Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Private Members' Business.

Liquor Licensing Laws: Motion (Resumed).

6:00 pm

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Sexton, O'Connor, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power, and Deputy Nolan.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and English for tabling this motion which gives us an opportunity to discuss and tease out the details of the proposed liquor licensing Bill. The proposed Bill certainly shows we have in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, a reforming Minister who is continuing with the tradition of producing excellent legislation, in the footsteps of another reforming Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, who set up the commission on liquor licensing in 2000——

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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It is getting stuck in the Deputy's craw.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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——as a result of which this excellent Bill has developed.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy one of the rebels?

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In regard to reform of the licensing law, public policy objectives vie with the demands of a range of interested parties and the public. These objectives include——

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Which is the Deputy backing?

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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——combating alcohol-related harm and promoting public health, protecting vulnerable groups, especially young people, maintaining public order and ensuring coherence with spatial planning and development objectives.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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That is the Fine Gael point.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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And Fianna Fáil voters.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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These policy objectives are addressed in great measure by the Criminal Justice Bill, which is on Second Stage and which I hope will become law in the near future, and by the work of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, in continuing to support the sports capital programme in such a munificent and magnificent way.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Especially for Kerry.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Zero tolerance.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The objectives I have set out in regard to public order, vulnerable groups, protection and combating alcohol abuse are being addressed by encouraging the consumption of food with alcohol, countering the trend towards superpubs by encouraging the development of venues where alcohol is accompanied by food and promoting coherence between the planning and licensing codes and strengthening the role of local authorities in licensing matters.

The whole question of binge drinking is one part of what we are addressing today. I was reading last night's speeches and I was particularly impressed with Deputy Hayes's contribution. Leaving aside his diversion with alcopops, the whole question of binge drinking and superpubs and the need for alternative forms of recreation for young people was addressed by him in a pertinent way. I am informed that as far as binge drinking is concerned 16 to 18 years olds are not the problem but rather those in their 20s and early 30s. A huge number of people live at home. We have all heard of families — most of us have children who are in their early 20s — whose children are at home and who cannot afford to get married and buy a house. These are the people, not the very young, who tend to go to superpubs and partake in the drinking that is so damaging.

Somebody said the way to get around this problem is to put a roof on the country so that people can play sports. We are trying to do that. In an area close to where I live a competition is run every year called tag rugby. For two months during the year young men and women together play tag rugby two nights per week. It is an alternative to what they would otherwise do, which is drinking in these pubs. They are not comfortable at home all the time. It is great to see the Government, particularly the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, putting so much money into the sports capital programme because that is where it is needed to ensure that there is an alternative.

I grew up in a pub where 50 years ago I picked up bottles and glasses. Bottles of Guinness were drank at that time because the pint was not looked upon as being of the same quality as it is today. Excessive drinking was a problem then. There are no quick-fixes. This has been an issue in society for many years. We are here to legislate and the Bill which is going through is an aid for society to change the culture. No Bill will change the way people consider drink, whether it should be taken in excess or moderation. Society has to do that. We as leaders within our communities and GAA clubs have a responsibility. There is a bar in every GAA club and those clubs have a responsibility to change the ethos and culture that is developing there. I am not picking on the GAA, it does a huge job throughout the country with sports, but the pub culture in that sporting activity must be looked at.

The Bill goes a long way to put the structures in place that will assist society and the leaders in our communities to change the culture of excess to one of moderation. I commend the Minister for his work on the Bill and I support the amendment.

Mae Sexton (Longford-Roscommon, Progressive Democrats)
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I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his extensive contribution last evening. In outlining the main objectives of the proposed intoxicating liquor Bill and the reforms it contains, he dealt comprehensively with the substance of the original Opposition motion.

I would, however, like to expand on one point in the original motion and the implications on public health. There is a reference to the link between the increase in availability of alcohol and greater consumption. This point is integral to the licensing issue and to what the Government is setting out to achieve.

According to the strategic task force on alcohol, there was a 41% increase in alcohol consumption per capita between 1989 and 1999. During that period there was no increase in licence numbers. There was also a huge population growth during that time. What this reveals is that even though the number of outlets might remain steady, it is the nature of the outlet, combined with the drinking behaviour, that contributes to increased consumption. In light of this, the only sensible approach is to tackle the two issues specifically, the nature of the outlet and drinking behaviour.

On the first issue the extinguishing of a licence in one location to be rekindled in another has played a major role. A small rural public house may close and in its place we get a 2,000 capacity, late night, urban city, drinking venue. The number of licences remains constant, but the amount of alcohol consumed rockets. It is the nature of many new establishments to provide the simple service of allowing as many people as possible, mostly younger people, to drink as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Sweetened alcoholic drinks based on strong spirits are sold in ever-increasing numbers to younger people in venues where music is deliberately played at a high level to discourage chatting and encourage drinking.

Clearly it is not the preferred route that this type of establishment becomes more prevalent in an unfettered way. Alternative venues and surroundings for the consumption of alcohol are desirable. I doubt any Member would challenge that point. The proposed Bill suggests that local authorities should assess the suitability of premises for the sale of alcohol. It seems reasonable that the size in square footage of the premises should be linked to the granting of a licence. Perhaps the amount of square footage should be capped in some cases. If joined-up policy between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is required, that is what we should pursue. However, the nature of drinking premises is just one important aspect of this matter.

This brings me to the second issue, that of drinking behaviour. Setting aside the obvious difficulty of enforcement, the restrictions which currently apply to restaurants under the 1988 legislation can only be described as unreasonable. Restaurants can and should provide the type of surroundings I referred to earlier, more conducive to sensible consumption of drink in conjunction with the serving of food. Currently one cannot have a drink while browsing a menu, can only drink when the order is taken and must finish that drink within 30 minutes of finishing the meal. The food and drink must be paid for at the same time. This makes no sense.

If we are to encourage more sensible drinking behaviour, unreasonable and outdated practices such as these must be removed. I commend the Minister for addressing these and related, issues. Making it more amenable for people to spend an evening, and I mean the full evening, in a restaurant which serves their preferred alcoholic drink in conjunction with a meal is preferable to the superpub and café bar models. It is not surprising that this was the preferred option of the Minister from the outset.

I refer again to the strategic task force on alcohol. We as legislators have a duty to ensure that the law is suitable and adequate. This is our responsibility. It can be a difficult task when it comes to changing people's behaviours. Speeding and drink driving are classic examples of how legislation on its own has failed to encourage people to drive more carefully. The same problem exists with drinking habits and the law can only do so much. Responsibilities must be shared among individuals, parents and the wider society.

