Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I congratulate the Minister and Senator Lawless. We support this Bill. In a previous life as Lord Mayor of Belfast, I was a vocal champion for renewing, reviewing and ultimately changing our licensing laws and how they operate in the North. It would be hypocritical of me if I did not champion the same in this institution. The reason I champion it, as Members have alluded to in terms of previous contributions, is because of the potential economic benefit for our tourism sector, the importance of that to the economy of the State and what it does for job creation, provision of services and so on.
I have some issues with the broader sentiment of the Bill. While I support Senator Lawless, and he knows he has our party's support, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to outline some of the issues, not so much in the Bill because it is very direct in what it sets out to achieve, but in the broader context of the issue of our relationship with alcohol in Ireland. Senator Black referred to that during the course of her contribution.
Senator Leyden accused us of being in cahoots with Fine Gael. I do not understand why this Bill could be brought forward and yet the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Support for this legislation today does not mean we should not have the opportunity to debate the real concerns about Ireland's relationship with alcohol, its impact on the cohesion of our society, and the tangible practical issues it brings to bear on our health care system and other aspects of life, including the financial and many other burdens.
Another issue I touched on in the Second Stage debate is workers' rights. I appreciate fully that it is a separate matter in terms of what this Bill sets out to achieve, but it would be remiss of us when we are debating this issue not to reflect the experience of workers in the hospitality sector. Currently, the trade is dominated by minimum wage pay, no overtime rates, no pension and no sick pay. There are no guaranteed hours of work. The bar and hospitality trade have become a template for the low wage exploitation economy that has taken hold of large sections of our economy. Research by the Nevin Economic Research Institute reveals that 345,000 workers, equal to 25% of the workforce, earn an hourly rate below the living wage of €11.50 per hour.
While I do not believe that is a negative in terms of what the Bill can do, I am sure the Minister will accept that in its broadest possible sense it puts an onus on us to reflect on the people who work in our bars and the hospitality sector generally who are already under a huge amount of pressure. If Senator Lawless has achieved more than one objective with the passage of this Bill, his focus remains on the people who work in the sector.
As a society, we need to reflect on our relationship with alcohol. I welcome the Bill. It is the right decision. It is stand-alone legislation in that regard. If done properly and if all the issues I have outlined are dealt with in a truly national conversation, this is welcome and very important legislation.