Thursday, 25 January 2018
Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, the objective of which is to remove restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday. This Bill began its journey as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. During Second Stage discussions there, I made it clear that the Government was not opposed in principle to the amendment of intoxicating liquor legislation aimed at permitting the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday. However, the Government was acutely aware that the Bill as drafted fell short of what was required in order to reform the rules governing the sale of alcohol on Good Friday in a comprehensive and non-discriminatory manner. That is why, on Committee Stage in the Seanad, the Minister tabled a number of amendments to the Bill to ensure the proposed changes in the Good Friday rules could be introduced without creating further confusion and anomalies in the legislation.
Legislation restricting the sale of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday has been with us since before the foundation of the State. These restrictions were carried over and reinforced after 1922 and have remained largely untouched since. It must be recognised, however, that the economic and social life of this country has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Tourism makes a much greater contribution to our economy and this is particularly true during holiday periods, such as the busy Easter period. In addition, changing demographics and increasing diversity in our population has, as confirmed by recent census data, lead to a reduction in traditional religious practice. Taking all those factors into consideration, the Government considered, when this Bill was first initiated, that it was an opportune time to have a thorough examination of the current Good Friday restrictions. As I mentioned, the Minister introduced a number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage with a view to ensuring that changes to the Good Friday rules would be consistent and would not create further anomalies in intoxicating liquor legislation. The changes made in the Upper House are contained in the Bill before us today, and I will turn now to the content of the legislation.
Section 1 is a standard provision relating to the Short Title and collective citation for the Act. Section 2 provides for a number of amendments to sections 1(1), 201), 4(7), 14 and 56(1) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927. The amendment to section 2 of the 1927 Act has the effect of removing the ban on the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses and off-licences on Good Friday. The amendments to sections 4(7), 14 and 56(1) of the 1927 Act will ensure the restrictions on the sale of alcohol in registered clubs and hotels will be removed. The existing symmetry between licensed premises and registered clubs will be retained by the amendments. In addition, the amendment to section 14 of the 1927 Act will mean hotels are permitted to sell intoxicating liquor to paying guests at any time on Good Friday and not only for consumption with a meal, as is currently the case. For the sake of completion, I should mention that the proposed amendment to section 1(1) of the 1927 Act amends the definition of "week day" in that Act to delete the current reference to "Good Friday".
Section 3 of the Bill provides for an amendment to section 7 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1960, which relates to the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor in holiday camps licensed under the Tourist Traffic Act 1952. Again, the effect of the amendment will be to allow the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday in such premises. Section 4 of the Bill provides for the amendment of sections 11(5) and 22 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1962. The amendment to section 11(5) removes the prohibition on the granting of an occasional licence on Good Friday. An occasional licence allows the holder of an ordinary seven-day on-licence, subject to obtaining an order from the District Court, to sell intoxicating liquor on the occasion of a special event at a place to which no licence is attached. The amendment to section 22 removes the reference to Good Friday in that section.
Section 5 of the Bill contains an amendment to section 14 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, which will have the effect of removing the restriction on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday in restaurants that operate on the basis of a special restaurant licence. I am making this amendment because I consider that it would be inequitable to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses that provide meals to their customers or otherwise happen to operate as restaurants but not in restaurants operating on the basis of a special restaurant licence.
I accept that statutory restrictions of the type that we are repealing in this Bill are no longer in tune with today’s Ireland. The Bill simply amends the rules to allow for the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday in a consistent, non-discriminatory and comprehensive manner. The Bill was brought forward originally by Senator Billy Lawless. I acknowledge his work and in particular his engagement with my officials. I look forward to broad support for the Bill and I commend it to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Bill, which Fianna Fáil will support. I commend the Independent Senators who initiated this legislation, particularly Senator Lawless, who the Minister of State mentioned was instrumental in it being put before the Seanad. It is important to recall that the law in this area was set down in 1927 and the Intoxicating Liquor Act of that year prohibited the sale of alcohol on three days, which were Christmas Day, St. Patrick's Day and Good Friday. In 1960, we got rid of the prohibition on the sale of alcohol on St. Patrick's Day.
The reason for that was that it was recognised as a national holiday. With tourists coming to the country and wanting to enjoy themselves, it was regarded as anachronistic to have a ban on selling alcohol on St. Patrick's Day. For many years, people have been trying to get around the prohibition on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday. Sometimes people would go to the dog show where they could buy alcohol or get a drink on Good Friday. On other occasions, people would take the train because if one had an inter-county ticket, one could buy alcohol. We are also aware of examples of people going to restaurants and having the wine put in teapots and so forth. That undermined the law and, as a result, it is sensible to change the law and remove the prohibition.
