Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021: Motion


4:40 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann resolves that the period of operation of sections 1 to 7 and 9 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 (No. 14 of 2021) be extended for a period of 6 months, beginning on the 1st day of December, 2021 and ending on the 31st day of May, 2022.

I am here to introduce a resolution to extend the sunset clause in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021. Deputies will be aware that section 9(4) of the Act provides that the Act, other than section 8 thereof, shall continue in operation until 30 November 2021 unless a resolution approving its continuation has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before that date. That section outlines that the period of operation may be extended for such further period or periods, each not exceeding six months, as is specified in a resolution passed by each House of the Oireachtas. On 19 October 2021, the Government agreed the extension of the sunset clause for six months in light of the ongoing risk from the disease and uncertain future trajectory of Covid-19. Therefore, I am now bringing forward a proposal that the Act should continue in operation until 31 May 2022.

With restrictions on indoor dining over the past year, many licensed premises availed of outdoor spaces to provide facilities in line with public health advice. At various stages, these areas were the only part of the business able to have on-site trade. When this legislation was introduced, the use of these spaces gave people a welcome opportunity to meet friends and family safely, but also addressed an uncertainty in the law. The seasons may have changed and weather conditions are not as favourable as during the summer months, but we want to preserve the use of outdoor spaces for the period ahead. We want to allow for continued clarity of the licensing arrangement for these outdoor seating areas.

The Government is committed to supporting businesses in what has been and continues to be an unprecedented period of challenge for the hospitality sector. While businesses can now operate indoors, it is a responsible course of action for us to maintain these legislative provisions to ensure certainty for businesses continuing to operate outdoor seating areas. The public interest is also served in providing for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor in outdoor seating areas to co-exist with public health advice on Covid-19, which continues to pose a manifest and grave risk to human life and public health. The extension of this Act facilitates the licensees of such premises to operate these outdoor seating areas in a manner that mitigates the spread of that disease. The continued need for clarity on these areas is very important and something I consider of value for licensees and communities alike.

By way of background, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 was signed into law by the President on 2 July 2021 having been brought through these Houses. I thank the Members of this House who facilitated the speedy passage of the emergency legislation at that time. I thank them, too, for their co-operation today in discussing this resolution. The Act introduced changes in the law to allow for the sale and consumption of alcohol in relevant outdoor seating areas. It removed the uncertainty in respect of the lawful sale and consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas where those outdoor seating areas have been permitted by the local authorities on public land or where they are on private land abutting the licensed premises.

Confidence in the law and certainty was sought by businesses, local authorities and An Garda Síochána, and this Act ensured, and will continue to ensure, there is no uncertainty for all involved. The Act provides clarity to An Garda Síochána regarding its powers for public order purposes and ensures licensed premises owners understand their obligations to maintain order in public areas where they are selling alcohol.

The importance and benefits of the necessary introduction of this Act were obvious to all Members. The need for the Act was heightened during the summer months and the health measures that were in place at the time. Those measures continue to be in place.

It was an appropriate response to remove ambiguity in relation to the uncertainty that arises in the application of licensing matters to outdoor seating areas. However, it is important to extend the application of this Act in light of ongoing public health considerations and uncertainty on the trajectory of Covid-19. It is required so that further emergency measures are not required in the coming months to address the gap in licensing legislation in relation to outdoor seating areas. It is important to continue to give clarity to licensed premises, local authorities and An Garda Síochána.

I am conscious that this is a necessary temporary solution. As Deputies are aware, the programme for Government is committed to modernising alcohol licensing. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is leading on the delivery of this commitment. The Government gave its approval, on 15 September 2021, for the drafting of the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill. Work on the consolidation and reform of the licensing laws is progressing. The complexity of the law in the area and the challenges of this matter demonstrate the real impetus for this reform. Officials within the Department of Justice are working on delivering this extensive codification project. These matters being addressed by the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 will be addressed, in that context, as part of the permanent solution in a more coherent licensing law.

