Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 April 2003

Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001: Second Stage.


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

2:30 pm

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:

I welcome the Minister of State.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Seanad today to discuss the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001, the primary purpose of which is to ensure public safety at large-scale indoor events. The Bill is set out in three Parts. Parts 1 and 2 relate to the licensing system for indoor events while Part 3 relates to amendments to the Fire Services Act 1981.

Like anyone else going out for an evening's entertainment, I want to be assured that my safety is a priority for those in control of the premises. The Bill aims to do this. When enacted, it will ensure public safety and crowd management will be taken into account when an event is going through the new licensing process. When taken with the Planning and Development Act 2000 and associated regulations on outdoor events, it will mean that we will have new and updated requirements covering public safety and crowd management issues for both outdoor and indoor events. The licensing system will apply equally to both public and private events.

It may be appropriate at this point to recall the background to the Bill. A committee chaired by Mr. Justice Hamilton examined the question of public safety and crowd controls and reported in 1990. The committee examined in detail all safety aspects of entertainment such as concerts and concluded that primary responsibility for public safety should attach to the organisers and promoters of such events. It made a series of recommendations on public safety and crowd control, many of which have been implemented in the intervening years.

The changing nature of events and venues has given rise to concerns about public safety in recent times, particularly where young people are involved. Following on the recommendations of the Hamilton report, two codes of practice – on safety at sports grounds and at outdoor pop concerts – had been published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996. A tragic death which occurred at a concert in the Point Theatre in the same year gave impetus to the development and putting in place of a third code of practice on safety at indoor events. My Department in 1998 published the code of practice for safety at indoor concerts which reflects the general principles of safety and the organisational parameters set out in the other codes, all of which reflect the recommendations of the report of the Hamilton committee on public safety and crowd control.

The code provides advice and guidance on the matters involved in the safe organisation and running of an indoor concert. Its aim is to help all involved in the organisation of indoor concerts to plan and manage events safely. As indoor concerts take place in a wide variety of venues and cover a wide range of events, the guidance is set out in broad functional terms. The issue of crowd control is central to the safe running of these events and detailed guidelines on these subjects are contained in the code which could not and did not address the issue of licensing of events to which it applies. Under the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill, such codes of practice will be put on a statutory basis. Applicants must show compliance with such codes and fire authorities must have regard to relevant codes of practice when deciding on licence applications.

The Bill's new licensing system is modelled on the outdoor events provisions in Part XVI of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Planning and Development (Licensing of Outdoor Events) Regulations 2001 which introduced a new licensing regime for the control and proper management of large-scale outdoor events. It will focus on issues of crowd control and safety appropriate to an event or type of event. An event is defined as ". a performance which takes place wholly or partly in a building and which is comprised of music, singing, dancing, displays of entertainment or any activity of like kind .". The licensing system will be operated by fire authorities, with applicants having a right to appeal decisions to the District Court. There is also provision for the other front-line emergency services, the Garda and health board-ambulance services, to be involved at both the licensing stage and follow-up inspections.

Enactment of the Bill will give full legal effect to the recommendations of the Hamilton committee on crowd control and fully implement the principle that the promoter has responsibility for public safety issues. The Bill will implement the recommendation contained in the report that all major indoor pop concert promotions where the anticipated audience exceeds 2,000 should be licensed. The provisions in the Bill will go even further and regulate classes of events with less than 2,000 people in attendance. The Bill will allow public authorities to prevent or control potentially unsafe concerts for the benefit of performers and the public alike. There is no adequate mechanism in place to regulate public safety at indoor concerts and events. The Garda, health boards and fire authorities have limited powers prior to an event. The Bill also provides a statutory basis for existing and any future codes of practice, a provision recommended in 2000 by the review group on public safety.