The prohibition relating to Good Friday was introduced for the same reason as the prohibition on the sale of alcohol on Christmas Day and St. Patrick's Day. It was seen as a sign of religious respect that the State would not permit the sale of alcohol on those days. In many respects, it was an anti-republican measure because this is not a State purely for those of the Christian faith or the Catholic religion. It is also important to recognise that religious people are still entitled to respect and honour religious days of importance to them. There is nothing mandatory about this provision. It simply acknowledges that people who wish to buy a drink, who may not be religious or who are religious but do not believe that they should abstain from alcohol on Good Friday, will be permitted to do so. In recent years, strange situations have arisen. There have been major sporting events which have been held on Good Friday and people attending those events were not able to buy alcohol. That was seen as unusual. Sometimes steps were taken to provide for an exemption for particular events. This proposal is much more sensible - simply abolish the prohibition on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday. People who wish to be religiously observant can do that in accordance with their views.
The prohibition has had a negative impact on the tourism industry in Ireland. Many people come to Ireland over the Easter period and it comes as a surprise to them on Good Friday that they cannot get a drink in a restaurant or that they cannot go to an Irish bar, which is an important part of the tourism product in this country. It is also instructive to note that perhaps the busiest day of the year for off-licences is Holy Thursday. The reason is that people are aware that alcohol will not be available on Good Friday.
Although I welcome the Bill and believe it is an important measure which we should pass, I should not let miss the opportunity of referring to the fact that there is a major problem with alcohol and alcoholism in this country. While I welcome the fact that this legislation has got to the House so quickly, I should mention that we must promote other legislation which deals with the problems caused by alcohol. I refer in particular to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which still has not come before this House. It is important that the Government prioritises that Bill. Most people use alcohol in a moderate way. They enjoy alcohol at social events. It provides people with entertainment and reduces inhibitions. It has a general social impact on people when they meet. That occurs in the majority of cases. However, a significant minority of people in this country struggle with alcohol and with alcoholism. We must do something for those people. We must recognise that many people are badly damaged by alcohol and do something to reduce that. It is a major public health issue.
The Government must bring forward the legislation to which I refer sooner rather than later so we, as legislators, can try to deal with this enormous social problem. It is not going away and it has had very negative consequences in Irish society for many years. We need to have a mature conversation about the impact of alcohol on Irish society and what steps legislators can take to try to resolve some of those problems. However, Fianna Fáil will support the Bill before the House.
Beimid ag tacú leis an mBille seo. We support the passing of this Bill and we will not be bringing forward amendments. Sinn Féin is a republican party. As republicans, members of Sinn Féin believe in a broad civic society where all traditions and views of the world are equal, included and respected. Deputy O'Callaghan is correct that in many respects the existing ban is not in line with a republican political philosophy.
It is logical that the Government has moved to resolve what had become an anomaly. I commend the Independent Senators, including Senator Billy Lawless, and the Seanad generally on their work in respect of this legislation. Pubs and licensed premises should be allowed to open on Good Friday. There should be no barrier to them doing so based on a religious custom or practice which held that pubs should close on a Good Friday. That affects all of the public, in order to respect the religious customs of some. It has been claimed, in the years of debate on this issue, that it would be disrespectful and would disregard the fact that we live in a country which has a Catholic majority. For that reason I wish to clarify my statement on the need to show respect to those who wish to observe their religious practices on Good Friday. They have an absolute right to do so and should be afforded every opportunity to do that. The removal of this ban will not impinge on that in any way. We do not believe that a bar being allowed to open on Good Friday hinders or prohibits people from observing their religious practices in any way. For all its flaws, the 1937 Constitution has strong protections for freedom of religious expression under Article 44.2, and there is nothing in the Bill which is contrary to that.
The Bill is important not just in terms of what it says about the ban on Good Friday opening hours but also about what type of society we seek to be. The more pluralist our society is, the greater it benefits us all. However, the ban is an anomaly, and one with little public support. In 2000, we abolished the holy hour licensing exceptions. Before that, there were plenty of stories about the bona fide traveller exception and the rules relating to that. They seem quaint and perverse now. It is likely that the closing of pubs on Good Friday will appear as peculiar and quaint to future generations as those rules appear to my generation. This Bill will likely be of benefit to the tourism and hospitality business. The Irish pub is undoubtedly a great asset in that regard. At its best it is not just a place to drink, but a place to experience music, craic and renowned Irish hospitality.