I acknowledge that the public health restrictions that have been put in place since the outset of the pandemic have not been easy. The pandemic has had an impact on all of our lives. The co-operation of businesses with public health restrictions during this difficult time is because they understand that it is the most effective way to help keep us all safe. The past year has undoubtedly been most difficult for publicans and their staff. We are mindful of that in extending this legislation.

The matter before the House is relatively straightforward and pragmatic. I am simply proposing the continued, but time-limited, application of legislation that was scrutinised and passed by this House before the summer recess. The circumstances leading to the enactment of the legislation have not changed. The continued application of the Act facilitates a necessary approach to ensure clarity on the matter for the sector, local authorities and An Garda Síochána. In those circumstances, I commend the Resolution to the House. I thank the Members for their attention and look forward to hearing their observations on the matter.

4:50 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State. I welcome the Minister of Justice back to the Chamber after what was a very successful ministerial event over the summer. I am sure we all congratulate the Minister. While she was well covered in her absence, she is most welcome back.

On the legislation before the House, I, and my Sinn Féin colleagues, will be supporting the extension of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. However, we do so with some slight reservations. It would be remiss of me if I did not raise the concerns of my colleagues and constituents with the Minister of State while we debate the Act. We accept that Covid-19 was not expected. We accept that it has been a century since any country faced a pandemic on the scale of this one, or indeed, one that has continued for as long as this has. However, it does not negate the responsibility of Government to plan, even for the most rare of eventualities. My colleague, Deputy Cullinane, has repeatedly raised his concerns about the lack of a stand-alone Bill which encompasses all restrictions and regulations associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

This Bill specifically deals with outdoor dining and alcohol consumption, but it is part of a wider issue. We all accept that. Initially, when businesses were reopened in May and June 2021, the Government really pushed the outdoor dining narrative. It was warranted to get businesses trading again and to give ordinary people some semblance of a return to normality. That is not the issue that we have with it. Our concerns relate more to the attitude of the Government when it came to the reopening. It seemed to be the case that the Government was asking businesses to open up outside and get on with it. There was very little in the way of guidelines on how to cause minimum disruption for people, for instance, those with disabilities, when constructing the outdoor dining areas. Indeed, I am aware that the disability service providers, such as the National Council for the Blind, were among those who filled the knowledge gap for restaurants and café owners, and not the Government.

These are responsible business owners who want to do the right thing by their customers and also respect how shared public spaces are operated. I am aware that this Act goes some way to setting out the parameters of how outdoor dining should be conducted and detailing which body is responsible for oversight of dining areas and spaces, depending on whether they are on public or private land. However, it is not acceptable to us, stakeholders or ordinary members of the public that Government is using these pieces of emergency legislation, which must be renewed repeatedly, to govern such technical pieces of so-called pandemic legislation.

Indeed, we often think of the example of Covid vaccination certificates, which is an issue that has come up regularly in recent times. People going into public houses, cafés or restaurants are asked to provide proof of vaccination. There are issues around that. In some cases, the certificates are not being checked often enough and when they are being checked in some cases people are not being asked for their identification. There is a lot of controversy around the issue. There is some resistance from people who feel that their private health is somehow under scrutiny. While we understand all of that, we also understand that there is a pandemic, there must be regulations and people must abide by them. The point that most people make is that just because someone has a vaccine certificate to prove they have been vaccinated does not mean they do not have Covid and are not contagious in respect of that. There is no checking of that particular issue. That is why one of the things the Government seriously needs to look at is the whole issue of how more testing can be done so that when people are entering premises, they are tested to ensure that they do not have Covid, rather than determining whether or not they are vaccinated.

One of the biggest issues that people will remember, and the real origin of this Bill, was the utter confusion in respect of outdoor alcohol consumption caused for members of the Judiciary and members of An Garda Síochána last summer, when nobody knew exactly what the rules were or where we were. That is where this Bill comes from, which reflects a certain sense of poor planning in this area. The Departments of Justice, Health and Housing, Local Government and Heritage failed to foresee the ambiguity that the practice of outdoor dining would cause. While those difficulties have since been clarified with this Act, it highlights a failure to plan and adequately forecast what the public might need as things progressed. I understand that amendments might be needed and I wish to be clear that Sinn Féin will accept the public health advice available, as it has always done. That is what we all need to do, regardless of what our views or individual concerns may be. There are experts who are putting forward their case and we must abide by that.