The safe running of events is and will remain the primary responsibility of the promoters of such events. Those attending the event must also ensure their behaviour does not endanger the health and safety of others. The concerns of parents and guardians in relation to the new forms of entertainment and enjoyment in which our young people participate have been well addressed by Deputies in the Dáil. The Bill will allow parents to sleep easier knowing that the issues around managing crowd safety will be considered and that such events will, when the Bill is enacted, require a licence from the fire authority.

The Bill has benefited greatly from the debate and amendments process during its passage through the Dáil. A number of amendments, including minor technical amendments, have been carried out to provide for clarity and ensure the licensing system will be flexible and clearly understood by the licensor, licensee and members of the public attending events.

The attendance number thresholds have not been included in the body of the Bill; the intention is to prescribe the appropriate thresholds in regulations to be made under it. This reflects the advice of fire authorities in relation to the operation of the licensing system. The thinking behind this approach is to provide for flexibility in the system for prescribing classes of indoor events within the approved thresholds into the future by the Minister as and when required. It will also enable the Minister to deal speedily with any deficiency identified in the licensing arrangements needing urgent remedy and which may be posing a risk to public safety.

I have indicated in the Dáil that my intention in regard to the regulation of indoor performance events, as defined in section 2(1)(a) of the Bill, is to require licensing where the audience exceeds 1,000 adults or exceeds 750 and comprises mainly children under 16 years of age. I also propose to prescribe under section 4(2) of the Bill indoor sports events where the audience exceeds 1,000, and conferences, conventions, seminars, exhibitions, trade shows or trade fairs where the audience exceeds 2,000.

Indoor events with an audience below the thresholds specified in the regulations as requiring a licence will continue to be regulated under relevant legislative provisions such as the Planning and Development Act 2000, Fire Services Act 1981 – ease of escape regulations and related codes of practice, Building Control Act 1990, building regulations and any other licensing controls which apply such as an annual dance licence, liquor licence or music and singing licence. As the code of practice for safety at indoor concerts acknowledges, there is a vast array of legislation which governs existing events and provides for safety generally at the great majority of such events. The Hamilton report indicated that smaller events were considered to be well controlled and adequately provided for by such legislation.

With reference to licence application fees, the intention is that there will be a one-off application fee of €1,000 in respect of an event being held mainly for profit or gain and €1,500 for a multiple licence for any number of similar events within a particular class in a year being held mainly for profit or gain. The fire authority will, however, have absolute discretion to refund all or part of the fee payable in respect of a particular application where it is satisfied that payment of the full fee would not be appropriate and explicit provision is made in the Bill for varying or waiving of the fee by the fire authority.

The Bill has the subsidiary and equally important purpose in Part 3 of strengthening the enforcement procedures of the Fire Services Act 1981, as recently recommended in the report on the review of fire safety and fire services in Ireland. The opportunity has been taken, by way of amendment to the Bill made by the select committee of the Dáil, to provide a sound legal basis for a significant range of options for fire authority inspectors to deal with fire safety risks which they identify as needing to be addressed in premises inspected by them. This has been an issue of some concern to senior fire officers and is a welcome legislative recognition of the need for enforcement steps in the armoury of the fire authority between providing advice and the formal serving of a fire safety notice. The Bill also includes provision for a closure notice which may be issued by the inspecting authorised person in situations where they perceive grave and immediate danger to the safety of persons on a premises. This means that immediate powers will be available to fire inspectors for carrying out their duties under the Fire Services Act 1981. These proposed amendments, with the enforcement provisions proposed in respect of the new indoor event licensing system, will enable a more immediate response by fire authorities to situations requiring enforcement action.

As mentioned, I propose to prescribe in regulations, at the same time as commencement of the Bill, the attendance number threshold for indoor events and classes of indoor event. It is intended that indoor events and classes of event will be categorised in a table in the regulations. This will provide the flexibility to adjust the threshold set if changing circumstances require this. Senators may be aware that the Commission on Liquor Licensing, in both its recent final report and its previous report on admission and service in licensed premises, recommend that the enactment of the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill be given priority to ensure an effective statutory framework is in place in relation to crowd control and safety.