Points have been made in the past about the working conditions of those who work in the pubs sector. Good Friday was perceived as a day off for them. This Bill has drawn attention to that again. We share the concerns that have been articulated by Mandate and other trade unions regarding the working conditions of people working in pubs, licensed premises and the hospitality sector. I welcome that the Government did not oppose the Bill in the Seanad yesterday relating to hospitality staff being allowed to keep their tips. It was already the case that a publican could bring staff in on Good Friday to conduct a stock-take, carry out a deep clean or paint the ceiling in the toilets. If we are serious about this legislation we should implement it but also consider legislation that protects workers, offers them opportunities and puts workers in this sector and the pub trade first. It is increasingly the case that licensed premises are opening either on or close to Christmas Day. We have seen that phenomenon in a number of localities and it is becoming more common. I encourage publicans and people in the hospitality sector at the very least to respect their workers' rights by allowing them that day off and that time with their families. This is a trend and, while it is still relatively uncommon, it should be discouraged. It is important that those workers be allowed not to work on that day.
Like Deputy O'Callaghan, I believe this is an opportune time to briefly address the place of alcohol in our society. There is no doubt that we have a significant problem in our society. There is a need to take firm and comprehensive action to tackle alcohol harm.
Alcohol abuse is a significant contributor to many issues in society, such as the crisis in accident and emergency departments. Much of Geoffrey Shannon's report into Garda use of section 12 of the Child Care Act, which deals with the taking into care of children who are at risk or in a situation of neglect, correctly focused on the roles of Tusla and the Garda but it also highlighted that alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction were factors in many of the horrific and appalling situations in which such children were found. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, it is estimated that alcohol-related harm in Ireland claims three lives a day and costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion, which puts strain on the overburdened health services, with 2,000 beds occupied by people with alcohol-related illnesses every day.
In that context, the legislation is welcome and we will support it. It is right that it is tackled. There is a need for additional legislation in this area, such as the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. There were some blockages to that Bill when it was initially tabled in the Seanad. Progress has since been made but there is still a considerable lobby and effort to try to undermine its provisions. I am opposed to such tactics. Concerns about the Bill can be listened to but it should not be undermined. Rather, it must be quickly progressed in order to send out a significant statement about the intention of the Houses to tackle alcohol-related harm in the State.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill is a sensible move and rectifies a situation that has been illogical and out of place for a long time. Tá sé ceart déileáil leis seo agus deireadh a chur leis an eisceacht seo. Níl ciall ná réasún leis sa lá atá anniu ann. I hope it will be supported and that the same efficiency and initiative is brought to dealing with the more pressing issue of alcohol-related harm.
I find it strange that there are so many aspects relating to alcohol we could and should be discussing but this Bill has been allocated almost three hours in the House, along with the time spent on its drafting and its discussion in the Seanad. The big concern regards alcohol not being on sale in public houses on Good Friday or off-licences being open. Who is it intended that the Bill will benefit? We are told it is for tourists. How many tourists have been put off coming to Ireland because there is a day on which public houses are not open? How many tourists who arrive here to subsequently discover that public houses are closed for 24 hours get the first boat or aeroplane out of Ireland? How many tourists have complained that they cannot access a public house on Good Friday? Who will benefit from the Bill? Are tourists who cannot last 24 hours without buying a drink in a public house or going into an off-licence the only ones we wish to come to Ireland?
Another rationale for the Bill is that the Good Friday alcohol ban is outdated and not in keeping with a secular society. That reasoning does not stand up when one considers the very unhealthy relationship we have with alcohol in this country. The new strategy on drugs and alcohol, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, was launched a couple of months ago. In a foreword to the strategy, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, set out how drug and alcohol use affect individuals, families and communities across the country and that the expert panel, which conducted a review of the previous drugs strategy, characterised alcohol as the elephant in the room. The new strategy acknowledges that, although legal, alcohol is a drug like any other. The strategy contains many measures that should contribute to a reduction in alcohol-related harm and delay the early use of alcohol by young people. What message is being sent by this Bill? We need more Good Fridays throughout the year.
We must denormalise the drinking of alcohol. I drink and enjoy alcohol. However, it is normal in our society to drink on every occasion. People take alcohol when sad or happy; celebrating a victory or coping with a loss; at first communions, confirmations, weddings, divorces, funerals and sports events; and on mother's day, father's day and holidays. One's grocery shopping includes the purchase of alcohol. I acknowledge that it is argued that public houses being closed on Good Friday means people buy more alcohol the night before but that is part of the normalising culture which suggests that we cannot do without alcohol for one day of the year.