This is why I repeat the call and that of my colleague, Deputy Cullinane, for the Government to introduce one single stand-alone piece of legislation to cover all the various amendments and extensions related to Covid. If I am honest, this Bill represents a failure to plan and prepare for an issue that cuts right across Government policy. This failure to plan is not just in respect of Covid-related matters. Indeed, I see it when I am using the health services in my constituency, as do the people I represent. We have a fantastic healthcare staff, but there is poor planning and resourcing of the system in which they work. It was not too long ago that I stood in this Chamber and discussed the stark staffing issues facing Sligo University Hospital. That issue was also caused by poor planning and poor resource planning. I see the same issue with An Garda Síochána. There are fine people working on the front line to prevent crime and target criminals, but they struggle with the lack of resourcing and indeed with an ICT system that is outdated.

While we support the extension of this Act, we do so with some reservations. We encourage the Minister of State and Cabinet members to consider drafting stand-alone legislation to cover all of this.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have a short five minutes to respond to the Minister of State in relation to this motion. As the Minister of State said, we had a long debate on the legislation when it was enacted. This is simply a roll-over for it, as it were. I think it appropriate to use the phrase "sunset clause", since we are talking about outdoor dining as we head into the winter. The sun has well set on outdoor dining.

Obviously, this is a Covid-related issue. I am sure the Minister of State will recall that when the proposal was first suggested that we would introduce outdoor dining and the sale of alcohol on designated streets and areas adjacent to licensed premises, there was a degree of confusion between what was lawful in terms of local by-laws and overarching national policy. Indeed, a number of local authorities voiced confusion about what was lawful and members of An Garda Síochána acted, at that time, to intervene because the law was unclear. The Department did not act immediately, but eventually agreed that the issue needed to be corrected by way of amending legislation which finally came before the Houses.

In fact, the sale of alcohol in outdoor settings has been a great success, mainly because we enjoyed a period of very clement weather through the summer and indeed, the autumn. Right up to yesterday, the weather was kind to us, thankfully. People have got used to eating and imbibing alcohol outside.

It is immeasurably safer than doing so inside in this time of pandemic. In fact, it has transformed many of our towns and villages. Many local authorities speak of sealing off on a permanent basis laneways and roads for pedestrians only and not for traffic. It has continentalised many of our villages in a way that has been very successful. Of course, the overarching issue has been to make the consumption of alcohol possible but safe.

Unfortunately, we are now heading back into a time of significant increase in Covid numbers. It is extraordinarily worrying. I say as an aside that I hope today the Government will focus on booster vaccines, which are very necessary. As somebody directly related to the cohort, those aged in their 60s have been very badly treated. They got the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is demonstrably less effective. It is very effective but less effective than the others. Yesterday, I saw statistics from the British authorities that show its effectiveness is waning to approximately 40% whereas with an mRNA booster it increases back to 93% effectiveness. I hope the Minister will go back and say this group should get the booster vaccine quickly and not wait for a six-month rule on it.

To deal with the specifics we have in front of us, we will support this extension although we cannot see terrible enthusiasm to have outdoor dining in hail and rain which, I am afraid, is what we will expect between now and the May deadline the Minister has put on this roll-over. Will there also be a roll-over of grants and supports? Will there be a new scheme to winterproof some of the outdoor dining to make it at least feasible and possible when people are outdoors to have basic shelter from horizontal rain and what we would expect in this country?

We will support the motion. I am glad there is clarity on it and not further confusion. I hope the two points extraneous to this motion that I have made will be taken into account. The first of these is a call for the Government to announce further supports for publicans and restaurateurs who want to weatherproof their outdoor facilities for the winter season as opposed to the summer and autumn seasons we have gone through. The second point I made was on the booster vaccines, particularly boosters for those aged between 60 and 69 who are particularly vulnerable. I called for them to receive their vaccines before the six-month deadline indicated as appropriate.

