Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Extension of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021: Motion


1:52 pm

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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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 further period of six months, beginning on the 1st day of June, 2023 and ending on the 30th day of November, 2023.

I am here to introduce a resolution on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy Harris, to extend the sunset clause in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021. The extension of this Act will allow the hospitality sector to continue to provide the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor in outdoor seating areas. Deputies will be aware that the Act was introduced in July 2021. The provisions of the Act were in place until 30 November 2021 and have since been extended on three occasions from 1 November 2021 until 31 May 2022, from June to November 2022, and from December 2022 to May 2023.

Section 9(4) of the Act provides that the relevant provisions of the Act can be extended for up to six months at a time, if a resolution approving its continuation has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. On 23 May 2023, the Government agreed the extension of the Act for a further six months. The Government took this decision in recognition of and in response to the ongoing demand for such facilities, which allow businesses to operate with clarity and certainty in relation to the law around outdoor dining services. The measures provided for in this Act were put in place to facilitate licensed premises to provide outdoor seating in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. These measures also allow An Garda Síochána to regulate and enforce these provisions in the course of its ordinary responsibilities in enforcing licensing laws.

Although Covid-19 is less prevalent, it is considered to be in the public interest to provide for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor, in certain circumstances, in seating areas located outside licensed premises. It is important to extend this operational period for another six months to give clarity to licensed premises, local authorities and An Garda Síochána. The increased availability and popularity of outdoor dining and socialising has been welcomed by many. Its innovation is reflective of the demand for more variety and choice in the ways in which we socialise, and in the types of venues and social spaces that are available. It is also clear that the increased use of outdoor dining has brought many benefits to our local businesses and, indeed, communities as a whole, including increasing the vibrancy of our town centres and further enhancing our tourism offering.

This important extension also clarifies the position of licence holders who wish to sell and serve alcohol adjacent to a licensed premises in an area approved by the relevant local authority. At present, these premises have no remedy to amend their licences to include that area, under existing legislation. While we are pleased that we are able to address these elements of licensing law through this specific initiative, it is clear the industry and society as a whole need a more comprehensive solution to the inefficiencies and complexities of the current framework. The reform of our liquor licensing laws is a priority for this Government. The general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill will reform the licensing framework in its entirety to bring it up to the expectations of modern society. The intention of the Bill is not only to modernise our licensing laws but to ensure they better reflect the social, cultural and economic needs of our local communities and businesses.

The Government gave its approval, on 25 October 2022, to the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill. The general scheme contains proposals to update the law relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol in licensed premises and registered clubs, by replacing the licensing Acts 1833 to 2018 and the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008, with streamlined provisions more suited to modern conditions.

The relevant parts of the general scheme make provision for the amendment of references to licensed premises to include outdoor dining areas. It will include a definition of outdoor dining. Once enacted, the sale of alcohol Bill will remove the need for the renewal of these specific provisions. My Department is prioritising work on drafting the Bill with the aim of having it published in 2023.

It is also important to recognise that harms are caused by the over-consumption and abuse of alcohol. The validity of the concerns raised around these issues are recognised and accepted. Ireland has, for many decades, operated a restricted regime governing the sale of alcohol for these reasons. Given the known social and health effects of alcohol abuse and over-consumption, the sale of alcohol Bill will retain that restrictive approach. The sale of alcohol will continue to require a licence and engagement with a robust licensing process that ensures the necessary protections are in place for all and that standards are upheld by all licenceholders. I am confident that we can modernise and streamline the existing system while keeping public health, safety and public order to the fore.

Another supportive and welcomed measure for the industry is the fact that my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, will waive the licence fees for outdoor dining in 2023. This will assist the hospitality sector again this year by reducing the cost of maintaining outdoor dining in public spaces. Similar to previous years there will also be no fee for awnings, canopies and heaters used in conjunction with the tables and chairs.