I will now deal with the main provisions of the Bill. Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, are standard provisions dealing with the Bill's short title and commencement, interpretation and expenses of the Minister. In section 2, the definitions section, "building" means any building, structure or erection of any kind, whether permanent or temporary, or of any materials of any part of such building, structure or erection. An "indoor event" is a performance which takes place wholly or mainly in a building and comprises music, singing, dancing, displays of entertainment or any similar activity and in respect of which members of the public may or may not attend. This includes events run in private clubs and other events prescribed under regulations made under section 4.

Section 5 contains the key provisions of the Bill and provides that an indoor event will require a licence from the fire authority and that it will be an offence to organise or run such an event without a licence. Section 6 provides for the procedures to be followed by fire authorities for determining an application for a licence. A fire authority will be able to impose conditions in the licence and those involved in the event will also be required to have regard to codes of practice such as the code of practice for safety at indoor concerts. Section 7 states a licence will not necessarily authorise the holding of an indoor event. Compliance with other relevant codes will still be required. Section 8 makes provision for those applying for a licence, if aggrieved by a decision of the fire authority, to have a right of appeal to the District Court. Section 9 makes provision for the issue of codes of practice, notice of which shall be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

Section 10 outlines the general duty of care of persons involved in organising or attending an event. Section 11 will empower fire authorities or authorised officers in certain circumstances to serve a notice of cessation requiring those involved to stop the event or any preparations, remove any temporary structures or restore any building to its original condition where a fire authority has reason to believe an event is likely to occur without or in contravention of a licence. Section 12 provides powers of entry on land and powers of inspection for authorised officers and members of the Garda Síochána. Section 13 is a standard provision for limitation of civil proceedings against the Minister, fire authorities or authorised officers in exercise of any functions required under the Bill.

Section 14 empowers the District Court to revoke a licence on application by a fire authority where a licensee has been convicted of an offence under the Bill. Section 15 deals with penalties and the prosecution of offences. Section 16 provides fire authorities with the power to prosecute any summary offences committed in their functional area. Section 17 provides that directors, officers or members of a corporate body may be liable when a corporate body commits an offence. Section 18 states any fines imposed by the courts in relation to offences under the Bill will accrue to the fire authority. Section 19 provides that fire authorities will be required to maintain a register of decisions and notices served and that the register will be open to members of the public for inspection during office hours.

Section 20 makes provision for fire authorities to make joint arrangements to carry out the licensing function or provide assistance for other fire authorities. Section 21 deals with the appointment and powers of authorised officers for the licensing function under Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill. Section 22 is a standard provision relating to the service of notices. Section 23 relates to the procedures to be observed by local authorities for holding of an event.

I now turn to Part 3 of the Bill which addresses more general amendments to the Fire Services Act 1981, the basic legislation dealing with fire fighting and fire safety in Ireland. Twenty years have passed since the introduction of the Act. In that time much change has occurred in relation to fire safety and prevention which warrants recognition in a legal context. I am aware that a number of the provisions, particularly the penalty provisions included in the 1981 Act, have proved to be less than effective in practice and are in need of reform.

I am not proposing a fundamental review of the Fire Services Act 1981 at this stage. My intention is to remedy difficulties, in respect of the enforcement provisions of the Act, which have been identified over the years and, in particular, following a legal challenge in the Supreme Court in 1993. The judgment in that case held that no provision is contained in the Fire Services Act 1981 which gives a specific power to any person or body to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for offences under sections 18(2), 20 and 37 or regulations made under section 37 of that Act. The only route open to prosecute such offences is the lengthy process of prosecution through the Circuit Court on indictment. This legislation will put beyond doubt that a fire authority may take summary proceedings for an offence under sections 18(2), 20 and 37 or regulations made under section 37 of the Act.