The drinks industry also has a responsibility and the task force has highlighted such issues as improved training of bar staff, availability of food, lower priced non-alcoholic and low alcohol drinks and the removal of drinks promotions as some of the ways in which the drinks industry can help reduce alcohol related problems. I welcome the proposals for addressing these matters by those in the industry.

Low alcohol drink attracts a lower tax rate and the industry should promote drinks with lower rather than higher alcohol content as a means of reducing intoxication. Given the scale of the short and long-term implications of binge drinking, a partnership approach is the most desirable way forward. Alcohol consumption, particularly but not exclusively among younger people, has detrimental health and social outcomes for the individual and in many cases their partners and wider family. I am satisfied that where legislative reform can play a part in tackling this issue, the Government is taking the necessary action.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It requires a great deal of time to deal with this issue but I am aware we are all under pressure. I welcome the attendance of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power. It is a reminder that the public's concern about alcohol related disorder and health problems must be recognised. The safeguards and proposals intended to combat these problems are very necessary.

I speak as a Dáil Deputy from Dublin South-West which includes the major town of Tallaght. I mention this because Tallaght has fewer pubs than most country villages. I know this because I have counted them and I am easily an expert on this subject although there are pubs in Brittas, Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue, just to embrace all the constituency. I have frequent contact with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not only to try to ensure there are more gardaí in Tallaght and a new Garda station constructed there but also to raise issues with him which are of concern to constituents. People who come to my eight clinics held every week and to my full-time office in Tallaght village talk to me about alcohol related disorder and the problems of concern to them. I received many calls in recent weeks about café bars.

Those Members who read The Irish Times will have noticed I am mentioned in that newspaper. I am delighted whenever I am mentioned in The Irish Times because it does not often happen. I am referred to in a letter to the newspaper this morning in which a constituent complains that I am supporting anti-social behaviour orders. It is true I support them and I will tell the House the reason. People tell me they are no longer prepared to tolerate their lives being disrupted and their windows being broken. My constituency is not unique in this because all Members can say it is an issue throughout the country. It is important we stand up and be counted on this issue.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is being brave. He attended the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting last night and proved that he is not afraid to take on challenges. I was thinking of Deputy James Breen at the time as it is always good to see new faces at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting and I look forward to seeing even more of them.

This has been a funny week regarding this issue. When the Taoiseach was in CityWest in Saggart, which is close to Tallaght, on Monday night, he made the point that this process has been concerned with consultation even though sometimes we are consulted to death. We have been consulted and, in fairness to the Minister, he has engaged in a great deal of consultation on this subject. He understands what people are saying and it is important that we now go forward.

I had hopes that some compromise could be reached regarding the vote on this Private Members' motion, bearing in mind that the Minister is doing what Fine Gael wants him to do.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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It could have been done.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will be listening to hear Deputy English's new slant. I thought that like all his colleagues, he would have gone home by now to go out knocking on doors.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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I did that last night.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is important to realise the challenge of off-licences and I am pleased the Minister is considering this. I believe his proposal requiring all off-licences to have written policies and control procedures in place will increase awareness of the rules on sales to under 18s and will hopefully increase the vigilance of licensees with a view to combating such sales.

I am pleased the Bill prohibits drunkenness and disorderly conduct in licensed premises as well as the supply of intoxicating liquor to under 18s and its consumption by them. The Garda Síochána will be allowed object to a renewal of licences and nightclub permits where there has been public disorder or other breaches of the licensing law. I support this measure. In the interests of allowing time for other Deputies to speak, I am happy to concede now.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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It is good the House is debating this issue but I think the opportunity has been missed by many to deal with the real problem, namely, the abuse of alcohol.

In 2000 the Government established the Commission on Liquor Licensing which has produced four reports, the final one of which was published in April 2003. The mandate for that commission was to review the liquor licensing system and recommend a new system which would meet the needs of consumers while also taking account of the social, health and economic needs of citizens. The final report made a number of recommendations relating to combating drunkenness and tackling the problems of under age and binge drinking.

In January 2002 the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, established a strategic task force on alcohol and requested it to make recommendations that were evidence-based and would prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm in Ireland. The task force reported last year and made a number of important recommendations.

Alcohol is the biggest problem to be confronted by this country. We have been far too tolerant in the past and we have a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Our tolerance may have created many of the difficulties. There is now more awareness of the dreadful hardship it causes for many families and now is the time for action.

I ask Members to be more positive in their contributions as I know some were rubbing their hands with glee when they heard that Fianna Fáil backbenchers were opposed to a certain proposal from the Minister, Deputy McDowell. The issue is bigger than that. In fairness to the Minister, while he explained last night in the House that the proposal came from the commission, he and the Government are attempting to change a culture.

This country has had a culture of drinking for a long time. When a baby is born his head must be wetted with a drink and the same occurs at baptisms, weddings and funerals. We want to wish people luck and those occasions are always associated with drink. Events such as Holy Communion and Confirmation are celebrated by children being brought to the pub as if that were a child's ideal day out. It is more to do with meeting and fulfilling the needs and habits of adults rather than children. Very few families have not been affected by alcohol. We are very much aware of the problem it creates. I compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on his proposal, which sought to change the culture so that people could drink more in moderation than to excess as so many do at the moment.

I had the honour of bringing the report of the task force on alcohol before the Cabinet recently. The Government gave approval to implement the recommendations that come within the remit of the Department of Health and Children and other Departments were also asked to implement the recommendations within their remit. We will establish a committee including the industry to consider how we can work together to implement these recommendations in a positive way. Later this year my Department will produce its action plan outlining the measures we intend to take in dealing with the problem. The committee will consider three areas in particular, binge drinking, drink driving and under-age drinking. It is important to involve the industry and social partners.

Much work has been done behind the scenes and the Department is working with other people involved in the industry including those in advertising. We have reached an agreement with broadcasters on a code of practice so that alcohol advertising is restricted in its content and volume. Alcohol advertisements can only be broadcast at certain times and cannot be broadcast, for example, during children's programmes. Those involved in the industry have become more conscious of their obligations and working with them will ultimately produce the best result. However, we have a big job ahead of us.

The past decade has seen many changes here. For the majority of people this means having more money in their pockets, which in itself has changed and influenced drinking behaviour resulting in an increase in alcohol-related harm. Ireland had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among European countries between 1990 and 2002 when alcohol consumption per capita increased by 41%. During that period the majority of other European countries had little or no increase in their alcohol consumption. A European study showed that adults in Ireland have the highest reported consumption per drinker and the highest level of binge drinkers when compared with other European countries.