It has been argued in support of the Bill that the Good Friday ban is an outdated practice to have in a modern European nation that respects all traditions and faiths. However, some faiths do not allow any alcohol and I have been to Muslim countries in which alcohol is not for sale.
Another argument in favour of the Bill concerned St. Patrick's Day, which was included in the original ban on the sale of intoxicating liquor that has since been repealed. In view of what St. Patrick's Day has become, could we imagine it without alcohol? There would probably be a massive outcry if there were to be a ban on the sale of alcohol in pubs on St. Patrick's Day. It is very sad that it is so associated with alcohol. Is there any other country in the world in which a public holiday is associated with alcohol? If one walks the streets of certain parts on Dublin late on a normal St. Patrick's night, one will encounter rivers of spilled drink, broken glass, urine and vomit. Most American tourists are quite abstemious in their consumption of alcohol but I have seen and been taken aback by American tourists drinking to excess on St. Patrick's Day. It is as though, because it is normal here to get drunk on St. Patrick's Day, they come to drink in a manner that they would not in the United States. Now that the ban on alcohol sales on Good Friday is to be abolished, we may see more of such behaviour. I wish to acknowledge an initiative taken by Senator Frances Black a couple of years ago prompted by her work with people affected by alcohol. She organised a very well-attended alcohol-free event on St. Patrick's Day in the Gresham Hotel. Similar initiatives could be rolled out to promote it being normal to go out and enjoy oneself without alcohol, rather than simply drowning the shamrock.
There was much commotion before an infamous rugby match between Munster and Leinster on Good Friday a few years ago because rugby fans would not be able to have a drink before the match. It was as though chaos would descend as a result. The vintners went to court and won, which did no service to rugby fans because it was tantamount to suggesting that they cannot go to a match without consuming alcohol.
All Members know that the Good Friday ban has cost vintners dearly. It is also good for business for off-licences the night before and means the Northern Ireland economy does better. If we get rid of the ban, there will be a knock-on effect in that regard. It is all over the place.
We know the facts in respect of alcohol-related harm. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of suicides and in the risk of the suicide and a significant factor in self harm. It is the leading cause of death among Irish men aged 15 to 24. Alcohol-related absenteeism in the workplace is a significant issue. Three people die every day as a result of alcohol-related harm. We know the cost to the health service and justice system. I have sympathy for the gardaí who have to deal with alcohol-related incidents such as assault, murder, sexual assault and anti-social behaviour. There has been an increase in referrals to services but consumption levels continue to grow. Some 92% of those surveyed in an opinion poll commissioned last year agreed that alcohol consumption is too high, while 78% were concerned about the exposure of children to alcohol and 74% supported Government intervention to reduce alcohol consumption and protect people from alcohol-related harm.
The alcohol debate in this country is riddled with ironies. This Bill to abolish the Good Friday ban, which will give people another day on which to go into a pub or off-licence and get alcohol, will be considered alongside the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to reduce the consumption of alcohol in Ireland. It has been argued that pubs should be treated in the same manner as shops, which are permitted to open on Good Friday. There is a vast difference between the respective services offered by a pub and a shop. I agree that a pub is a far more social atmosphere in which to drink than the increasingly prevalent practice, due to the availability of cheap alcohol, of drinking at home and alone. Some people are in favour of the ban for religious reasons and I respect their views but I support the ban on health grounds.
I also have great sympathy for people, and especially older people, living in isolated areas in rural Ireland who will be affected by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's recent Bill. These are the pub customers who go for a couple of drinks to socialise and to get out of the house for some human contact. These are not the people whose drinking is causing accidents. I would like to see the vintners exercised in trying to address that issue and taking a role in sourcing alternative transport arrangements. Maybe, however, there is more money to be made in getting the ban lifted on Good Fridays.
Ostensibly it is about getting rid of an old law. It probably does not make sense to keep to this old fashioned law but I believe removing the law totally sends out the wrong signals and that the Bill is about the vested interests.
I welcome the lifting of the ban which keeps licensed premises closed on Good Friday. I have one issue for the Minister of State, which others may have already raised. Workers in public houses have two certain days off a year. Will these workers be compensated in any way? It should not be compulsory to work on that day. As far as I know public house workers have had that day off with pay. Perhaps the unions and the vintners associations could come to some agreement so workers are happy in this regard. If the pubs are open and if workers are working on the day they should be properly paid and it should not be compulsory.