The Government is committed to taking action to tackle anti-social behaviour. For example, An Garda Síochána has been provided with the funding needed for additional tools and technology to fight crime in a digital era by introducing legislation to provide for body-worn cameras, improved community CCTV schemes and the expanded use of automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, software. There is ongoing support by the Government for An Garda Síochána, including the unprecedented €2.14 billion allocated under budget 2023. This level of funding will support the recruitment of up to 1,000 new Garda members and an additional 400 Garda staff in 2023 which will free up gardaí from administrative duties and allow them to do front-line work. Coupled with further reassignments of gardaí to operational front-line policing and the continued roll-out of the new operating model with its focus on community engagement, I am confident that An Garda Síochána will continue to protect communities and combat anti-social behaviour.

In summary, we are here today to deal with one element of our current licensing system that needs our attention, namely, the extension of the outdoor dining provisions which have proven to be popular with the industry, local businesses and patrons. The general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill will aim to address all these issues. It will introduce a long-term solution to the arrangements with regard to outdoor dining and a wide-ranging framework for reform of the licensing process, which will make it easier to do business and contribute to the reinvigoration of our night-time economy while cutting down on administration and complexity and keeping public order and public safety at the forefront of our priorities.

1:57 pm

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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I think I speak for most in this House when I say that the requirement for the Oireachtas to approve measures and ensure oversight is overwhelmingly positive. I am equally sure that many will welcome the fact that this motion is one of the few remaining legacies on the Statute Book relating to the pandemic.

On behalf of Sinn Féin, I moved a Private Member's Bill to strengthen parliamentary oversight of pandemic restrictions. The Health (Parliamentary Oversight of Certain Instruments Relating to Covid-19) Bill 2021 proposed to amend the Health Act 1947 and provide parliamentary oversight of regulations made by the Minister for Health under section 31A of that Act and of orders made by the Minister under section 31B. This reflected the situation in New Zealand and was brought to the Covid-19 committee at the time by Dr. David Kenny of Trinity College. The Bill proposed, in general, to provide for time limits within which such an order or regulations have to be confirmed by resolution of each House of the Oireachtas so that they can continue to have effect. Otherwise they would be annulled but without prejudice to any prosecution previously taken under the same regulations. The Bill proposed to enable either House of the Oireachtas by resolution to annul such an order or regulations before the expiration of the time limit, again without prejudice to anything previously taken. This was a sensible way for any resolution requiring approval of the Oireachtas to operate.

This mode of operation would require the Executive to give the Parliament time to scrutinise and affirm any regulations or orders and would help restore the separation of powers between the Parliament and the Government, from a position where it can be compromised by the dominance of a Government with a large majority.

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government introduced different regulations under the Health Act 1947 with restrictions on liberties and it was only right and proper that Parliament was to be given a greater role in scrutinising the restrictions. There were various things such proposals to enable juries to be sworn in using larger halls and so on.

I note what the Minister of State said about extending the sunset clause to allow the hospitality industry to continue to provide the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor in outdoor seating areas which has worked largely successfully in the past few years. As the Minister of State said, there was a demand for facilities that would allow businesses to operate with the necessary clarity and certainty about the law on outdoor dining services as there was a lot of confusion at that time. As the Minister of State said, it was clear the industry as a whole needed a more comprehensive solution, although having spoken to some of its representatives in the past few days, I note they express certain concerns around duty of care. No doubt they will be dealt with in the proposed Act.

We hope, as does the Minister of State, that the sale of alcohol Bill will remove the need for the renewal of these specific provisions to provide the necessary clarity with the checks and balances that are necessary in any Bill relating to alcohol. We note it will come before the Joint Committee on Justice and the Minister of State has said it will come before the Dáil in 2023. We look forward to the pre-legislative scrutiny and a fuller consultation on the Bill when it comes before the House on Second, Committee and Report Stages.