Part 3 of the Bill also addresses the issue of powers of inspection for fire authorities and fire authority inspectors under the Act. As stated earlier, the closure notice procedure is being introduced to the fire services legislative code. This procedure is already available to fire inspectors under the health and safety legislative code. Provision has also been made for the withdrawal of a fire safety notice. The Minister is also taking this opportunity to amend section 16 of the Fire Services Act 1981 to further strengthen the existing training and advisory role of the fire services council and to make provision for the council to specifically undertake new roles. Part 3 also updates the penalty provisions of the 1981 Act in respect of fines to bring them into line with current money values.

Section 24 extends the definition of building in the Fire Services Act 1981 to include parts of buildings, structures or erections, thus providing the fire authorities with the flexibility to serve notices on parts of buildings, which will deal with difficulties which has arisen in issuing fire services notices to multiple occupancy buildings. Sections 25 and 26 copperfasten the power of fire authorities to prosecute offences summarily and updates the penalty provisions of the Fire Services Act 1981.

Section 27 updates references to sections in the Planning and Development Acts 1963 to 2000. Section 28 expands the scope for the Minister to assign additional functions to the fire services council.

Section 29 clarifies section 18(2) of the Fire Services Act 1981. It puts beyond doubt the duty of persons in control to make adequate provision for the safety of persons, on the premises, whether or not an outbreak of fire has actually occurred. This section also strengthens the status of advice given by a fire authority, its inspection powers and underpins an extended range of options including the issuing of a warning that a fire authority could use in dealing with persons in control.

Section 30 empowers fire inspectors to close down a premises on the spot if they identify a grave and immediate risk to the safety of persons on that premises. Section 31 makes provision for the issue of codes of practice and notice of the codes of practice shall be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

Section 32 makes statutory provision for the withdrawal of fire safety notices. Up to now, there was no provision in the Fire Services Act to enable the fire authority to withdraw a notice once it had issued in respect of premises. This gave rise to considerable conveyancing difficulties for these premises. Section 33 updates provisions governing the service of notices. Section 34 repeals the exclusions in section 18 subsection (1)(f) of the Fire Services Act 1981 in relation to dangerous substances premises, explosives premises and oil jetties, which can be workplaces, to ensure this country's compliance with the provisions of the EU workplace directive.

The House will agree that the enactment of this long awaited legislation should be accorded priority to ensure that audiences attending large indoor events can rest assured that there is a crowd control and safety plan in place to ensure their protection and safety. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to a constructive debate on its various provisions.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and look forward to visiting his beautiful county of Donegal next weekend for the 20th annual Local Authority Members' Association conference.

I strongly support this Bill, which has finally reached the Seanad following its introduction to the Dáil in 2001. This legislation is of the utmost importance, particularly in regard to the safety of young people who urgently need protection from the cowboys of the leisure industry. I refer to those who seek to exploit them for profit and gain, without due regard to their basic safety and protection.

Current arrangements for indoor events are woefully inadequate to deal with public safety and crowd management. The Bill introduces a new licensing system for events such as rock or pop concerts and is primarily based on the recommendations of the Hamilton committee on crowd control. It will require promoters and organisers to demonstrate to fire authorities that they can safely run the event. If properly enforced, this should go a long way to safeguard those at concert or disco venues.

The committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton, examined safety at major indoor and outdoor events and its final report made 73 recommendations, many of which relate to indoor concerts. Among the key recommendations is that all major promotions anticipating an attendance in excess of 2,000 – I am glad the Bill applies to events at which fewer people will attend – should be licensed on an individual basis by the District Court and that two months notice should be provided for an application for a license for a major indoor or outdoor concert.

A code of practice, based on the findings of the committee on public safety and crowd control, was published in 1998 and, almost five years later, we are discussing the legislation which has been a long time coming before the House. There is little point in harping back to what has and has not been done. It is essential that we look ahead and provide the greatest possible protection for the largest number of people. The code deals with fire precautions and safety, structural matters, electrical installations and communications. Other aspects provide technical guidance and advice for promoters on a wide range of parameters relevant to crowd control, such as panic planning and management, crowd management and the use of barriers, stewarding and emergency and medical facilities. As we know, the code of practice did not address matters such as the licensing of the events to which it applies, but the Bill will place its recommendations on a statutory basis.