Alcohol related harm does not just affect the drinker. We tend to believe the drinker is the only one harmed when we see excessive drinking. Unfortunately, the statistics are all too evident. We have domestic violence and violence in the streets. We often have cases of people filling in for a work colleague, who missed a day's work, came in late or left early, which is all related to alcohol and its effect. Despite the tendency in the media to focus on under-age drinking, the vast majority of alcohol-related harm happens among the adult population. It is unfair to point the finger at the young people and accuse them of all the ills associated with alcohol. Some 25% of people presenting at our accident and emergency departments are there because of alcohol-related incidents. This is an enormous drain on our resources and we will need to change the way we behave and treat alcohol.

Between 1992 and 2002 more than 14,000 people died from the five main alcohol-related mortality causes, namely suicide, cancer, alcohol-related poisoning, liver cirrhosis and alcohol abuse. If those people had never drunk or drank less, the majority of them could be alive today, which shows the impact alcohol consumption has had on their families. Alcohol does not just affect the person consuming it, but also the wider circle of family, friends and often a community.

We have a number of recommendations on which we intend working. In many cases we will work with social partners and those involved in the drinks industry to get their co-operation in implementing the recommendations. It is the biggest problem confronting the industry and if people have positive suggestions it is important for them to come forward. It is in the best interest of the nation to tackle this problem immediately and in a serious way.

Photo of M J NolanM J Nolan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion this evening. When Fine Gael Members tabled this motion I am sure they were unaware of what was going on within the Government parties. I commend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the way he has dealt with the problem and specifically the proposal for café bars. The Minister confirmed to our parliamentary party meeting last night that while it was not his intention to proceed with a café bar licence, as it had been recommended in the commission's report he and his Government colleagues felt it could not be excluded from the heads of a Bill, which had been discussed at a Cabinet meeting some time ago. He advised us that his preference was to extend the restaurant licensing system and this will be included in the new legislation to be published later this year.

All the speakers so far have focused on the drinking culture here. If the controversy of the past two weeks has done nothing else it has highlighted the difficulties our society faces, particularly the difficulties encountered by our younger people. Every week our provincial and national newspapers report the effects the abuse of alcohol is having on our society. It is causing heartbreak and hardship. I am sure every Member of the House has attended funerals where the abuse of alcohol resulted in death. It is very hard to see families so affected. We have an onus to update our legislation and this debate is a forerunner to the debate we will have later in the year.

A number of television programmes have recently highlighted the problem, which is not unique to Ireland. We see the effects it has on other European countries. However, because of the culture and tradition of hard drinking here, we must tackle the problem now. We have a better educated population and with the co-operation of the drinks industry, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children, and the Garda something can be done. If this motion has done nothing else it has triggered a debate, which is good in itself.

I am glad the Minister has decided to drop the café bar proposal. Publicans and vintners as a group have taken considerable stick in recent days from various commentators. They have been accused of being greedy and selfish. Of the publicans I know in County Carlow, 99% are hard-working, decent, honourable business people trying to earn an honest living in an unfavourable climate. I know of many rural pubs that do not open until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. People are struggling to make a business out of their pubs. They tell me their children are disinterested and do not want to continue in the business. We may be too critical of publicans. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this and hope the Minister introduces his legislation sooner rather than later.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
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The last paragraph of this motion calls on the Government to provide the necessary resources and direction to the Garda to ensure that existing legislation is enforced and public disorder related to so-called superpubs is tackled consistently. At 2 a.m. in every village, town and city during weekends thousands of young people with nowhere to go spill on to the streets from these pubs and nightclubs. This results in serious alcohol related anti-social behaviour. It is time the Garda had the resources to install closed circuit television cameras in large towns and villages. In south Tipperary, such towns include Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary town. I call on the Minister to speed up the process by which closed circuit television cameras will be installed.

The Minister often spoke of recruiting 2,000 extra gardaí, but only 34 extra have been recruited this year. We need additional manpower to police the streets. Ambulance personnel are fearful for their own safety during situations like the ones I just described. They will not even get out of the ambulance until gardaí arrive. We have 39 gardaí in the Clonmel area, which means there are at most seven gardaí on shift at any one time. That is simply not good enough.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
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This is primarily a health issue. The concept of café bars is not a bad idea. The difficulty is that we already have too many alcohol outlets in this State. We have 13,000 pub licences which is equivalent to one pub for every 260 adults, compared to one pub for every 780 adults in Britain. Yet we think Britain is full of pubs. The addition of more pubs would have sounded the death knell for rural pubs, many of which have closed already.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was quoted in this morning's newspapers as saying that he disagreed with the task force report on alcohol, which details the over-availability of alcohol in Ireland. The Minister rubbished the opinion of the medical experts such as Dr. Joe Barry, a distinguished specialist and lecturer in public health in Trinity College Dublin and who was a member of the task force on alcohol. The Minister now knows more than the medical experts and more than the task force that reported on alcohol. There may be medical degrees available up lamp-posts in Dublin. The top of a lamp-post is like the famous salmon of knowledge touched by Fionn MacCumhail and which imparted to the Minister some extraordinary knowledge to which none of the medical experts are privy. Did something happen up that lamp-post in that rarefied atmosphere?

The Bill, as published, is basically flawed. It needs to be re-examined and some questions need to be asked. Does the Minister support the report of the strategic task force on alcohol? Does the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children support the report? If they do not — their body language suggests they do not — that raises very serious issues. Does the former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Batt O' Keeffe, support the report? Will the Government deal with the alcohol problem? It is about availability and a plan. Does the Government have a proper plan?

Tony Gregory (Dublin Central, Independent)
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If the proposed introduction of café bars was motivated by a desire to change the emphasis of the alcohol drinking culture from one centred in pubs more or less exclusively involving alcohol, to one which provided a mixed environment that involves food and drink giving a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone, then it was a good idea. However, the idea would require significant cultural change to be implemented. A glass or two of wine with nutritious food is far preferable to endless pints of beer. The big difficulty with the idea, however, was that it involved a major increase in the number of outlets dispensing alcohol, as the café bars would be in addition to everything else. Most international evidence suggests that the more alcohol outlets in existence, the more alcohol related problems are created. The strategic task force on alcohol recommended restricting the number of outlets selling alcohol. In other words, the most successful way to reduce harm is to reduce the number of outlets.

Regulation and restriction is never popular. As the Minister has now decided to allow all restaurants sell all kinds of alcohol, he should perhaps oblige all pubs to sell tea, coffee and snacks during all opening hours. We really need a national alcohol strategy, with local and regional structures put in place to implement that strategy. Perhaps alcohol, being the most harmful of all legal and illegal drugs, should be combined with drugs and dealt with in a unifying way by the existing national and local structures currently dealing with illegal drug problem. It is time at least to implement the recommendations of the strategic task force on alcohol.

