Carlingford and some of the obvious tourism areas, we could create more danger on the road because people would leave one place to race to where the nearest pub which would be open. It sounds simple to say we must designate these areas and give them an extra hour or two because there are tourists there but a tourist can travel from one place to another, even the most isolated places.
Mrs. Owen: That is it. It leads to the whole area of trade unions, staff terms of work, pay, days off, holidays, the availability of transport and all the other issues. That is why there is a need in reviewing the legislation to give a more considered period of time for that review. Perhaps, the Seanad could have a three or four hour debate on this matter in order to trawl through the issues and draw up a checklist of all the different problems.
A number of Senators raised the issue of special licences for discos and clubs and the fact that they do not get the same treatment from the Garda. I cannot speak with huge experience but I know there are a number of disco-type premises that have been prosecuted for all sorts of reasons, including allowing  drugs to be sold on their premises, and I get calls from disco owners who are unhappy that the Garda are hassling them. It is fair to say we are all aware that people can leave a pub when it shuts and can buy drink somewhere else for two or three more hours because they are supposedly getting food, etc. Many road accidents happen then and not at normal closing time.
Senator Cassidy raised the issue of seven day licences but I would like to finish the point on exemptions after midnight on Saturday nights. There have been calls for liberalisation on Saturday night and Senators made the point that there has been a change in people's socialising habits. I mentioned a change in social habits which I noticed where, particularly around Christmas, people always make sure they have a driver who does not drink when they plan their nights out. Equally valid is the fact that Saturday night is now the main night out. People tend to have changed their habits. They might have a family night on Friday and like to stay out late on Saturday night and get a baby-sitter, etc. so there is a validity in the argument that we should look at licences for Saturday night which run into Sunday morning.
Once we start looking at Sundays, there is another group of people who will participate in an element of the debate. We would have to allow all points of view to be taken into consideration. Since people can practise their religion on Saturday night and that has also changed the way people behave. The number of early morning Sunday masses has been changed to make  allowances for the greater numbers attending on Saturday evening.
There has been a steady rise in the number of special exemptions. Last year, there were 55,000 special exemption licences granted and I do not believe the legislation ever intended to allow for so many. These licences were supposed to be confined to special occasions and I am afraid that description has now extended practically to somebody crossing the road. The worry I have about over liberalising the laws is that people, if they so wished, could stay drinking all night through.
We must recognise that alcohol plays a part in domestic violence. There is also the serious problem of under age drinking and antisocial behaviour. As responsible people, we may all say that if we feel like staying out drinking until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. that is all right but there will be people who will stay in pubs until they shut. There will be drinking up time irrespective of what time people decide to leave the pub. One cannot really get rid of that and we are all the same. If you have a deadline, you leave it until the last minute.
The other area to which we would have to give consideration in any debate about liberalising our laws is the issue of transport. It is not such a big issue in the cities but it would be an issue if pubs were open until all hours. Transport in urban areas tends to coincide with closing time but there would be an increased need for taxis or people might be tempted to drive if they were drinking until 2 a.m. when the buses are not running rather than taking taxis. I know that worry exists now with discos and late exemptions. Every time an argument is put forward for something I am sure all of us can find a matching one which will cause a problem on the other side.
Senator Cassidy raised the incidence of late opening in public houses and there is no doubt there are pubs which sell alcohol right into the early hours of the morning. These pubs seem to be doing this on the basis of full restaurant certificates. A pub may obtain a restaurant  certificate from a court if it can convince the court that the premises are, as section 12 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927 puts it, structurally adapted for use and mainly used as a restaurant, refreshment house or other place for supplying substantial meals to the public. That Act was passed in 1927. The restaurant certificate entitles the licensee to serve drink with meals until 12.30 a.m. It also entitles the licensee to apply to the District Court for a special exemption which would enable the pub to remain open later. Before such an order could be granted the court would have to be satisfied that a special occasion is taking place. Those special occasions have become cheapened by the numbers — 55,000 at this stage.
Senator Sherlock referred to poitín and said that the rules were antiquated. I am sure the Minister for Finance would like to hear the Senator's comments because he would be happy to tax anything he could. There is no doubt that the laws on poitín are antiquated. I recently encountered a case of a young person being fined an enormous sum of money — about £600 — for having 20 millilitres of poitín while all around him were young people with ecstacy tablets and other drugs. My common sense told me that the amount of poitín he had — albeit illegal — was far less damaging to his health than ecstacy tablets or other drugs. He happened to be caught with the little bottle and the law provided that he be fined this amount. It highlighted how antiquated the law is. I am not saying that I will amend the law to legalise poitín; nobody need get that impression. However, the issue can be part of the debate on the intoxicating liquor Acts.
Senator Sherlock also spoke about minors and under age drinking and he referred to the 1988 Act. There are many strong clauses in the Act. Unfortunately, young people are ingenious and are often aided and abetted by people over 18 who will go into off-licences and pubs to purchase liquor for them. There has been a bad reaction to obligatory identification cards; there is  an aversion to them. It is a little like licences — people seem to have a fear of obligatory identification cards. There are more than 100 voluntary schemes for young people under 18 and they have been very successful. There are also many responsible publicans who put somebody on door duty, particularly in areas where there is a high concentration of young people socialising. These doormen stop young people entering the premises if they are under age. Indeed, I have received complaints from friends of my children who, although they are over 21, were stopped from going into a premises because they look younger. They asked me to intervene but I told them to fight their own battles and advised them to bring their birth certificates or some identification to show their age.
There is a greater role that we as parents and adults can play with regard to under age drinking. We must get control of the situation. The law, which includes the public order legislation passed last year, is available. The reality is that we all know many people under 18 who drink in public and manage to get drink in pubs. The gardaí are aware of the problem and there have been prosecutions, although maybe not as many as there should be.
An interesting point was made about forfeiting Sunday night extensions to allow a double extension as it were. That is something I can examine. Senator Farrelly mentioned the degree of absenteeism on Mondays as a result of extensions on Sunday nights. That is a valid point. If people consume extra drink on Saturday night at least they have all day Sunday to prepare themselves for work on Monday.
Many points raised tonight are relevant to a much wider debate on the licensing laws. I recommend that the Seanad use a less rushed opportunity to look at the licensing laws, perhaps through the committees of the House or through a Seanad committee. The last examination of the licensing laws took place in 1987 but it did not deal with  fundamental issues such as deregulation and the abolition of licences and, perhaps, it is time we widened the debate into those areas. However, the alcohol issue gives rise to great concern among many people because of the damage it can do and we must temper any debate with that thought in mind. I thank the Senators for their contributions on this pragmatic Bill.
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