The new licensing system, as proposed by the Bill, is based on the outdoor provisions in Part XVl of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Planning and Development (Licensing of Outdoor Events) Regulations 2001, which introduced licensing for outdoor events, which have relevance in respect of crowd control and which amended the Fire Services Act 1981.

In light of tragic events here and elsewhere in the world involving fire and crowd control problems at leisure premises, this legislation is vital to ensure that such tragic accidents are not just waiting to happen, that proper precautions are taken and that the running of public events at substandard premises is eradicated, once and for all. The making of a quick buck at the cost of human life is repugnant and must carry the greatest possible penalty, but prevention must be our primary concern.

The licensing system must apply equally to public and private events and the loopholes in existing legislation must be firmly closed in relation to crowd safety and control and fire regulations. The Bill provides for the strengthening of the Fire Services Act 1981 and places the onus on the fire services but what of funding and resources for the implementation of its provisions? Given local authority funding cuts and the extra cost in terms of the manpower and resources that will be necessary, how does the Minister of State expect the fire services to take on this extra workload? What of insurance? It is to be hoped the licensing of indoor events and the subsequent guarantee of proper safety standards will be reflected in a lowering of insurance premiums to a realistic level. We all know insurance costs are astronomical and we must act quickly to address the issue.

It is inconceivable that 21 years after the Stardust disaster there is no quality regulation in place in the leisure industry. Standards of safety differ greatly across the country with some very dubious venues operating without censure or control. Worldwide the picture is just as grim. Following what was recognised as one of the most horrific rock concert tragedies ever, The Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979 in which 11 people were crushed to death and numerous others were injured, a landmark report on concert safety was published in 1998 by the Cincinnati citizen task force. It contained many recommendations designed to make sure such a disaster could never be repeated. It also recommended that the international association of auditorium managers should develop crowd management standards for event promoters and that incentives should be put in place to encourage members to meet these standards. Unfortunately, promises to have such standards implemented were never fulfilled and an international code was never put in place with obvious consequences – lives have been and continue to be lost.

Since the Cincinnati disaster, fires in international places of entertainment include Happy Land Social Club in New York City on 25 March 1990 in which 87 people died; a disco in Lima, Peru in which 28 people died in 2002; a nightclub in Jakarta, Indonesia in which 46 people died in 2002; Rhode Island Concert Hall in which 96 people died last February. There are many more. I do not need to continue with the list. Suffice it to say that the lives of many were lost due to a lack of proper legislation and enforcement. Crowd control experts say that when frightened people come together, they tend to push each other. They also tend to follow others, especially in emergencies, on the often erroneous assumption that those upfront know more. Where fire is involved, panic increases. We have all been told that had proper controls and exits had been in place such catastrophes would not have happened.

Practices such as crowd surfing where a person is carried over the heads of the audience and stage diving, that is, diving head first into the audience, are familiar in catastrophes of this kind. Concerts of the nature primarily covered by the Bill are the preserve of the young who often function and operate blind following a particular band or solo singer. Often times more people than anticipated turn up at such concerts leading to chaos. Danger as might perhaps be perceived by others is not uppermost in their minds. Unfortunately, the young are at the mercy of many persuasive influences and often blind to the important issues of safety and safety standards.

It is incumbent on us to close any loophole, no matter how small, that could result in a tragedy on a scale witnessed both here and abroad. This legislation which is imperative seeks to promote more effective crowd safety techniques and effective fire standards for events attended by young people and adults.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I join in welcoming the Minister of State and congratulate him on the introduction of this Bill which received a positive response in the Dáil. I read some of the Dáil debate in that regard.