One aspect of the alcohol problem causing major concern in communities that I represent, is the spiralling increase in the availability of alcohol from supermarket outlets. This is fuelling a very serious social problem and causing damage to the health of young people and to the wellbeing of communities. It is the source of many of the problems of anti-social behaviour now being experienced. The Minister should look at that issue and attempt to address it.

James Breen (Clare, Independent)
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I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the now frequent and absurd U-turns by the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The latest fiasco surrounding legislation on outlets selling alcohol is another example of how this Minister and the Government are displaying a lack of cohesion and leadership on important issues in our society. They cited the need for a healthier society and the protection of young people from the danger of alcohol abuse as some of the main reasons for the legislation initially proposed. The Minister stated that there was a need for honest debate rather than opportunistic posturing on how best to address the problem of alcohol related harm in our society. Does that mean that up until now, the Minister did not engage in honest debate? Did he engage in any debate at all?

The evidence of the revolt by Government backbenchers suggests that not much consultation occurred and the hurried proposals, probably sponsored by corporate Ireland, were quickly abandoned when the feelings of backbenchers were made known. Were the views of the health and education sector listened to at all? The proposed legislation was all about money. There was no interest in providing for better education about alcohol for young people. There was no mention of the provision of better recreational facilities for young people as an alternative to pub culture. Instead of offering young people better facilities for youth clubs and sports clubs, the Minister proposed to increase the number of facilities that offer alcohol.

The traditional Irish pub is not the cause of binge drinking by young people. Such pubs are usually well run establishments and are well supervised. The emergence of the greed of the superpub is one of the factors that has encouraged binge drinking. While the philosophy of getting people drunk as quickly as possible before throwing them out to let more punters in is all too prevalent today, the Minister has not seen fit to include restrictions on superpubs. The advertising and sale of alcopops, which are strong alcoholic drinks laced with sugar to make them attractive, are designed to encourage binge drinking. The main target group is young people, but the Minister does not propose to ban their sale. Advertising and sponsorship of sports by drinks companies increasingly encourage young people to drink alcohol.

While the Government claims it wants to protect young people and educate them about alcohol abuse, it has failed to include education and health proposals in its legislation. No additional spending in these areas is proposed. The Government has twisted itself into a knot to meet the growing needs of corporate Ireland and does not care about people who need help. The Minister is reported in a newspaper today as saying he did not accept that someone having a few beers would be any more likely to commit suicide. A few pages later, the same newspaper reports from the Dublin Children's Court that the Health Service Executive does not have the resources to find an appropriate residential therapeutic replacement for a 13 year old boy who has tried to kill himself three times. When will the Government cease introducing damage-limitation legislation and pandering to the media and corporate Ireland and take constructive action on this issue to help our society?

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I not convinced the motion or the amendment goes to the heart of the action required to address the use of alcohol in Ireland. I am the first to admit the issue is difficult and requires the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to square the circle between health and competition concerns and to unravel the historic mesh of licensing laws which control the sale of alcohol. The emergence of the superpub has been the most significant change over the past 15 years in terms of where we consume alcohol. Planning authorities, county managers and politicians did not see this one coming. I was fortunate enough to be at the heart of the change when I lived close to Temple Bar and saw what was happening. I saw beautiful, small, intimate pubs, which epitomised the product we offer tourists, demolished, ransacked and cleared out of the way to be replaced with drinking dens with all the atmosphere of an airport departure lounge.

It was a crime against the people of Ireland and everything I hold dear about the country to give the cartel which controls the licensing industry free rein to expand licensed premises to double or treble their original sizes. It was not good enough to stand idly by, but I watched my colleagues on Dublin City Council, Bord Fáilte, Dublin Tourism and Temple Bar Properties lay themselves down and give publicans whatever they wanted.

It is correct to have restrictions on alcohol, a drug that must be considered carefully. The continuation of the status quo, however, will not suffice. Licences are in the hands of a small and incredibly wealthy group of publicans who live in a country in which a licence to pull pints amounts to a licence to print money. I applaud the Minister's determination to modernise our licensing laws because the law is an ass in its regulations on the sale of alcohol, which have existed for two centuries. It is crazy that a city the size of Tallaght has a mere handful of pubs when one cannot walk across the street in Temple Bar without passing one. We must tackle this state of affairs head on. I would love to see the number of superpubs reduced while the emergence of café bars is facilitated. The Minister must reduce the number of drinking halls if café bars are to thrive.

People say time and again that we are not like the French, Italians or Spanish, but at the heart of the average Irish person is significant envy for the Mediterranean lifestyle. Irish people greatly admire the Mediterranean ability to sit down after work and have a glass of beer outside a small local pub where one knows the person behind the counter and he or she knows the people. In Italy, where I lived for a year, one is certainly not served a further drink if one has had one too many. There is a role for the publican in existing legislation in controlling drinking, which clearly provides that a publican may not serve someone who is intoxicated. Publicans and off-licences are turning a blind eye, which is why the law must be adequately enforced.

We must modernise our licensing laws. I made a detailed submission to the Commission on Liquor Licensing five years ago in which I expressed the opinion, perhaps because of my background as a town planner, that planning laws were adequate to deal with licensing arrangements, especially if permits to trade were granted for limited periods. While I am still not convinced we need a great deal of control over the sector, we must enforce the legislation we have enacted. I plead with the Minister to adequately enforce existing legislation. The Irish people are ready for café bars provided sufficient controls are implemented.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin welcomes the fact that the café bar proposal has been dropped. It was supposedly aimed at changing drinking culture, addressing binge drinking and related public order offences and countering the trend towards superpubs. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, failed to demonstrate how the creation of another category of licensed premises would achieve any of this, given that pubs already serve food and many of them are making the changes necessary to accommodate that.

It was ludicrous to suggest that the drinking culture could be changed and that people could be induced to go out for meals with drinks rather than have drinks alone, by means of a change in the licensing laws. The law would have created more outlets for alcohol consumption in addition to existing pubs, including superpubs. This undermined the argument that it would address over-consumption of alcohol. The case is well put that it would not and that has been recognised by the Minister of State's colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party in the coalition.

The ill-fated proposals of the Minister, Deputy McDowell, ignored the reality in smaller towns and rural districts, like the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan which I represent, where many small, family-run pubs which the Minister supposedly favours are closing down. In Castleblayney alone, five pubs have closed which were operated by and sustained families for generations.

I participate in this debate as my party's spokesperson on health because alcohol should be seen first as a health issue. It is very disturbing that the Minister gave no weight to the opposition to his proposal on café bars on health grounds from the Government's strategic task force on alcohol, the Irish Medical Organisation and the national alcohol policy adviser to the Department of Health and Children. In that regard it was reported today that the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting last night heard the Minister, Deputy McDowell, who must have been a guest speaker, dismiss Dr. Joe Barry of the strategic task force on alcohol as someone who wanted to give syringes to drug addicts in prison. I challenge the Minister to come to the House and repeat exactly what he said.