5:00 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the extension of the legislation. It has been a vital support to pubs and restaurants throughout the country over recent months. I accept the point on the weather being better then than it is now. The reason the legislation was introduced forward in July was because of the push for us all to have an outdoor summer. The Government realised that licences are granted based on the floor space of a premises and that in certain places throughout the country bylaws were in place to prohibit the consumption of alcohol in public spaces. The provision of outdoor seating areas for businesses, many of which had been closed for a year, has been an incredible lifeline. It was sorely needed at the time. It has given them a bigger footprint when people have had to comply with indoor spacing rules. From a number of standpoints, it allows these businesses to seek a larger number of customers than they would otherwise be able to do. These businesses need every support we can give them to keep their doors open in the coming months. Every extra chair and table will help to keep them afloat. The public like it. They are certainly voting with their feet. It also gives passive security to streets that would otherwise be very quiet. We could see a change in the nature of the streets once we saw quite a lot of people sitting outdoors.

In other cold countries, such as Berlin in Germany in particular, it is routine to have outdoor dining throughout the year. It is also the case in other European cities. Some of this is designed into buildings on a permanent basis. This measure is particularly important at present given that we know the virus is airborne and that it is much safer to be outside as opposed to inside. I have to say I would not find it particularly attractive to be sitting under an umbrella with the rain dripping down my back. There will be a limit to it over the winter.

Some local authorities are looking at making this more permanent. There are issues that need to be considered in this context, including making sure that there are proper footpaths and that people with disabilities are not tripping over obstacles which should not be there. If this is to continue, and I believe it should, a good look needs to be taken at the circumstances that allow this to operate safely and comfortably for all cohorts as opposed to just people who want to eat and drink outside and those who own the establishments. A range of other issues needs to be looked at. I certainly welcome the extension. It gives a degree of certainty that is needed, particularly at present.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am happy to support the extension of the Act to ensure temporary outdoor seating areas in pubs and restaurants are covered by the liquor licences of the premises. Obviously the use of outdoor seating over the summer in particular was very important in helping to bring down Covid numbers. It also helped to make our towns and city centres more vibrant. It is possible for us to sustain outdoor living outside of the pandemic, particularly in summertime but even outside of the summer. There is much that we have done that needs to be continued.

It is the case that while we are, correctly, extending the Act, the winter weather is delayed but presumably it is coming. When it gets colder, more and more people will leave the outdoor areas and move indoors in bars and restaurants. This, in turn, will pose very serious challenges. I have to say that today's announcement by the Government of the new midnight rule smacks of more theatre about Covid, as opposed to doing what is necessary. It was Orla Hegarty who asked, quite appropriately, whether we are dealing with a virus or a vampire. What are the methods we are taking to try to stop the spread of Covid? There has been so much theatre in the course of the pandemic that involves pretending to be doing something as opposed to dealing with the actual issue.

We are speaking about being outdoors because being outdoors is central when dealing with an airborne virus. To the extent that we have licensing for outdoor premises, there is some thought on the part of the Government that the question of an airborne virus is very important. It simply boggles the mind that almost two years into an airborne pandemic we have had no real action to improve indoor air quality in bars, restaurants, schools or offices. There are no legally enforceable measures to ensure there is proper ventilation. Very few workplaces have CO2 monitors and practically no air filtration systems are in use, including in our schools.

When it was believed the virus was primarily transferred by our hands and on surfaces, action was taken to encourage regular hand washing. Gels were provided in bars. Surfaces were cleaned regularly. Over a year ago, we discovered it is primarily airborne. Yet, when we go into a pub or restaurant we will get hand sanitiser but there is a very large chance there will not be a window or a door open in the place or any concern about it. This is because the main public health messaging continues to be to wash our hands. I am all for washing our hands, and it is a good and important thing to do, but it ignores the elephant in the room, which is the question of ventilation.