In the other part of his statement, the Minister of State went into some other issues about support for An Garda Síochána, including the unprecedented budget which will support the recruitment of up to 1,000 new Garda members in 2023. It is my understanding that in the first five months of this year, there was a proposal to bring in 425 additional gardaí but the Department is falling short of those recruitment targets. Approximately 288 recruits have started to study in Templemore. There will be a natural fall off of between 5% and 10% and all of the 288 are unlikely to eventually attest. Even up to last week the increased number of resignations from An Garda Síochána continued apace. In the headquarters circular which was issued to members last week, circular 10 of 2023, a further nine resignations and 15 retirements were notified. If we do the maths on that, it is quite clear that the Government might support the potential recruitment of up to 1,000 new Garda members, but it is more likely than not that the additional Garda members' target will not be met at this stage. The one thing gardaí, who are suffering from a serious crisis of morale, need is additional gardaí on the front line as additional support for them when they go out on the streets but it appears that those targets will not be met.

Getting back to motion, the effects of the pandemic also persist in the health service. A temporary paid leave scheme for public health service employees who are unfit to work after contracting Covid-19 is due to expire in July, but many cannot return to work because they are suffering from long-Covid-19. There are well-documented challenges in this week's Private Member's motion that would likely have been a problem had there not been a pandemic but those issues have been exacerbated.

In the rental sector, rents remain sky high. While it may have been hoped in Government circles that vacancies would increase and prices drop during the pandemic, without any action on its part, this did not materialise. Instead Government inaction led to rent continuing to increase. Despite this, the Government lifted the eviction ban and in the coming months we will see more and more evictions occurring.

The rising cost of inputs, some of which is due to the pandemic, has been one of the factors that has stalled new house builds. Only one affordable home was delivered in County Kerry last year and that is not acceptable. The shortfall from Covid has not helped either.

The labour market has tipped slightly back in favour of the worker, with shortages of skills and people in most industries. This has not been accompanied by wage growth or Government action to increase worker protections. Ministers spoke of a new-found appreciation for manual workers during the pandemic, but now that the pandemic is over, one must ask how much these workers, who are people working in retail, as healthcare assistants or as school secretaries, are appreciated in reality by the Government.

On this motion, we support the continuation of these measures, and I would like to quote my colleague, Deputy O’Reilly, on the issue of keeping our towns and cities going because there is no doubt these regulations have been of assistance to a more expansive and better choice for pubs and restaurants:

After we exit the Covid crisis, if we want to get people back into our towns and cities and engaging with retail and hospitality services, then we have to offer people a greater experience. We have to make people want to spend time in our towns and cities, to enjoy themselves, and to spend money in retail and hospitality.


We need outdoor dining and drinking spaces, we need true public spaces where people can relax, we need outdoor and indoor markets, we need public space for arts and culture, we need public toilets, and we need to make sure our towns and cities cater for those who live there.

When I speak to people in places like Killarney, Listowel, Tralee, they agree with these sentiments. We need to strike the right balance between opportunities to consume alcohol and undertake other leisure pursuits on the one hand, and the right of people to enjoy towns and villages safely and securely on the other hand.

It is also important that public sector organisations, such as local authorities, keep town centres in mind if they are constructing new buildings or if they are extending existing premises, to have an emphasis on maintaining town centres, and to put more workers and staff working in the middle of town, rather than on the edge, to assist with getting people back into towns and cities. The studies have always shown that it is not enough to have people living in town centres but that there must be people working there as well if we are to keep them vibrant. I note that in my town of Tralee there has been a downgrading of the town centre, which has not been helped by some of the larger employers locating to the edge of town. That must also be addressed.

2:07 pm

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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One of the few legacies of Covid that would perhaps be regarded as positive was the improvement in our outdoor hospitality arrangements and services. We have seen it in towns and villages, including in the likes of Swords of Malahide in my area, in recent years and they have bedded down and become fixtures. This has improved streetscapes and, particularly during the summer months, it has been quite good.