If the report is correct, it is yet another contemptuous dismissal by the Minister of a very serious proposal, that is, needle exchange in prisons, which in other countries has proven to be an important method of addressing infections such as HIV and hepatitis C and the danger of injuries to staff from concealed needles. Once again the Minister displayed his refusal to listen and learn by treating a serious issue in this offhand manner. The extent of his ignorance of effective drug policy is perhaps best illustrated by his plan to introduce mandatory drug testing of prisoners at a time when the Scottish prison system is scrapping a similar programme because it leads prisoners to switch from cannabis to heroin use.

The debate we should be having is one on our society's attitude to alcohol and how that drug is regulated. Our first concern should be public health. Alcohol related illness affects far more people than alcohol related anti-social behaviour and neither are acceptable.

This is all-Ireland men's health week called for by the Men's Health Forum. I commend it on its initiative. In its excellent report, Men's Health in Ireland, it highlights how men, particularly young men, are more at risk from the dangers of alcohol consumption. The sharp increase in alcohol consumption in this State over the past decade is reflected in a rise in drink related illnesses, including cancers, and in deaths. This aspect of the alcohol debate gets far too little attention. We need resources to educate people about the dangers. The Fine Gael motion calls for existing legislation to be enforced to tackle drink related public disorder. We concur with that view. We do not need new laws.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Neville, Crawford and Deenihan.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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This is a topic we could debate for hours. Our friend from Tallaght, Deputy O'Connor, asked why we could not reach a consensus on this motion. I agree with him. I would like to know which part of our motion the Government could not agree with. The first part of the motion called on the Minister to abandon his plans for the licensing of café bars. That is no longer an issue. The next point refers to putting in place a co-ordinated approach at Government level for the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy. I am not sure what is wrong with that. I thought we would all agree with it. Why did the Government not agree with it? It must be the third point, to provide the necessary resources and direction to the Garda to assure that existing legislation is enforced and public disorder related to so-called superpubs is tackled, with which the Government disagreed. It is down to resources. That must be the main reason. Deputy O'Connor is probably gone back to Tallaght but if he is listening, that is the sticking point.

I wish to clarify one point. Last night, the Minister consistently referred to young people and alcohol. I am delighted the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power, clarified that it is not just young people who abuse alcohol. We might be the most visible because we are out in towns late at night but other people drink at home. Many people who leave pubs are full of alcohol and cause a great deal of trouble at home. It must be clarified in any debate on alcohol abuse and binge drinking that it does not just concern young people. I hope the Minister, Deputy McDowell, will clarify his comments in this regard at a later stage.

I am delighted the Minister has backed down on his proposal for café bars. I am sure it was embarrassing for him but I admire a man who admits he is wrong. I was full of admiration for the Minister's admission that he was wrong until I discovered he had claimed it was not his idea but that it came from the Commission on Liquor Licensing. He only put it forward because the commission wanted it. That is a load of baloney. He has been talking about it for the past two years as a solution to binge drinking.

I do not believe that café bars and a change of culture would change our binge drinking problem. If the Minister wants to have deregulation and more licences we will debate that, but it should not be disguised as a solution to binge drinking because that is not the case. That is one of the reasons this side of the House has opposed it. Although the Minister has hailed his proposal as a solution to a problem, that is not the case. It is merely delaying tactics on behalf of a Minister who cannot get results. He introduces debates which continue for hours and garner publicity for himself rather than tackling the real problems.

If the Minister wants to introduce deregulation in future we can debate that but we should solve the problems we have first. We should deal with existing facilities first and with alcohol abuse. If we are to have more outlets we will need more people to manage them, police them and so on. That is a debate for another day.

I regret that the Minister did not use the opportunity yesterday to debate alcohol. He stated that we must have a debate on alcohol. We have given him the chance with this motion to debate alcohol and alcohol abuse but he decided to spend ten or 15 minutes last night telling us about his new Bill which he will introduce in a few weeks. He will spend another half hour talking about it then. Nothing new is proposed in the Bill. Its purpose is to regularise matters and correct things that are already happening. His radical proposal to change alcohol licences in restaurants is happening anyway. Most restaurants have any amount of alcohol one wants which can be served with food. He is not doing anything great or achieving results. I wish he would debate alcohol with us some day, as he has proposed. I have asked for such a debate for two years, as have colleagues of mine. We cannot get a proper debate on alcohol abuse. There is no point in the Minister saying he will do it if it does not happen.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to areas in which the Government is failing so I will not dwell on that apart from pointing out that a number of years ago, the current Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, announced the Government was determined to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse through a combination of education and deterrents. There has been no change in recent years on either of those fronts. The Government is failing but I will not spend time on this area as I wish to put forward some ideas which could solve the alcohol problem.

Deputy Ardagh complimented Deputy Hayes's speech, which was an excellent contribution on the problems of binge drinking. We must ask why binge drinking happens. There are a few different reasons for it. First, there are not enough alternatives. If people had more things to do they may not choose to go drinking. Second, people appear to do all their drinking in one or two days now whereas in the past they used to do it over four or five days. People now drink more on the days they go out for different reasons, including the price of alcohol, the cost of taxis etc. We must deal with that. There is a shot culture in which people drink several shots at the end of the night to get a buzz. We must find a way to tackle this. It is important to provide people with alternatives.

We must decide what constitutes binge drinking. I read that most people assume binge drinking is four drinks. Another view is that seven half glasses of beer amounts to binge drinking, which is three and a half pints. My grandfather used to drink two bottles of Guinness and a whiskey every day. I do not think he was a binge drinker but according to this calculation he was 75% of the way there. He would be delighted to be called a binge drinker at 91 years of age. Let us have a real debate.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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That is the secret of life.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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We are talking about abuse of alcohol, not having a few pints and a bit of fun. We must tackle the trouble on the streets but before we do so we must have an honest debate. First we must establish what we are talking about. My concerns mainly relate to the abuse of alcohol by young people or those drinking to excess at home, those who cannot handle drink, the people who cannot stop at six or seven pints but have to get into such a state that they cause trouble for themselves or others. I worked in a bar for ten years and the most trouble I encountered was from people aged over 30. I rarely had trouble with people under 20.