If restaurants do not enforce proper hand hygiene, they can be shut down but if they have no ventilation or if they have CO2 rates of 1,500 to 2,000 parts per million, nothing can happen to them. Next week, the Dáil will have a chance to correct this by passing People Before Profit's Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021, the aim of which is to finally establish enforceable standards for clean air and ventilation. That action on ventilation is necessary, as well as encouraging outdoor dining, which this Act does.

The other relevant measures include the introduction of midnight closing, etc. The tendency, unfortunately, will be towards increasing lockdown and sectors going back to being closed. Significant questions will arise when sectors which were just beginning to be opened up will start to be closed again with this midnight closing. I think that is going to go further. At the same time, the Government is proceeding with plans to cut the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Just today, people were cut to €250 or just over €200, which is the same level as the dole. People who work in pubs and nightclubs are, at the very least, going to have their hours restricted. Others will be unemployed again as a result of the pandemic.

The new restrictions were made necessary because the Government has allowed Covid-19 to get out of control again, cut back on test-and-trace and refused to enforce proper ventilation in pubs, workplaces and schools, etc. Workers should not be forced to foot the Bill. If it was accepted that one needed a minimum of €350 a year or six months ago, why in this wave of the pandemic is it acceptable to cut it in the run-up to Christmas? It should not be cut; it should be restored to €350 as long as the serious effects of the pandemic are with us, as long as parts of the economy are being shut down and as long as people are unemployed.

5:10 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister back to the House and I congratulate her on the new addition to her family.

The members of the Regional Group of Independent Deputies will be supporting this Bill. We will all probably remember that not very many years ago, the then Minister, Senator McDowell, suggested when he was in Government that Ireland should have a café culture and society. Little did we know how we were going to arrive there, but here we are. The extension provided for in this Bill is correct in that it is going to help licensing laws. It will also help An Garda Síochána and the local authorities.

The Minister is probably aware of some of the problems that arose when these laws were brought in, particularly in some of our rural towns and villages. Parking spaces were taken up to allow people to extend their licensed areas and were probably accepted as being temporary. It now looks like we are going to be extending that. It will be important for the local authorities to try to engage with other shop owners. Shop owners who are potentially losing parking outside their doors may feel that the walk-in trade is being facilitated primarily for hospitality and not for people to come to their businesses. This is an issue that needs to be looked at.

The Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, was very beneficial to a number of people in the hospitality trade because it allowed them to improve their outdoor dining environment. Having said that, they were not planning on continuing it into the winter. Some of these businesses have the potential to put in outdoor heating, etc., to mitigate the effects of our intemperate climate. The question is whether we should be looking at extending possible supports to some of those people again. The current direction of the Covid-19 numbers suggests that it will be far more difficult to bring business indoors in the coming months. How are these businesses to survive? Are they to remain furloughed again? This does not seem entirely possible for many of them. The possibility may need to be there for some form of semi-permanent solutions for some of these businesses. This will have to be done on a case-by-case basis. The local authorities may need to be advised of the attitude they should take to these applications.

Further questions arise regarding our treatment of those with no access to outdoor space. I have been contacted by a number of people in the pub trade who do not have an area where they can operate outdoors. Some of them may have a very small smoking area which cannot be converted into a seated area where people can consume alcohol. Should they have some viability to seek to rent space extraneous to their own premises? Should they be licensed in that way? We will end up looking at that possibility for some bars and restaurants, or else we will have to support them to remain closed the next time this happens.

Issues have been raised in respect of pubs in the context of the PUP and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, supports, which we are phasing out in April. A person who runs a number of establishments, and has employed a number of long-term staff for five or ten years, has made the point to me that there has been no discrimination, in terms of the PUP, between a person who had been working for a month or two and a person who had been in longer term employment. The same issue arose with the EWSS. These businesses are looking for some extension to supports for people who had been in their employment for more than two or three years. These are skilled people, some of whom are chefs, bar managers and staff, and are not easily replaced. If one has a small business with a number of key people and if one cannot hang on to them when one opens up again, it will have a very drastic impact on one’s business for quite a while. I ask the Minister to look at this.

