Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Covid-19 Pandemic

10:20 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputies Ó Cuív, O'Reilly and Connolly for raising this important issue and giving me an opportunity to address it on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. Following public health guidance, Government policy is to have a gradual reopening of the hospitality sector, beginning with outdoor hospitality, before a decision is taken on resuming indoor service in a few weeks. Many of our bars and restaurants have now reopened with outdoor service, which is giving people a welcome opportunity to meet safely with friends and family again.

As An Garda Síochána has made clear, the overwhelming majority of licensed premises have behaved responsibly. Those that continue to behave responsibly in controlling their premises should have nothing to worry about. Gardaí all across the country use their discretion every day to police as the circumstances require, as they have done throughout the pandemic, and they work closely with restaurants and pubs to ensure the safety of the public. An Garda Síochána will continue to adopt a graduated approach to the public health guidelines. Members of the force will engage with the public and encourage and educate in respect of the public health guidelines, as they have done throughout the pandemic. This often requires a delicate balance and there are different legal situations in different parts of the country, depending on whether there are local authority by-laws in place.

A small minority of pubs have been serving alcohol to customers seated outside agreed areas. Clearly, that will be the focus of any Garda action in the first instance. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has discussed this matter with Garda Commissioner Harris a number of times and did so again yesterday morning. The Commissioner has since issued a communication to regional assistant commissioners indicating that gardaí should use discretion while continuing to respond to public complaints about public order issues, parking, noise etc. The Commissioner has reassured the Minister that discretion will continue to be applied by gardaí in their engagement with licensed premises.

Both the Commissioner and the Minister are satisfied that the Irish people can be facilitated to enjoy a safe outdoor summer while gardaí continue their difficult work of keeping people safe. The Attorney General and the Minister have also spoken on this matter and their officials will work closely, together with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to examine the matter in full. This is a complex area of law, as the Deputies will appreciate, but the Minister has committed to taking legislative action, if necessary.

In regard to specific points raised by Deputy O'Reilly, I do not agree with the contention that the Government's approach is shambolic.

The Government has managed and put in place a level of adequate supports to help facilitate a safe and socially distanced outdoor summer. The messaging, from a whole-of-government approach, is getting out.

Deputy Connolly raised a significant and important point about spreading the impact across towns and cities. It is certainly to be considered. However, the Government has made good strides in working with all partners, including local authorities, local communities, vintners, hoteliers and the services sector, to put in place a good set of proposals and supports to ensure that we can have a safe and enjoyable summer in 2021.


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