We are rolling over this legislation and I understand from the Minister of State's opening statement that the general scheme for the sale of alcohol Bill will regularise all of this. However, when you read about what we are rolling over, it seems so out of date and so past it that we hope this is the last time this will be brought before us for this purpose because it is just not good practice. We look forward to engaging in the Committee on Justice, along with our spokesperson on justice, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, on the general scheme for the sale of alcohol Bill in the hope we will not see this particular Bill, such as it is written, being brought before us again.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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The Minister of State has told us it is intended to include this in the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill. It could be an issue that gets lost in that context because there are planning issues with this and with good streetscapes. This was a worthwhile initiative during Covid and there is no doubt there is a public appetite for having outdoor seating for both restaurants and pubs. However, there are difficulties with it in real and practical senses. Neighbouring buildings lose visibility and the kind of structures on the streets are sometimes festooned in advertising. A great effort might have been made to have nice shop fronts and then these shop fronts are not visible by virtue of some of the structures that have been put in place.

It will be important that this is not just included in the laws on licensing. There has to be some engagement with the planning authorities on good design. Otherwise we will lose a lot of what we have done well and what we could continue to do well while at the same time trying to hold on to this new option for people. It can be seen in other jurisdictions across Europe. It is not just in warm countries but also in colder countries that their design of buildings accounts for a certain element of outdoor seating with an aspect of permanent buildings that go along with this.

I know the Department of Justice will deal with the regulation of this and I recall the confusion before the legislation was in place, when people did not know whether it was lawful. That is why the Bill was brought into place. For example, structures that have been in place for five years have the benefit of planning permission if there has not been a challenge to the structure being in place. It is important, therefore, that we engage early and across Departments because we often see a siloed approach where one thing works well but where it does not work well in tandem. There is a need to ensure there is some consultation on planning grounds and well in advance of this Bill being enacted or even brought in front of the House, because the drafting is only under way. It is hard to see where the sunset clause will fit in with the timescale that is proposed. I know it is down to the House but when is it intended to have that on the Order Paper? Does the Minister of State have any kind of a timeline for when that Bill might be enacted? We all know it takes time to go through both Houses.

We lost a lot of good public spaces as a consequence of some of the initiatives that had to be taken, with Temple Bar being a case in point. There used to be a good book stall and market there and that was lost because the square has a lot of buildings in place. Tourists and visitors to a city or town will say that no matter where you sit, it costs you money because we do not have a good balance of public versus commercial options for people, and some of this took up some of the public spaces. We have to consider this in the context of the public realm. Again, in other European countries, huge effort is put into what their towns and cities look like and where people can sit down without having to pay for a cup of coffee or whatever it is.

We have to avoid falling behind by virtue of the fact that we are trying to do something that is positive. We have to make sure the other aspects of it are considered and that it is not just about licensing or permits. It goes beyond that and I ask the Minister of State to stress that issue of whether there is any kind of relationship between the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in this aspect. We will be missing an opportunity if we do not get good guidance and if it does not work in tandem.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. First, it is important we recognise that the outdoor dining space and all that goes with that has been a positive step and gives more of a socially attractive position to many of our towns. We brought in this because of a particular circumstance and to help the hospitality sector.

It is important we get it right for the future so that we do not end up having an ad hocarrangement going forward.

One of the points I would like to address in particular is the idea that where outdoor dining is taking up foothpaths and public spaces that, we also take into account and bear in mind accessibility for people with disabilities, who have been used to using footpaths and thoroughfares. I have seen cases where this has been compromised a bit with what has happened and what has been done. It is important we take that into account.

It is also important that when we are talking about hospitality, we are not just talking about drinking and being out on the street drinking. It is also about dining and all that goes with that. It is important we show respect to other people in the streets to ensure they do not feel intimidated by seeing a crowd sitting outside a pub drinking and do not know whether to walk up or down. It might be that people going to evening mass need to have their privacy catered for rather than having people looking at them walking up and down the streets. There are lots of nuances in this. Generally, we need to put the long-term and thought-out legislation in place, so that people will be able to work with the new system.