Indoor and outdoor events, whether in the entertainment or sports industry, raise many questions regarding safety. I note from recent articles in the media that there is a question mark over the holding of the proposed concert at Lisdoonvarna, a very successful outdoor concert in the 1980s. There was concern about crowd control and safety matters, be it at indoor or outdoor events. For this reason, it was important a code of conduct was drawn up. It was imperative that this be done following events at the Point Theatre where a young girl from Cork lost her life. I am glad we will now go one step further and introduce a licensing process. I welcome the Bill in that regard.

The Minister of State spoke about licensing events where the crowd exceeded 2,000. He has also stated he now intends to go further and deal with concerts with fewer than 2,000 in attendance. Crowd control is important. Our front-line services, the Garda, local authorities, health boards and ambulance service, are to be involved in the licensing stage of the process. We are all aware of the injuries and fatalities which have occurred at indoor events. There was another tragedy in Hillsborough, Great Britain, following which the Hamilton committee made 73 recommendations in its report. Many committees have been set up to examine indoor events and it is hoped, through this legislation, we will be able to implement their recommendations as quickly as possible.

We have all experienced times when we felt uncomfortable at indoor events in theatres and halls. We are also concerned about safety at outdoor events. Croke Park has been hailed as a state-of-the-art stadium but I have experienced a great deal of scrambling for shelter on a wet day. People go to the top of the stand where they presume they will be better sheltered. I have seen the same thing happen at Lansdowne Road which has been the subject of much talk on many occasions in relation to upgrading or demolition. One sees a great deal of scrambling for better sheltered seats on a wet evening.

While it is true that at Old Trafford, Manchester United's stadium, one can see what is going on from any seat, people are obliged to sit very high up in the stand. There is not much point in having people in seats at a great height, particularly at a hurling game, for example, and this can also give rise to difficulties in evacuating a stadium in the event of a crisis. The way to deal with events, whether indoor or outdoor, is one of the issues which should be looked at in the context of building a national stadium.

In the context of the Minister of State's comment about the definition of an indoor event in section 2, I would always have regarded events at Croke Park as outdoor events but, following the recent development of corporate boxes and escalators to the premier seats, one would wonder whether one is at an indoor or outdoor event. In either case, the issue which should remain paramount is the importance of safety. While it may be seen as modern to have escalators in a stadium, it could be a good way of getting some spectators to seats which are located high up in the stands.

The GAA authorities, I believe in 1998, believed that, on safety grounds, it should stop people coming on to the pitch, particularly after the All-Ireland finals. The 1998 All-Ireland final was the last, before the redevelopment of Croke Park, at which people were able to come on to the pitch. I recall it, in particular, because I happened to be there as a fan of the Galway team which won that year. After that, the practice was stopped, but of course that did not stop the Armagh fans from coming onto the pitch – which, incidentally, I was glad about – when they won the All-Ireland for the first time last year.

I do not want to be a killjoy in respect of this matter. We should be able to go out and enjoy our sporting and musical events, but we must also be realistic. If the advice given to the sporting authorities or to the concert promoters is that certain action must be taken, we must live with it. This is prudent advice because in the past, before it was a question of introducing codes and licensing, people often took their lives in their hands when, for example, they were out in towns celebrating the return of a victorious football team. Members of the Garda could tell one stories of what happened on such occasions.

There has been much debate about the new national stadium about which we keep hearing. There has been much debate about where it will be located – at Abbotstown or Lansdowne Road – but we should also consider the question of safety and crowd control and such issues.

We have learned a great deal from the Stardust tragedy. Everyone remembers issues which arose at the time and we know families who lost loved ones in that awful tragedy. It happened on the weekend on which the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis was due to be held. However, the latter was postponed as a result of those terrible events. Issues were also raised on foot of the tragedy at the Heysel Stadium. These tragedies raised a number of questions regarding the structures concerned. In the case of the Stardust fire, question were raised about the type of materials used in the building, while, in the case of the Heysel Stadium tragedy, questions were raised about fans being too close to each other and about the violence which can break out at such events. These are all issues which must be considered.