Before I start I must admit a conflict of interest. I have two brothers who run public houses in Bantry and Bandon so it is only right that I admit to a conflict of interest. I have a daughter who works in two bars in west Cork in Durrus and Kilcrohane.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on this important debate. I find it a bit strange because it looks as though the Government is talking out of two sides of the same mouth. Last week the Government supported the Road Traffic Bill, which will lead to the closure of public houses and this week the Government talks of opening up public houses. I fully approve of these proposals to open up the public houses, for many reasons. I believe the legislation that forbids the sale of alcohol on licensed premises on Good Friday is unnecessary.
I am a practising Catholic, I have been all of my life, but I do not believe that imposing a ban on the sale of alcohol in public houses on Good Friday would take away from my faith, or from that of anyone else who practises their faith. For me, this debate is not about religion but allowing local pubs and licensed establishments to maximise their business at all times, where they see fit.
During my election campaign, I promised my constituents that I would do my utmost to defend rural Ireland and protect small, local businesses. For too long, rural Ireland has been left behind and droves of small businesses, pubs and post offices continue to close for a number of reasons.
I appreciate that many pub owners are satisfied with the current ban as it gives them a well-deserved day off or time to do small renovations. Many publicans, however, do not want this ban enforced on them and would prefer to choose their own days to temporarily close down. The current and previous Governments are infamous for their roles in the closure of shops, pubs, family-run businesses and Garda stations like Ballygurteen, Goleen, Adrigole and Ballinspittle in my constituency of Cork South-West. There is talk of reopening the Ballinspittle Garda station but we do not see it open yet do we?
I have regularly commented on the Government's failure to rural-proof its actions and have commented on how the cuts and tax increases have had a detrimental effect on rural communities. I wish, however, to support this Bill that I believe will improve the pub trade, if only slightly. I am a proud Catholic and I am hopeful that if this amendment is passed, the sale of alcohol on Good Friday will be done so in a controlled and respectful manner, as is done in many other European countries. The sale of alcohol is even permitted at many Catholic pilgrimage sites on Good Friday. Good Friday has been traditionally respected in Ireland as were many other church holy days that have been moved or forgotten about by the church and society, I believe wrongfully. I am fully opposed to schools being open on church holy days but this is now a common practice approved by the church body that holds patronage of these centres of education.
Legislating for the sale of alcohol on Good Friday will also benefit our tourism industry. Many potential tourists are put off by the current alcohol ban. I recall a number of years ago when some foreign visitors met me in the town on a Good Friday. They could not understand why they could not go to a pub; the Irish pub which is world famous. They had come to the area during one of the biggest tourism days in Ireland and they could not go into a pub. They could not understand why this was the case. When I explained the reason they thought it was laughable that they had no problem in walking into a hotel and getting a drink but they could not walk into a public house and have a drink, see the beauty of the public house and have a chat with the local barman.
People also go to public houses to eat with some people going to the local pub each day to eat. Most people in Ireland who want something to eat go to the local pub to do so. There are places such as the Paragon Bar and Annie Mays in Skibbereen, the Quay's Bar in Bantry, Arundels by the Pier in Ahakista, the Bunratty Inn in Schull and Sheahan's in Leap, where fabulous meals can be had. It would give people an opportunity to get out on Good Friday, go to their prayers, have a little bite to eat or a little drink and then head home in comfort.
Publicans can control what goes on inside the pub. Many people drink at home on Good Friday because they cannot have a drink somewhere else and this can lead to a lot of issues in the home. I fully approve the removal of the ban that keeps the pubs closed. We should be able to open these licensed premises on Good Friday to give the publicans every opportunity to keep their businesses going.
I am glad to be able to speak to this Bill today. As Deputy O'Sullivan has said, I also am surprised at the speed with which the Bill came thorough and the amount of time allowed for it. I am a huge supporter of the rural pubs, country pubs and Irish pubs in general. Their names are recognised all over the world. They give employment and they pay wages, rates and taxes. Pubs are a huge business and they are a vital part of the fabric of urban and rural Ireland.
I agree there are huge issues around the abuse of alcohol in Ireland. Other speakers have mentioned the effects of binge drinking and alcohol or drug abuse such as child neglect, damage to health and cost to the State. I am aware that under various Acts, we had St. Patrick's Day, Christmas Day and Good Friday as days when alcohol sales were banned on licensed premises. Our patron saint's day was taken out of the legislation sometime in the 1960s to allow for drink on that day.
Over-drinking has, however, become a huge problem. I have been in the United States of America for three St. Patrick's Days, in Washington and New York. People are not allowed onto the streets with a beer, be it in plastic glasses or anything else. They celebrate St. Patrick's Day in a big way - almost more so that we do - with decorum and respect. In Ireland, unfortunately in recent years the celebration has taken a bad turn with over-drinking, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has already said. I will not be as graphic as that but it has caused a lot of strain and other issues. There were riots on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin not so long ago and legislation was passed to deal with that type of situation. It was not to do with alcohol; people came to visit from another jurisdiction to try to make their point and there was friction.