People are very concerned about trouble on the streets. It is obvious that we need more gardaí to tackle this problem. Many towns are waiting for decisions on funding for CCTV. We must consider staggering pub closing hours. I am not sure that the way forward is to tell everyone to leave pubs at 12.30 a.m. or 1 a.m. I would welcome a debate on this. I do not say I am right or wrong but we should discuss the matter. The other countries to which the Minister refers on the Continent which do not have a drink problem have staggered closing hours. Bars in those countries are open longer hours than here. People do not leave bars at the same time and end up meeting and beating each other on the streets, which happens here. Let us discuss this matter and examine if it would be worth changing closing time here.

A change to pub closing times might also have the benefit of doing away with the rush at closing time to drink twice as much alcohol as was consumed in the previous four hours. In the last hour people buy four or five pints and a couple of shots which they drink in half an hour to beat closing time. We must get away from that culture. If we took the pressure off and allowed people more time to drink they might drink more slowly.

I urge the Minister to facilitate a debate. We seek a national strategy to tackle alcohol. Let us have a proper discussion on this matter. Those who are interested can contribute and those who are not interested can stay out of the debate. Let us debate the issue and come up with solutions. I have a page of other ideas which I would like to go through. We should give it a shot and examine what we can do.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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A shot.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath, Fine Gael)
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Let us get real. Perhaps I should not have said "give it a shot", we should try to get away from shots and get back to pints.

8:00 pm

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to debate this motion. When we discuss alcohol we focus on problems with young people in particular. My experience of young people is that they are absolutely brilliant in their behaviour, in how they work and respond to pressure. We tend to highlight misbehaviour rather than excellent behaviour. Young people behave much better than we did in our day. This is worth stating.

We rightly link alcohol abuse and violence, including street violence. However there is a lack of awareness of the relationship between alcohol and another type of violence, that is, violence towards the self, which includes suicide and suicidal behaviour. Alcohol is implicated in 25% to 50% of suicides. The report of the National Parasuicide Registry shows that 42% of cases of parasuicide involved the taking of alcohol. This is more common among men than women.

Irish figures for general hospitals show that 30% of male and 8% of female patients were identified as having alcohol abuse or dependency problems. Post mortem studies have consistently reported that one third or more of those who die by suicide meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Dr. John Connolly, consultant psychiatrist and secretary of the Irish Association of Suicidology, who has written extensively on this subject, states the relationship between alcohol consumption, suicide and suicidal behaviour has been well established by robust research. There is a clear association between per capita consumption of alcohol and the suicide rate in any country. The higher the level of consumption of alcohol, the higher the suicide rate. Alcohol consumption levels can explain the difference in suicide rates between countries and different areas in each country.

Alcohol impacts on suicide rates in a number of ways. It leads to depression, which is a major factor in suicide and suicidal behaviour. In addition, depressed people frequently turn to alcohol in the mistaken belief that it will improve their mood. In many people alcohol has a biphasic effect, initially causing a feeling of well-being which is soon followed by dysphoria.

Traditionally, the lifetime risk of suicide associated with alcoholism was thought to be between 3% and 7% and the risk for major depressive illness approximately 15%. The co-morbidity of depression and alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk of suicide and suicidal behaviour.

A third factor that must be considered is the ability of alcohol to impair judgment and reduce inhibition, thereby increasing risk-taking behaviour. This may well result in an impulsive suicide and suicidal behaviour, most frequently in the young. Alcohol causes cognitive constriction and reduces problem-solving abilities. These are common features of suicidal persons. There is no doubt that a small number of people who have suicidal ideation take alcohol to give them the courage to complete the suicide.

Suicidal behaviour and alcohol abuse and misuse have many risk factors in common. In itself, alcohol misuse can result in many of the major risk factors for suicide and parasuicide, including depressive illness, family breakdown, the disruption of confiding relationships, unemployment, homelessness, loss of status, isolation, aggression and impulsive behaviour. Unfortunately, in Ireland excessive alcohol consumption has come to play an unwarranted role in all social occasions. It appears we cannot celebrate or grieve without alcohol. Heavy drinking is tolerated too easily. Alcohol is relatively cheap and readily available.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Fine Gael is calling on the Government to put in place a co-ordinated approach to the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy. It must also provide the necessary resources and direction to the Garda to ensure that existing legislation is enforced and public order related activities are tackled in a consistent way throughout the country.

The clear thinking of the Fine Gael Party, together with the anxiety of 40 Fianna Fáil backbenchers, has forced the Minister to abandon the so-called café bar approach. It is already clear that we have an alcohol problem in this country which will have major effects on the health of the nation in coming years unless we come to grips with it. It is absurd to suggest that providing further access to alcohol through café bars is a solution.

In recent years, the closure of Garda barracks in many rural towns is such that late-night drinking and other activities outside food outlets in the early hours of the morning have become some of the major sources of anxiety in these areas, especially for the elderly. In May 2002, the strategic task force on alcohol, commissioned by the Department of Health and Children, informed us that, in the ten years to 1999, alcohol consumption per capita soared by 41%. It also informed us that in 2000 our alcohol consumption was second only to that of Luxembourg, at a rate of 11 litres per head compared with the EU average of 9.1.

The second report by the task force, issued in September 2004, stated categorically that the Government's aim should be to reduce Ireland's total per capita consumption to the EU average and that to do so, it should restrict any further increases in physical availability of alcohol, including by putting restrictions on the number of outlets and the time of sale.

Once again it is clear that the Government appoints committees to provide advice and ignores same. I am not a teetotaller and I enjoy the company of people in bars and lounges to some extent. However, if the Government is serious about its commitments, it must decrease rather than increase the number of places where alcohol is available and restrict the times at which it is available.

The Minister advises immigrants seeking asylum, who are under extraordinary pressure, that they are telling cock-and-bull stories but his stories about providing 2,000 extra gardaí were such. All we are doing is replacing those gardaí who are retiring on normal grounds and those who are leaving the force through frustration. If the 2,000 extra gardaí were in place and civilian personnel were used for other duties, there would be no need to close five Garda barracks in five towns in my constituency and that of the Ceann Comhairle.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I am glad the Government has responded so positively to this motion. Rarely has a motion been so effective. It has resulted in a complete U-turn, not really by the Minister but by the Government. The Government must take responsibility for the café bar idea as much as the Minister.

The most important issue concerns the control of outlets selling alcohol. I agree with the vintners that there are too many outlets selling alcohol in the country and that, as a result, it is difficult to control its consumption. The standard and customer service of the outlets should be improved and they should be subject to further regulation. While there are varying opinions on opening hours, I believe the issue should be revisited, regardless of whether it means closing premises earlier, as I would suggest, or extending opening hours.

