Thursday, 12 July 2018
Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016: From the Seanad
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to report to the Dáil on amendments made to the Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016 in the Seanad yesterday evening. I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and the Business Committee for facilitating this debate. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Kelly, in particular, and other Members of the House who contributed constructively to the legislation not too long ago.
I am keen to complete consideration of this short but important Bill this afternoon in order that the Revenue Commissioners may make all necessary arrangements for issuing licences to those who have been granted the relevant court certificate as soon as possible. The House will recall that Deputy Kelly introduced this Bill as a Private Members' Bill and it received broad support from all sides. Its principal purpose is to create a new retail licence to allow craft breweries and distilleries, many of which have sprung up in recent years, to sell intoxicating liquor manufactured on the premises to tourists and visitors who have participated in a guided tour of their facilities. These already hold a brewer’s or distiller’s excise licence, or a similar manufacturer’s licence, which authorises the licenceholder to manufacture intoxicating liquor on the premises.
We have seen a marked increase in the number of craft breweries and distilleries in recent years and this welcome trend is set to continue. The Revenue Commissioners have indicated that there are about 165 such licences at present. This is a dynamic and entrepreneurial sector with real growth potential. The Government is fully committed to promoting regional and local development and, in that context, to fully support the job-creation potential of artisan food production and local tourism initiatives. The Bill will make a very positive contribution to the achievement of this goal.
The purpose of amendment No. 1 is to address a difficulty arising from the wording of the Opposition amendment to section 1(1)(b) that was carried on Report Stage last week. The background is as follows. The Bill originally provided for the granting of a retail licence to craft breweries and distilleries that would permit them to sell intoxicating liquor produced on their premises to tourists and visitors who had participated in a guided tour of the premises. Both on-sales and off-sales would be permitted. In all cases, sales would be restricted to intoxicating liquor produced on the premises and would only be sold to those who had participated in a guided tour of the brewery or distillery concerned.
During Committee discussions, Opposition Deputies suggested that licensees should also be permitted to engage in off-sales to persons other than those who had participated in a guided tour of the premises and a Report Stage amendment to that effect was subsequently carried here recently. This amendment inserted the words “for consumption on the premises” in section 1(1)(b). The intention was to restrict the “guided tour” requirement attaching to the licence and not apply it in the case of off-sales to those who had not participated in a guided tour of the premises.
While the revised wording appeared to achieve the desired objective of dropping the guided tour requirement in the case of off-sales, the Office of the Attorney General has identified a difficulty arising from the revised text of section 1(1)(b).
A literal interpretation of the revised text suggests that a craft brewery or distillery intending to apply for an off-licence, which may be obtained from the District Court, must also satisfy the court that a mechanism is in place that permits sales for consumption on the premises to those who have completed a guided tour of the premises. Clearly, that was not the intention of those who proposed the amendment since it would create an insuperable obstacle to applicants for off-licences.
The Office of the Attorney General has advised that the words “for consumption on the premises” be removed from section 1(1)(b) and that is the purposes of this amendment. Removal of these words will not restrict the possibility of off-sales to those who have not participated in a guided tour of the premises because section 1(6)(c) now makes specific provision for such sales.
My purpose in tabling this amendment is not to frustrate the objective of the Opposition amendment to permit off-sales to those who have not participated in a guided tour, but rather to remove a potential obstacle to the operation of the licensing mechanism. I thank Deputy Kelly, in particular, and other Members who may have been involved in assisting the passage in recent days.
To remove any confusion that may have arisen, I want to clarify that an applicant to the District Court for a certificate under section 1(1) must be in a position to satisfy the District Court that a guided tour of the premises will be available to those wishing to participate in such a tour even if the applicant’s intention is to engage mainly in off-sales to those who have not participated in such a tour. Otherwise, the principal justification and purpose of the Bill would no longer be satisfied. In this context, I draw attention to the broad margin of flexibility provided by the definition of “guided tour” in section 1(11). A tour must include an explanation of or information on the process whereby the intoxicating liquor is manufactured but it does not necessarily require any entry to parts of the premises that may present risks to the health and safety of Individuals. Moreover, the guided tour may be led by a guide or in some circumstances may be self-guided.
I refer to the second amendment. Section 1(6) of the Bill, as amended on Report Stage in the Dáil, would permit off-sales to those who have not participated in a guided tour of the premises between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on every day of the year except Christmas Day. This is in conflict with the licensing hours applicable to all other off-licences, including specialist off-licences and mixed trading premises. Under existing law, public houses and off-licences are not permitted to sell intoxicating liquor before 12.30 p.m. on Sundays or St Patrick’s Day. The Attorney General's office has again advised that allowing craft breweries and distilleries to engage in off-sales to those who have not participated in a guided tour of the premises before 12.30 p.m. on Sundays and St. Patrick’s Day under this legislation would give rise to an anomaly and create a risk of legal challenge on the basis that it favours craft breweries and distilleries over other categories of off-licence. For this reason, I have tabled an amendment to section 1(6)(c) to prohibit off-sales in the absence of a guided tour before 12.30 p.m. on Sundays and St Patrick’s Day. Off-sales to those who have participated in a guided tour of the premises will continue to be permitted from 10 a.m.
I am happy to say that both amendments were accepted by the Seanad.
That is no problem. I appreciate the Minister has brought certain clarity to the issue, which I did not feel was there in the Seanad debate. A couple of days ago this House discussed changing the scenario where everybody had to do a guided tour and the ridiculous scenario where people would call in for a six-pack and have to go again and again. The Minister has clarified that and it is important. The wording in the Act could be interpreted one way or another. The work put in by Mr. Seamus Carroll and the team in the Department has been helpful in getting us to this point. The tour is only there if somebody asks for it. A brewery has to provide the possibility of a tour and it is not a requirement for somebody who wants to buy a six-pack or whatever. It is great and I am glad that the craft brewers can raise a toast to the divestment of fossil fuels and the great co-operation in the House on this final day.