I am concerned. A lot of publicans have contacted me because they want the ban to remain. It is two days in the year - dhá lá. It is two days' holidays. One of the days is not even really a holiday because they are so busy on Christmas Eve, right up to midnight, and then they are open again on St. Stephen's Day. They must physically clean the pub and have it ready for the next day so Christmas Day is not a holiday for publicans and it offers no break. Good Friday used to be a black day for different denominations. I am aware that some people have had a kick at the Catholic Church again and at other denominations. Some of the religious orders do not drink at all and that is their right. We do not need to be kicking them as the reason why we have to change it. There is no need to have a bash at the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not interfering with this, good, bad or indifferent. Deputy Michael Collins referred to the church allowing schools to open during church holy days, which I have issues with because the holy days are just in name now.
However, that is what happened. The Catholic Church is the patron of many schools and some people cannot wait to take that patronage away from it. However, when it was running the schools, we did not have half the costs and those schools were run very efficiently.
I cannot support the proposal at this time. The Minister of State is well aware that we need to look at so many other areas relating to alcohol and supporting those in the Vintners Federation of Ireland, rural and urban, to sustain themselves so that they are able to provide a service and run a proper house. These are public houses and there are laws, rules and regulations. They have to be run perfectly, be clean and meet certain standards regarding food. They have to meet all the health and safety and hazard analysis and critical control point, HACCP, requirements, and rightly so. There is a huge legal onus on them to have properly run establishments and to comply with the opening and closing times, etc., relating to licensed premises.
In the context of the disappearance of public houses, during the summer I brought the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on a small tour during which we saw seven or eight pubs within a radius of approximately 20 miles. I have named them before: the Silver Sands, The Lady Gregory, The Cosy Kitchen, The Foot Bar, the Caravansary and the Glen Hotel, which is located in the scenic Glen of Aherlow. They are all dúnta. They are shuttered up and falling down. They will be derelict buildings soon and that will be another issue for the local authorities to tackle. Across then to the lovely Bansha, from where Louise Morrissey hails, to see O'Heney's bar, lounge and restaurant. It is all locked up - dúnta - gathering cobwebs and becoming an eyesore for the wonderful Tidy Towns committee.
We have to engage in a huge examination of the pub culture and drinking culture. Since the price has been so high, below-cost selling in supermarkets has been a disaster. We used to have a Fair of Cahir but it had to be discontinued last year because of the sale of drink to underage persons by certain unscrupulous off-licences. There was no control of it. There are many areas that need examination and a lot of moneys are wasted.
I differ from Deputy Michael Collins who, I note, has a vested interest - he declared it - but I think we need to sit down around the table and examine this because publicans have told me they want their day's rest. They need to upgrade their pubs on Good Friday, to paint them or do some renovating. They cannot do this on any other day apart from Christmas Day. One cannot get a tradesman to work on Christmas Day, thankfully, because they get one day off as well. Good Friday is the only day. One might call it a lá saor but it is not. It is a day they have a breather to try to run it. The restaurants get around it in any event. Tourists will not avoid Ireland because the pubs are closed on Good Friday. They love Ireland, the land of saints and scholars, and they are not going to avoid it because they cannot get a pint of beer on Good Friday.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill and I commend Senator Lawless on his great work on this matter. It is really refreshing for somebody of my generation to see a Bill like this before the House. As a Deputy based in Dublin, every Good Friday I see bemused tourists wandering the streets of the city wondering why every place they want to go is closed. They do not understand why they were not given this information in advance and they do not realise that this country has such a tradition. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire said earlier, it is somewhat quaint and bemusing at this stage, much like how I look back on the holy hour, having been told about it by my parents and grandparents. It is somewhat of an antiquity at this stage that we decide to close pubs on Good Friday on the basis of prior traditions. Good Friday is a tradition, but it can be observed by people on an individual basis. I could still choose not to enter a pub or premises that serves alcohol should I wish to observe that tradition after this Bill is passed. That is my personal choice and I am free to make it. This is what we are all about here and it is in keeping with a republican political philosophy. Ireland is a republic after all. As it matures as a republic, we seem to be concluding that the deprivation of individual liberty and personal liberty is, fundamentally, a bad thing. I absolutely concur with that idea. People should have their individual freedom to choose and, should someone wish to not frequent a pub on Good Friday or any other day for that matter, they do not have to do so.