As well as that, the extension of the sunset clause gives that peace of mind to the pub and restaurant owners who have taken up the option of using the outdoor space. It is important we bring that clarity to them. I know of some publicans who have invested a lot of money in this new outdoor space. They have invested a lot of time and have created a completely different offering for their patrons, and it has been welcomed with open arms. It is important we make it permanent but that we look at the legislation to make sure we are not doing anything that will have unintended consequences.

While this is great, I ask the Government not to forget the vulnerable and those with disabilities and accessibility problems. They must be taken into account in whatever legislation has been brought forward.

2:17 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I, too, give this motion a cautious welcome. I welcome the introduction of outdoor seating areas. It is one of the very few benefits that came from Covid. It was a contentious issue for many years and in many towns, with considerations around licence fees, the charges and the costs involved. I welcome that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is going to waive those charges. We need to put this into proper legislation, but it needs to be done sensitively. It has worked well in many areas, but it needs to be policed properly as well. Tidy Towns, chambers of commerce and other groups have welcomed it, but when there are areas of dereliction in the town right next door to or beside the outdoor seating areas, it just does not look right. That is a curse in many towns. Earlier speakers, including Deputy Daly, mentioned bigger supermarkets moving out of towns. Clonmel, the vale of honey, is a case in point. The centre of the town is falling down around us and there are supermarkets on each corner. That is of no benefit to the town. I actually believe that in some cases sweet deals were done in planning and rates deals and everything else. The ordinary hardworking businesspeople of the town embraced the introduction of outdoor seating and dining, but they are still the same businesses really, with extra staff and extra seating. You can be outside on a fine day, but you have to go in on a wet day, so it is important we try to nourish those businesses.

The issue of derelict and vacant shop fronts was raised earlier, as were the grant aids and supports required. We have been talking about it for ten years but it is not happening. The Croí Cónaithe scheme and other schemes have been introduced, but between the Main Guard and the West Gate in Clonmel, there are 19 or 20 empty semi-derelict shops. That is demoralising for the business owners beside them, who are paying their rates and trying to do business, and people who have installed outdoor furniture for food outlets and that.

It is not so much the pubs. The pubs are struggling anyway. Struggling is the word to describe it. Covid has wrecked them, as bad and all as they were, and there is also the folly of the plan to open the pubs all night. The Taoiseach talks about full employment, yet most companies are struggling to get staff. If there are people in pubs until 5 and 6 in the morning, they are not going to be fit for work or in any state for work. This is just another fantasy dream the Government has for the capital city. We think it will be like other capital cities in Europe, but it not going to be like that. We have to give that a very wide berth. There is also an issue with the labelling, as I have said previously.

Getting back to this motion, I welcome it. We should look at things in the round, including the streetscape, the buildings that are there and the dereliction. It is not much good having nice ornate chairs and tables and maybe glass panels around them for shelter and overhead covers when there is a derelict or semi-derelict building beside it. That has been going on for decades. For some places the issue has emerged in recent years, but it has been going in others for decades. We need to look at this issue in the context of the overall streetscape. We need to look at the bad planning that was done in America and England that we copied here, in putting all our supermarkets and big chains outside the town centre. It has been a disaster in Clonmel. Tipperary town is the same. It has been really badly affected. We have a lovely town in Cathair Dún Iascaigh, or Cahir, where we have a lot of furniture outside. I compliment the business premises there, the wonderful hotel there, Tidy Towns and all the different groups that are working as part of Cahir Development Association to make the town the welcoming place that it is. In Cashel, there has been huge investment in the Palace Hotel and the tourists have been flocking to it since the visit of the British royal family last year. It has really been marketed well. There are good businesses there and it is welcome that is getting great reviews.