The Minister is well aware that we will need to reconsider the regulations that cover the idea of outdoor dining. If changes are to be made with regard to hand hygiene, masks, spacing, air filtration, rapid testing and all of that, we need to advise hospitality of those changes over the next while, particularly in light of today’s announcement.

The only other thing I would say to the Minister is in respect of the Garda presence. As she is well aware, we encountered issues with antisocial behaviour when outdoor areas were being licensed, in that people were able to buy alcohol, take it further down the street and consume it there. I am sure the vintners are very keen to ensure that is not repeated and everybody is supported. We might need better co-ordination between the vintners, An Garda Síochána and the local authorities.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Michael Collins is sharing time with Deputies O’Donoghue and Michael Healy-Rae.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to join others in wishing the Minister well on the birth of her child. I wish her and her family the very best.

I should say that I have a conflict of interest here because I have two brothers working in the pub industry, one in Bandon and one in Bantry. That helps me when I am speaking here on behalf of businesses because they and others have gone through quite a great deal over the past year and a half to two years. I support the extension of this Act for six more months to allow outdoor drinking where seating areas will be permitted. This was a good move. I thank the local authorities and I am grateful for any Government funding that was put towards it. I thank An Garda Síochána for its co-operation in this matter. It meant that publicans could open their doors. I have to commend each and every publican in west Cork because all the pubs and restaurants I have gone into are abiding by the rules 100%. They are doing everything to the best of their abilities to keep their doors open, which is a difficult task at this time. They have run top-class businesses in west Cork right through this pandemic. When they were allowed to open, they met this opportunity and give it full support.

I sympathise with the owners of the many businesses that do not have indoor facilities. They have also come up to the mark and are to be commended. They may need financial supports in order to continue.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I support the extension of this Act because the clarification for the local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the publicans is necessary and very important. I thank the publicans very much because they offer a great service in County Kerry, in particular, which is the county I represent, and because of the excellent way in which they have operated through all types of adversity. I am grateful for the schemes that were put in place to support them. Like everybody else in this country, they have gone through a tough time. The publicans were used to seeing their houses closed on Christmas Day and one other day in the year. It was very upsetting and unsettling for them to have to shut down for such a long period of time. I say this to each and every one of these businesses which have survived the pandemic or have had their doors open.

You would swear I had a problem with drink because I was in 16 public houses in County Kerry yesterday. If I had had a drink in every one of them, it would have been a different story. I was doing my job and meeting people. The pubs that I see are operating to the highest of standards.

They have tried their best to keep their customers going in the best way they can. This is much needed.

I would also like to talk about parking outside premises. Cones and identifying measures were placed in our towns and villages. We are not Lanzarote. I cannot see us taking to outdoor dining and the outdoors in a big way. When things get back to normal, please God, the parking necessary for these businesses will be there again.

5:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

You might be overdoing it, Deputy, with that pub crawl.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Sixteen pubs. It is a lot in one day.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I also welcome the Minister and congratulate her on the addition to her family.

I will also support the motion. It is very important to allow for outdoor dining. I must thank everyone who adapted during Covid to outside dining and drinking and everything that was put in place. We need the supports to stay in place and we also need additional supports.

The biggest problem for public houses, hotels and the hospitality sector is that extra staff are needed because things are so spread out. I ask that every person who is available to help out does so. The hospitality sector and a lot of other sectors need people to work and help out in order to provide breaks and do things safely.

I will support the motion. I again thank the hospitality sector. I thank An Garda Síochána for all the work its members have done. I thank everyone who has worked through the pandemic. Everyone is front line staff, including those in hospitality, because they are all there to help people for the betterment of life and so that everyone can enjoy themselves and be safe and healthy.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I supported this legislation on the last occasion and will do so again today in order to sort out the total confusion on the ground. The manner in which the legislation was implemented in Galway left a lot to be desired. I fully support businesses and their extension into the public space. However, it was done with blatant disregard for the Barcelona declaration which committed to universal access for all of our residents in Galway. That did not happen. No analysis has been carried out on accessibility for persons with disability and the impact on residential areas. We have repeatedly drawn this to the attention of gardaí. The Minister has heard us raise Topical Issues in the Dáil regarding what is happening on the streets of Galway. There is also a concentration of people in a confined area and the injustice for some pubs which do not benefit from these measures.