The issue of health is not discussed enough. When I worked as a PE teacher, the school in which I taught had a module on health education every year. The abuse of alcohol was always discussed in this regard. Very little education on alcohol consumption and abuse is being provided in schools. There is an ad hoc approach whereby experts are invited to schools for one day to talk to pupils about the dangers of alcohol consumption, but this is not enough. Young people should be reminded of the damage that alcohol does not only to their physical health but also to their mental health, as outlined by Deputy Neville. Its effects on one's kidneys, liver, heart and other organs are well known among medical professionals but not among the general population. People do not understand the effect alcohol has on their bodies until it is too late.

In the limited time available, I wish to emphasise that young people under 18, because they cannot go into bars, need some place to hang out. The concept of a coffee bar rather than a café bar should be explored. Young people under 18 should have places to go where, for instance, they might go to a centre with coffee and milk shakes and other facilities. Those facilities are not available in towns and the Minister of State should appreciate that this should be encouraged.

In the Fine Gael document, Ireland — a Night in the Life, which described how anti-social behaviour is hurting communities, one of the recommendations deals with hang-out spots and what they should be. We want to encourage the development of ventures such as coffee shops and restaurants which are more teenager friendly. If possible, such premises should include outdoor seating, picnic benches and so on. These premises should ideally be equipped with facilities such as pool tables, computer games etc. Such initiatives should operate to the mutual benefit of both parties, providing a viable business opportunity for one and a mature yet safe social environment for the other.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I apologise for the inability of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to be present. He had intended to be in the House for the entire debate. It was scheduled in his diary but, unfortunately, due to the death of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Eilis Brennan, he cannot be present and he apologises.

I have listened carefully to the contributions of the Opposition Members during the debate and, having done so, I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister, Deputy McDowell, when he said that while some of the contributions were good, others appeared to be posturing. What comes across all too clearly is the unsavoury spectacle of vested interests masquerading as public interest and a sad attempt to use a serious problem confronting society as an opportunity for petty political point scoring. The public will not be fooled, however, by the opportunistic posturing of the Opposition. I have not heard many original ideas from the Opposition, nor have I detected evidence of such in the combined contributions of the comprehensive approach its Members supposedly favour. Instead, we have been treated to an incoherent mixture of concerns about the health of the public and the health of the pub trade.

Contrary to what Opposition parties and certain public health experts have said, the proposals for reform of the licensing laws being brought forward by the Minister and the Government take account of public concerns in seeking to reduce the extent of alcohol related harm in society. The proposed Bill contains numerous safeguards intended to combat alcohol related harm. The Bill will extend the jurisdiction of the District Court to all applications for retail licences and nightclub permits and will give specified notice to all parties, including the health authorities as well as members of the public, as well as the right to object in open court to the granting of such licences or permits. The Bill proposes to streamline the system for renewing licences and to classify the right of objection of the public to such renewal. Health authorities will be specifically mentioned as having the right to object to any renewal. This health authority role was recommended by the strategic task force on alcohol.

As the Minister stated last evening, the Bill will strengthen existing provisions designed to combat sales of alcohol to under age persons. For example, in future an applicant's knowledge of the licensing laws may be taken into account by the court in deciding whether to grant a certificate. This is the first time this has been done and is a welcome new initiative. In addition, all off-licences will be legally required to have written policies and control procedures. Again, this is an important innovative measure. Not having these procedures and policies will be an offence in law. The Bill will create a new offence of being in possession of a forged or altered Garda age card. A fine of up to €3,000 or up to 12 months' imprisonment will apply in the event of conviction for such an offence. Penalties are being increased to improve deterrence and promote compliance with this procedure.

I want to say something about the simplistic notion that has been advanced by some Opposition Members that restricting the number of outlets supplying alcohol somehow restricts its availability. This is demonstrably false. In its interim report of May 2002, the strategic task force on alcohol stated that between 1989 and 1999 alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland had increased by 41%. This happened despite the existence of restrictions on the availability of any new licences. We might ask how this has come about. The strategic task force supplied the answer when it stated that changed drinking patterns have been influenced by enormous changes in our society, changing lifestyles and expectations, more disposable income, the lessening of parental control and a very strong focus on consumerism. I broadly agreed with the task force's analysis.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State has run out of time.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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My only reservation is that the task force does not appear to have taken sufficient account of demographic factors. The age profile of the population, a much higher proportion of which is under 25 compared to other countries, has contributed to increased alcohol consumption and made comparisons with other jurisdictions much more difficult.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State must conclude, because we have already gone over time.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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The Government remains determined to modernise and streamline our licensing laws in a manner which will combat alcohol related harm.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is stealing our time.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Minister of State to give way to Deputy Ring.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Connaughton and Jim O'Keeffe. I would like the Ceann Comhairle to tell me when my five minutes are up because I do not want to use up my time as the Minister of State did to us. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will give us the time that has been lost.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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For the information of the House, the Opposition Members went two minutes over time.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That man went five minutes over time.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, he did not. He had five minutes.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I listened to the Minister of State and he had not much to say. The senior Minister, Deputy McDowell, had a good deal to say about café bar licences, but we found out who likes the pints and who likes the wine. The Progressive Democrats members like the wine but they are not going to have the cafés, and the Fianna Fáil members like the pints and they are going to have the pubs. That is who won this argument.

I want to tell the Minister of State that this Government is over. It was decided yesterday at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. They do not want the Progressive Democrats any more, so there is going to be a new coalition of Fine Gael and Labour. When we get into Government we will deal with this problem properly. The sooner we get in the better because the current Administration has made a mess of it.

I listened to the Minister, Deputy McDowell, the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil and this was deregulation by the back door. They got away with it with the pharmacies but will not this time because the publicans are a powerful lobby. The Fianna Fáil Party knows about lobbies because its members hold their clinics in pubs, as I do, although I hate to say it. I wish we could hold them elsewhere, but we cannot. They know that publicans would deal with them in the next general election.

The backbenchers have won the battle on this one and the Government is over. Deputy Healy-Rae and the other Independent Members should be getting ready for the next six months because this Government is over. The Minister who always boasted he would not back down had to do so yesterday. When he went into the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting he had to back down. I thought they were all dead for the last three years because there was not a word from them. This was the first issue on which they stood up and were counted. When the vote is taken, I hope these backbenchers will walk up the stairs with us or use their little fingers to ensure that this legislation is dead and buried forever.

The Minister of State who has responsibility for health was very concerned about smoking but did not show much regarding alcoholic drink. Drink is the greatest killer in Ireland and the main reason for family break up, yet we have done nothing about it. The reason is the Government's vested interest in terms of taxation.

No licensed premises should be open after midnight. The decision of the House three or four years ago to extend opening hours was a national disgrace for which we are paying a price in terms of anti-social behaviour throughout the country. We see people come out of licensed premises at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. when they should be in bed resting before work the next day.