This measure will have a significant positive impact on tourism, not only in the pub trade in Dublin but throughout the country. Some people tell me it will lead to an increase of approximately 30% on their given revenue in a week. That is a positive. It will ensure that people do not lose out on the night of Holy Thursday either. Right now, they have to close at midnight although staff are often rostered and paid beyond midnight in keeping with their previous working hours from other weeks of the year. Ultimately, I consider this a positive thing.
In terms of the personal liberty argument, individuals already choose not to observe this tradition on Good Friday. The simple point that Holy Thursday is the busiest day of the year for off-licences would tend to steer us in the direction of believing that Good Friday is not observed by a great many people, be they Catholic or otherwise, in this country. That is the reality.
I have heard one or two people mention the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is my considered opinion that this Bill does not stand in contrast to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill at all. If anything the Bill before the House complements it. It allows for a health consumption of alcohol. It does not ensure that we store up on Holy Thursday or that we bulk buy and, therefore, run the risk of binge-drinking on Good Friday. Instead, we treat alcohol in a normal way. All of us in this Chamber need to consider that traditions evolve. It was the tradition on Good Friday to not alone abstain from alcohol but also to abstain from meat. Nevertheless, our grocers, butchers and supermarkets sell meat on Good Friday and I imagine a great many people consume meat on that day. Therefore, I do not see why we should not apply that same yardstick and criteria to alcohol.
All told, I commend Senator Lawless on the legislation. It is good legislation and I hope to see it enacted before this Good Friday. Bar owners and bar workers with whom I have been speaking are wondering if they will be rostered to work for the day. As any worker wants to plan ahead, they want to plan ahead and would like certainty in that regard. I, therefore, commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome and support the Bill and commend Senator Lawless and all those involved in proposing it. Tourists come to Ireland at different times of the year and the more we can get in the better. Some are baffled as to why the pubs are closed on Good Friday. I have heard the debates on the drink culture. Members of my family had drink problems so this is coming from someone who has gone through all of it. Whether it is in a pub, an off-licence or elsewhere, unfortunately, a person who has a problem with drink will get it. These people need help. There are many who turn things around and turn over a new leaf. I have great admiration for them. Thank God, some people can go into a pub or an off-licence and they drink sociably. Unfortunately, however, some people cannot do that. We have to be able to separate those types of situations from the spirit of this Bill.
If the Bill is passed, it is for every publican to decide whether to open his or her premises. Publicans will not be forced to open. If they want, they can remain closed on Good Friday in order to clean their premises and allow their staff to remain at home. They do not have to open. There is no compulsion on them to open on any day of the week. Given that fewer people are around, many of the pubs in rural parts of Ireland do not open until late in the evening because it does not make financial sense to open earlier.
We must also realise that this is an Ireland where a lot of pubs serve great food. Ireland is renowned for the quality and service it gives and for its céad míle fáilte.
Many people go to pubs for food and drink no alcohol. In many small pubs that do a small amount of food, there may be no shutters. Without such shutters, a pub has to remain closed on Good Friday.
The Bill is a step forward but it will not mean that everybody will shoot off to the pub on Good Friday because most people work on that day, unlike St. Stephen's Day. Publicans and the Vintners Federation of Ireland are in favour of the Bill. There are fewer pubs now. While there used to be ten or 15 pubs in a town, one would be lucky to find two or three now. The Bill the House debated earlier is, in fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy English, a good one and it may result in pubs that have been closed for some time and that are run down being adapted for use as housing without much of a cost to the people involved. Publicans provide employment and they can still tell their staff that they can have Christmas Day or Good Friday off. I commend the Senators who brought this forward and I ask the Minister to work with them on it.
I support the Bill. It represents a small change but one which will not do any harm. I confess my great ignorance on this matter because I am not big into pubs. In 1978, when I was 27, I organised a meeting in a hotel in Claremorris at which we always had our meetings. The intention was to set up a timber milling project but it was Good Friday and the pubs were closed. We held the meeting in my car and we set up the timber mill, which was an acorn that grew into an oak because there has been milling in the area ever since - albeit under a different company - and now it has the single biggest output in Ireland. The law on pub hours would not have been huge in my consciousness until that day.