I see the pragmatic nature of the legislation, but its implications without any assessment is what seriously worries me. In the same vein, that is exactly what has happened with every single piece of emergency legislation that we have introduced, which has become more permanent by the minute with absolutely no proactive discussion in the Dáil. I have the most serious concerns about what is happening in respect of the division in our society and the demonisation of those who have made a decision not to take a vaccination for whatever reason. I have no time for somebody not taking Covid seriously - let me get that out of the way – but I do have the most serious concerns regarding the leadership in this country that seeks to divide and conquer without a proper proactive discussion on how we all now live with Covid.

I am someone who promoted zero Covid, but it has now gone on for so long that we need to learn to live with it in a safe manner. That is not happening. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, has repeatedly raised its concerns regarding what is happening and the extensions of the Covid certificate without any analysis. It is clearly discriminatory, but sometimes discriminatory practices are allowed if they are proportionate, targeted and for a specific purpose. That is absolutely not what is happening. They are being extended.

Vaccine certificates were ostensibly introduced for travel and are now being used for everything without any human rights assessment or assessment of what is happening in respect of those who are vaccinated and are still infectious and those who are not and are taking great care. I want to place on the record every chance I get that I deplore what is happening. I am extremely concerned for the future and our democracy.

We should all be in this together to help each other and protect the most vulnerable. That never happened and it is still not happening. There is an emphasis on opening night clubs, which is clearly a high-risk activity, while there are no day centres open and no respite care. There is something horribly contradictory there. There is also a contradiction whereby someone in my family has had Covid and has a six month guarantee that they are okay, while a letter from NPHET tells us the period involved is nine months. The Minister might clarify that.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Like most previous speakers, I congratulate the Minister and welcome her back. I would like to urge her, now that she has experienced the necessity of maternity leave, to impress upon her Cabinet colleagues the fact that if one is reliant on statutory maternity pay lots of people have to return to work on that basis and cannot live on that amount of money, including, but not limited to, many self-employed people.

We know the vaccinated can efficiently transmit Covid-19, including to vaccinated people. That is the science and is generally accepted. What is the scientific rationale for continuing and expanding vaccination certificates? Is there a shred of evidence for this? It appears that there was no evidence in Wales. The matter was discussed in the Welsh Assembly. What evidence does the Government have to do that? If there is no evidence, why are we doing it other than to deflect blame from a Government that has done nothing to address the capacity issues in our healthcare system?

There are 95 people on trolleys in Limerick today. Over the past eight weeks, there were 27 outbreaks linked to hospitality, eight in gyms, six in hairdressers and 283 in healthcare settings. One might say the 95 people on trolleys are a result of the upturn in Covid, but that is not the case. On the hottest day this year, when there were only 95 people in the entire country in hospital with Covid-19, there were 49 people on trolleys in Limerick. The issue of overcrowding in Limerick is clearly exacerbated by, but not limited to, Covid. I discussed this issue with the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, when he was Minister for Health. He promised the sun, moon and stars with regard to the elimination of overcrowding. Nothing has been done.

Instead of dealing with the problems and lack of capacity in our healthcare system, the Government is focusing on increasing outdoor dining in the middle of winter and expanding a vaccine pass for which I have seen no evidence. If I am shown evidence for it I am willing to consider it, but I see none for it. That exemplifies what is wrong with our Covid response in this State and why we are failing.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputies for their contributions and the general support for the extension of these particular provisions. As we all know, these are extraordinary times. I do not need to say that to anybody here. With the extension of the Act until 31 May 2022, we are taking into account the fact that we are in an extraordinary time.

I appreciate that many Deputies have alluded to the fact that this is something that a lot of industries and those in this sector would like to see extended and something specifically within the various local councils will be considered. I have no doubt that many are doing their own reviews and are looking at how the measures have been applied. In response to Deputy Connolly's point, they are examining how to make things more accessible for people in the future.