However, we must not forget the other towns that are not in such a privileged situation. We have to tackle the dereliction of sites, some of which are long-standing derelict sites, in the towns and up and down the streets. We must try to support the hard-pressed working ratepayers who pay staff, insurance, tax, light, heat and everything else, and continue to provide employment daily. They must be supported. They are not getting any meaningful supports. I have asked previously for a task force for the likes of Clonmel, where we have a huge number of abandoned sites, shopping centres and that, in the middle of the town. Aldi or Lidl recently put up a spanking new premises. They are welcome to do that, but perhaps they would have been better off going into the empty Superquinn site that the late, great former Senator, Feargal Quinn, designed and built. That lifted the town some decades ago. Now it needs to be lifted again.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this motion. I think it is necessary. I thank the Library and Research Service for providing us with the digest of the legislation. One loses track of the Bills and the lead-in to them. I thank those who work in the service. They work - and I take every opportunity to say it - under extraordinary pressure to produce digests to educate us Deputies. In this particular case, the production of the digest was a relatively easier exercise than for a lot of the legislation that has come before us. I welcome it. The motion seeks to give temporary licensing of outdoor seating where alcohol is sold and to allow the private areas that are being used for the sale and consumption of alcohol to be regulated. I welcome that.

The reason I wanted to speak today was to talk about the balancing of rights. It is very important to give certainty that was not there previously to the Garda and, indeed, to the publicans in relation to the law. That is very important. It led to a situation in 2020 and 2021 which was very unhelpful and left the Garda in a terrible position. I welcome the legislation and the certainty with it. However, I do not know if the balance of rights has been given enough consideration by local authorities. The memory fades a bit as the distance grows, but back in 2002 in Galway City Council, we fought a very difficult battle to make the Barcelona Declaration part of the actions in Galway city. The Barcelona Declaration came from the mid-1990s. One of the aspects we were zoning in on was universal access for all citizens and residents in Galway. We wanted to get away from the labelling of disability and use universal access. We adopted that Barcelona Declaration and committed to ongoing monitoring of the implementation of it in every way, from dished footpaths to all the other necessary adjustments, to make Galway city universally accessible.

That went out the window in the very difficult situation to which Covid-19 brought us. Then, the help for businesses was very welcome but the practical solution of extending the outdoor seating areas was done without proper consideration, debate and analysis at city and county council level on how that was impacting on our obligations under the universal declaration. I will not use all of my time. I wanted to raise and highlight that issue, however.

I would like to see what sort of monitoring and hands-on approach will be in place. I know the local authorities are independent as I have spent much of my time there. At some stage, however, there has to be oversight and management and a feedback mechanism from the local authorities on whether they are complying with their obligations and commitments under the Barcelona Declaration. If they are not, let us hear why they are not complying with it and see what needs to be done. I would like to know what feedback the Minister of State has received from any city manager. I am speaking particularly about Galway city because I am very familiar with it and the obligations.

The second issue is the balancing of residents' rights who live near these outdoor seating areas. That has never been properly debated either. I would imagine that every Deputy in the Dáil has received numerous representations from residents who have been kept up half the night and who have made telephone calls that have gone unanswered. The monitoring of the balancing of rights and the feedback mechanism from the local authorities to the Department is extremely important.

2:27 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I totally agree with Deputy Connolly. The extension of this Act will allow the hospitality sector to continue to provide outdoor dining seating areas. We must all do what we can to support our hospitality industry, especially after what we saw happen with Covid-19.

I was delighted to see the Planning and Development (Street Furniture Fees) Regulations 2023 signed this week, which will provide for the waiver of the street furniture licence fee for "Tables and chairs outside a hotel, restaurant, public house or other establishment where food is sold for consumption on the premises". I saw how outdoor dining was hugely beneficial in County Carlow. To reduce the fees of €125 per table to €0 per table will have a huge impact on businesses.