Why can Ireland not be like America where people when invited to a party from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., arrive at 8 p.m. and leave at 11 p.m.? In Ireland, when one is invited to a party which is to begin at 8 p.m. and finish at a specified time, it will not start until 1 a.m. and will probably not finish until 3 a. m. This is the kind of culture the Government and everybody else have promoted for the past 20 years. It is time to get serious about drink. The Government must have a proper campaign and policy on the abuse of alcohol because it is destroying families, communities and the country. It is time we woke up and realised we have a serious problem.

No sporting organisation should accept sponsorship from drinks companies. We should promote healthy living and sport and should not depend on Guinness, Budweiser, Bass or any such company for sponsorship. The House should legislate to provide that if sporting organisations accept this kind of sponsorship, they will not receive lottery funding from the State.

I hope I had a little more to say on this issue than the Minister of State. The Government must get real and tackle our serious alcohol problem. Opening more cafés and bars and providing for more licences will not resolve the problem but create further difficulties.

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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I will start where Deputy Ring left off. This was a bad week for the Government parties. The Billy the Kid, western style, cavalier approach taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was seen by everybody for what it was — it had nothing good, bad or different behind it. The image of the Minister of State's senior colleague having to put on shin guards before coming out of a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party yesterday speaks volumes for the cohesion of the Government.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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It is called democracy.

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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It was the worst ever performance by the Progressive Democrats Party. If I was the Minister of State, I would be in Limerick knocking on doors. He will soon have to do so.

Having listened consistently to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since he took office, he appears to have a monopoly on wisdom during every debate. He is the best man I have ever seen putting across a case, which, as a senior counsel, he is trained to do. Nevertheless, he always does so on the basis of what he thinks is right and never goes to the trouble of finding out what the stakeholders want. On this occasion, the café bar proposal appeared sexy, the kind of thing that would suit people in Dublin 4. The Minister soon found out how sexy it was when he went in among the wolves yesterday.

I would love to discuss the issue for much longer but only have a couple of minutes to speak. The main issue is one of enforcement. While we have no great shortage of laws, somehow we appear unable to ensure compliance with them. The Minister of State, like me, has been around for long enough to know that. In the dead of Friday and Saturday nights, not only in Dublin but in small towns and villages, the doors of discos open to let gangs out on the street. Can one expect two gardaí in a patrol car — if the town is fortunate enough to have such — to be able to control a group at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.? Can the Minister of State imagine the effect this has on elderly people trying to sleep at that hour of the night?

The Progressive Democrats Party was returned to Government specifically on the basis of its proposals to ensure we got a handle on anti-social behaviour. It promised to increase Garda numbers by 2,000. I heard its leader, the Tánaiste, state this morning that Garda numbers were increasing all over the country. Garda strength has increased by a total of 47 gardaí in the three years since the Minister of State was appointed to his current position. The remainder of the additional recruits replaced gardaí who retired.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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The new gardaí are being trained.

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Live horse and one will get grass.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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And a great deal of it.

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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The public is waiting in the long grass for the Progressive Democrats this time because people know in their hearts and souls that the party has been in Government during a period when the coffers of the Exchequer were bursting with money but has chosen to look after its own golden circle and forget about elderly people and young people who need leadership.

Although I am one of those who genuinely believe we should have strict laws, on the other hand, I started my career as a youth officer with a youth organisation. The nation, but specifically the Government, should be ashamed of our lack of action to ensure young people have alternatives to the pub. We only scratch the surface. Foróige, the National Youth Council of Ireland and similar organisations have a wealth of ideas but our towns and cities are short of the resources to implement them. Although the Government has the resources, it chooses to deploy them in a different way, as is evident from the tribunals. When the big day comes this is one of the reasons the Minister of State will sit on the Opposition benches.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The House has had a very good debate on the Fine Gael Party motion calling on the Government to abandon the plans of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to licence café bars. It is clear the proposal is dead and buried.

Fine Gael follows the views of health professionals on the connection between further alcohol outlets and more alcohol abuse. The Minister, on the other hand, followed Fianna Fáil backbench Deputies and ended up with his theoretical social engineering project shot down in flames as Fine Gael had demanded.

My party opposes the Government amendment which deletes two other important proposals, namely, the need for a co-ordinated approach at Government level to the preparation and implementation of a national alcohol strategy and the need to provide the Garda with the necessary resources to enforce licensing legislation and tackle public disorder.

While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has had his wings well and truly clipped, I have not noticed any sorrowful tears in evidence as a consequence. He has not been gracious in defeat, having refused to accept the genuinely held views of many, not only on this side of the House, that more drink outlets leads to more alcohol consumption and that his suggestion that café bars would lead to the end of binge drinking was pie in the sky. Many outside the House, including experts in the field, shared this view.

Even worse, to save face the Minister tried to con the public that he was never fully behind the café bar idea and, subsequently, that he was replacing his proposal by what he described as a radical reform of the licensing regime for restaurants. This, he stated, had been his preferred way to proceed in the first place. Then we had the dénouement when we found out this was another cock and bull story when he was exposed as having merely put forward a minor proposal from, of all organisations, the Vintners Association of Ireland. To crown the matter, the Minister came into the House and excoriated those alleged by him to be in the pockets of vested interests, namely, the same vintners. He did not even notice the irony of his presentation.

The Minister should stop insulting the intelligence of the public. He tried this when he announced his phantom 2,000 extra gardaí and presented a brand new traffic corps which, on investigation, was shown to include the same number of members of the Garda today as it had when it was being rebranded. He now expects the public to believe that replacing the redundant café bar proposal with a minor proposal from the licensed vintners amounts to radical reform. It is not radical, it is ridiculous. The Minister and his Progressive Democrats are becoming progressively redundant.

Now that issue is out of the way, we should look to the future. Apart from the points well made by my colleagues about this Government having to face an election soon, serious issues remain to be addressed, such as the need for a co-ordinated alcohol strategy. One of the greatest failures of this Government is that although such a policy was produced by the rainbow Government almost ten years ago, nothing similar has been put in place. This country has suffered since, with enormous increases in consumption and associated problems. We will pay dearly for the failure to implement that strategy. The promises made on enforcement, extra gardaí and resources for them have not been fulfilled and, as a consequence, there is additional alcohol abuse.

This motion is reasonable and the very least the Government can do at this stage is to accept it in full.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom mo vhóta a cheartú agus a athrú.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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That is electronic voting — it cannot even count.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Wait until they get the voting machines and we will never get them out of Government.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Can the Government convert that voting machine? A Cheann Comhairle, it is a sad reflection when even the voting machine cannot work.

Deputies:

It is an enigma.