This is, here and now, simply about extending the provisions that currently exist, making sure the time does not lag, there is not a drop and no issues arise for those who have availed of these measures in a very positive way. I can assure the House the Government does not take Covid decisions lightly. While we are asking businesses in the night-time economy to close a little bit earlier from today, I hope they can continue to trade successfully. This motion is another attempt to try to make sure they can do that.

We have often said that we do not want Covid restrictions to remain in place any longer than they have to. This is why we are putting a very clear deadline of 31 May 2022 in place. I hope we will not have to extend it any further and that something more permanent can be put in place.

It is absolutely the case that I want the night-time economy to operate as fully as possible, as soon as possible and in the safest way possible. The extension of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act clarifies the position of licence holders who wish to sell and serve alcohol adjacent to licensed premises in an area approved by the local relevant authority. I appreciate that there was confusion and issues arose at the beginning of this process, in particular where one could consume alcohol within a certain distance from a licensed premises. Where there were four or five licensed premises next to each other, it became very difficult for members of An Garda Síochána and the premises concerned to enforce the law. That is why the legislation was introduced and it has worked very well to date. The Garda has worked extremely well with many premises.

They have had no remedy under the current legislation to amend their licences to include the area. In addition to ensuring maximum equity with business, it was considered prudent to provide that clarity and assurance for licences that were relying on private property immediately adjacent to the licensed premises to provide the outdoor seating areas. With the extension of this Act continued, certainty is provided for this period. It is clear that this measure addresses this matter for licences. It has worked effectively and will continue to do so for the period ahead, with the support of this House and the Seanad.

The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, highlighted in his contribution that this is a temporary solution. As Members will be aware, the Government is committed to modernising alcohol licensing and I am committed to delivering on that. I appreciate that it is difficult to talk about what it might look like in the future, particularly in light of today's announcement. As we come through this pandemic, which I know we will, I want to ensure that we are planning for the future and that there is a full reform of the licensing laws to support the industry we are discussing. The Government gave its approval on 15 September for the drafting of the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill. Work on the consolidation and reform of the licensing laws is well under way. It is very complex law and it is a problem that has arisen here, as Deputies have outlined. It highlights the importance and urgency of this reform.

I want our nightclubs, promoters, disc jockeys, DJs, and all musicians to know that they enrich not just our nights but also our culture. That will be recognised in my reforms as well. We all know many people working in this sector. We hope that all licensed premises will continue to operate safely and effectively. This disease has once again shown just how quickly it can upend our expectations and assumptions. The importance of this Act is evident to all. With this resolution on outdoor seating areas we are supporting businesses, local authorities and An Garda Síochána. We are also ensuring that the public interest is best served by having the provisions of this Act available for the protection of public health.

On some of the points raised about new funding schemes, many of the structures that have been put in place already take account of the fact that irrespective of the fact that we had a mild summer and autumn, that is not always the case as we come into the winter. I accept Deputy Howlin's point about the slanted rain, which many European countries do not have and where it is cold but not wet. That is not the case for everyone if they do not have the relevant structures in place. Our response to Covid-19, particularly in providing funding, has never been found wanting, and that will be the case here. We will engage where there is a requirement or a request and examine that, hopefully favourably. Parking spaces is an issue that councils will have to examine, particularly as these measures are extended but also as they look to a more permanent type of arrangement for their local settings, towns and environs and take that into account. On those who have no access to outdoor spaces, this is something that needs to be reviewed, but perhaps is not as easy to put into this type of emergency legislation.

The Garda presence has been noted, particularly in the last week with Operation City. That has extended out into the other towns and cities outside the greater Dublin area. That outdoor presence of An Garda Síochána on boardwalks and the streets is even greater than it had been and it has provided reassurance to many people. That will continue well into the winter months and the new year.

I thank Deputies for their support of this extension. There are many other issues that we must continue to engage on, but for now it is extremely important for all publicans, who have shown a great degree of forbearance on this issue, that we provide this extra timeframe for them.

Question put and agreed to.