The Minister of State spoke in his statement about gardaí and front-line policing and the continued roll-out of the new operational model, which will focus on community engagement. I was very honoured to have attended the Carlow-Kilkenny Garda Youth Awards in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel in Carlow town last night. It was such an honour to see so many young people who had made such achievements. I will mention one young man in particular who stood out. He saved two lives in our local river. We do not highlight enough the good young people we have out there who do so much for our country. I compliment the Garda last night working in conjunction with Carlow County Council and Netwatch. To see the families and young people get those awards was really uplifting. It is important to mention them because our young people are playing such a role.

I want to speak to the Minister of State today about one particular issue. We only have two community gardaí in Carlow town now. While Carlow town and county now has a population of more than 60,000, we need more community gardaí. This is an issue I have constantly highlighted in this Chamber. I always say that while we are always compared with counties Waterford and Kilkenny, Carlow is the smallest. I have spoken to the Minister and Minister of State about this. So much good work is being done by our gardaí. Again, I compliment all our young people who played a huge role last night on what they have achieved. To get an award like that is such an honour for them and their families. We need more community gardaí in County Carlow. I ask the Minister of State to make that a high priority.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It might be a good idea for the Deputy to nominate her young people for the National Bravery Awards.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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After all that, the Minister of State has the floor.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for their time and contributions. I hope the extension of the Act until 30 November 2023 sends Members the message of our determination to continue to support and provide clarity to businesses, An Garda Síochána and communities.

Deputy Pa Daly raised the issue about the number of gardaí. We have approximately 380 in training at the moment at various stages. We will certainly continue with that recruitment, with more gardaí going into training across the year. We still very much aim to get to 1,000 gardaí into training by the end of the year. We have already commenced another recruitment process in that respect.

A number of Deputies raised the issue of certainty for publicans, residents and the community. That is very much what we want to do with the new licensing legislation in the general scheme so that we do not have to do this every six months. Deputy Canney raised the issue around the need for certainty.

Deputies Canney and Connolly raised the issue of disabilities, which is something that is very close to my own heart. My sister has spina bifida hydrocephalus and is in a wheelchair, and she is very quick to point out where there are breaches of access on our footpaths. This is something on which all our local authorities need to be absolutely vigilant. Deputy Catherine Murphy also raised the issues about ensuring there is an understanding for all the different parties who are affected by the licensing regime, which is important and very positive. However, I agree that our local authorities need to be very vigilant to ensure that where these licences are given, it is not at the cost of people with disabilities, elderly residents and other people who use a space. All our public spaces are meant to be shared spaces and it is important this is taken into account by everybody in these types of matters.

Deputy Mattie McGrath raised the issue out-of-town shopping centres. While it is not specifically related to this issue, my own hometown never did that. A number of local politicians think that was negative and that we should have had an out-of-town shopping centre. I would perhaps direct them towards Deputy McGrath to see what the alternative did to town centres. The Deputy raised the issue of dereliction in towns. I certainly believe dereliction is an antisocial behaviour issue. It is something I know the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is trying to tackle in that respect.

Deputy Murnane O'Connor rightly raised the Garda Youth Awards, which take place in every county. I certainly encourage people to participate in those great evenings held by the Garda Youth Awards to see the great young people we all have in our communities. Much of the time, young people get a bad rap, so to see the bravery and courage of many young people throughout the country is really impressive. With regard to community gardaí, on one level, all of our gardaí are community gardaí. We are very proud of how they have been part of a community-based and unarmed Garda Síochána. There is a specific designation of community gardaí in certain towns and areas, but that is a matter and responsibility for the superintendent and chief superintendent to designate. Ministers have no role in that respect. I certainly echo the Ceann Comhairle's call for those young people to be nominated for the National Bravery Awards as well. It is important to recognise that.

I thank all the Deputies for their contributions. This is something that has to be done every six months. It was a condition that was put in at the time with Covid-19. The view is that we will continue to renew this until such time as we have it resolved permanently within our legislation. However, our legislation around licensing laws will make sure there is that balance of rights to ensure everybody can benefit from our shared spaces.

Question put and agreed to.