Good Friday is actually a big travelling day in the part of the country in which I live. It can be very annoying, when travelling throughout the country, to find that most places are closed, although this was more the case in the past because all of the journey from Galway and Dublin now takes place on the motorway. A lot of people go to Mám Éan where the patrician pilgrimage takes place but I do not see how that would be discommoded by the local pubs and restaurants being open. I echo what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said and I am disappointed that this Bill has come in ahead of legislation that has been in existence a lot longer, namely, that which tries to do something about sales in off-licences. I wish we had shown the same alacrity in dealing with that issue. Let us be honest about it. We talk and talk about the health system but if we could cut down on the abuse of alcohol and everything that arises from it, and move away from our complacency, some emergency departments and medical sections of hospitals would be less full. There are horrendous statistics on this. In the case of some 40% of middle aged men who wind up in hospital, their illness can be traced to an overindulgence in alcohol. At weekends, our emergency departments are chock-a-block and it often causes severe difficulty for hospital workers when fights break out.
Some time ago, I mislaid the keys to my car, having left them in a taxi in Galway by mistake, and I went to the Garda station at 1 a.m. There was an event in Galway on that night. I have been on the Garvaghy Road when a march was taking place and I have also been on the Ormeau Road, but I felt a lot more comfortable there than walking down the streets of Galway that night. I went into the Garda station and it a chaotic, with all the activity all seemingly driven by alcohol. I agree that we should change the law but that will not affect the abuse of alcohol. We should not take our eye off our real focus, which should be on the fact that there is a massive problem with alcohol in this country.
There was a reference to the holy hour. There is often a law of unintended consequences and a pub owner whom I know well still bemoans the ending of the holy hour because her pub was right beside the church. When the holy hour was in place, families allowed whoever wanted to have a drink after mass to go into the pub for an hour, knowing they would be home for dinner at a reasonable hour - I think they closed at 2 p.m. After the holy hour was got rid of, she got no customers on Sunday mornings. One should always beware of what one asks for. One of the things that hastened the death knell of the rural pub was the extension of the opening hours, and I was part of the Government who took the decision. This was particularly the case on a Sunday night because it dissipated the crowd and where there was no crowd there was no fun. People stopped turning up and those who were not working came late, while those who were working came early. Since then, there have been far fewer people in the pubs on Sunday nights. There are often unintended consequences, though I cannot see any in respect of this Bill.
I thank Deputies for their contributions and for their broad support for this Bill. The passing of all Stages today will ensure that the legislation will be in place in advance of the busy Easter period, and this is why it has been brought forward. Deputy O'Callaghan and others made reference to the Government's Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which passed all Stages in the Seanad last December and which is expected to come before the Dáil for consideration in early February.
The Bill before us is simple and short. It began its journey as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. I recognise the presence in the Chamber of some Senators, including Senator Lawless who was responsible for initiating it. While the Government did not oppose the intent behind the Bill, it believed that amendments would be required to ensure legislation governing the sale of alcohol on Good Friday would be comprehensive and would apply to all outlets which supply or sell alcohol. The Bill before the House includes a number of amendments which were passed by the Seanad in the course of its deliberations. The effect of these amendments would be to remove the current restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday. These restrictions are, in my view, unsuited to our modern society and the updating of licensing law in this area will further assist our tourism sector.
Deputy O'Sullivan referred to Senator Black's sterling work in combating excessive alcohol use and abuse.
I note that in the Seanad she said she:
Supports the legislation because in recent years Good Friday has been marred by excessive drinking in homes throughout the country. The panic buying of alcohol in the days beforehand is a sad reflection of our culture. Excessive drinking in homes where young people are present sends out the wrong message.
Senator Black also said that she welcomed any measures that would help reduce the harm that alcohol does to the health of our people, and was delighted that Senator Lawless supported the idea of the pub being a regulated environment.
The Bill removes the restrictions on the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor and has been drafted to ensure that the removal of the restriction applies not only to public houses and off-licences but also to hotels, holiday camps, registered clubs and restaurants. In this way the Bill will provide for the comprehensive and consistent application of licensing laws on Good Friday.
I was quite taken with Deputy O'Callaghan's reference to wine in teapots. That is a new one for me. It goes to show what was happening and the extent that people went to when they were told they could not have something. People went off to get what they could not have while it was prohibited.
The Government believes the time is right to end the restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday. We live in a very different society than that which existed when the restrictions were put in place. The Bill amends the rules to allow for the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday in a consistent, non-discriminatory and comprehensive manner. I thank everybody who spoke on the Bill and supported it. I note that Father Matthew, born in 1790, enrolled 3 million people in 1844 into his Cork Total Abstinence Society, even though he was born in Golden, County Tipperary. Even then he ran into trouble with the anti-slavery movement in the United States. Alcohol was a big problem even then. It is a cultural issue, as has been said, but the other Bill will be before us shortly and we can work on that then.