I am concerned about the rock concert industry. I have been to the Point Theatre on a number of occasions when some of the great names from the past, like James Taylor, have performed. I welcome the fact that Paul McCartney is coming to town, but I do not know much about the rock concert industry apart from what I hear younger people talking about. To put it bluntly, however, I believe that people in the business have not done much to promote safety. There is more concern about selling tickets and, in many cases, too many tickets are sold. I often wonder whether extra concerts could be arranged instead. I also wonder why concerts are not held at an earlier time because their being held late at night leads to more difficulties. In the aftermath, the promoters of these concerts blame the fans for the problems. There is a related issue of the price of tickets and the way they are sold, but that is a question for another day.

Where pop concerts take place at well known venues, will a licence be required for each performance? It is not clear whether this is the case. In cases where, once or twice a year, well known stars come to Ireland, there is generally only one performance scheduled and then there are other very popular venues where concerts continually take place. While that is an issue, there is also the question of events in public houses, which are probably more common in rural areas. What is the position regarding licences where musical events take place each night in such venues?

Will extra resources be made available to the fire services? We have a very good fire service, but we are continually looking for more training and better equipment and trying to get fire stations refurbished. We need a response from the Minister of State in that regard.

It was important for the Minister of State to indicate that the licensing system will apply to both public and private events. That is also important in the context of public private partnerships which might be involved in the development of a national sports stadium. I am glad the Minister of State referred to that.

Senator Bannon referred to the question of crowd-surfing. Although I profess ignorance about this, I have heard many people raise concerns about such behaviour and state that some entertainers even insist on jumping into the crowd of spectators. There should be a complete ban on such behaviour. However, it continues to occur and receives a good deal of favourable publicity among some in the media who write about the music industry. Overcrowding, this crowd-surfing, the surging of crowds and crushes are issues which would certainly be dealt with under a licensing system.

The Minister of State said that promoters have responsibility for public safety issues. That should be made very clear to promoters, particularly those who promote musical events. I am always amazed at how well the concerts in Slane are run and how successful they have been. The residents of Slane have questioned such events, no more than their counterparts around Croke Park have questioned the number of concerts and the number of matches held there. Now that there are games at Croke Park on Saturdays and there are what are known as "the qualifiers" in football and hurling, naturally residents would be concerned. In the past, the residents around Lansdowne Road have also been worried about the number of sporting events and the number of concerts which have taken place there. We should take a common sense approach to this.

I referred to the question of late night concerts earlier and we should also look at the question of summer concerts. For example, I recall that a number of years ago a concert took place at Leisureland on a fine day when people were visiting Salthill and the Connacht final was taking place in Pearse Stadium. It does not make sense to have so much activity going on in an area at the same time.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government has not had a great deal to say about noise. We know that noise is an issue because performers refer to it. If the health effects are so serious for artists, they must also be serious for the fans who, time and again, attend these concerts. Promoters and managers of venues should be conscious of the fact that young people could suffer serious long-term effects because of the noise levels at some of these venues. I reiterate that I do not want to be a killjoy. This is very good music, but why does it have to be so loud? I am continually amazed by that fact.

I welcome the Minister of State and the positive things he said earlier. I hope he will have full support for the Bill and that it can be implemented quickly.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I have a daughter in America. Like many other parents, I felt a shiver go through me when I heard in February that there had been a fire at a nightclub in Rhode Island and that 96 people were missing. As Senator Bannon stated, those people had, in fact, died. Within a week, there was another fire in Chicago in which 11 people died. Senator Kitt mentioned the events of St. Valentine's day of 1981, which I remember well. We had a supermarket in that area of Coolock and I received a telephone call at 6 a.m. to say that many people were missing after the Stardust fire. As it turned out, a number of our employees were killed. The memory of the week of funerals and the tragic months that followed acts as a reminder of the Bill's importance.

While I welcome the introduction of the Bill, I must express my overwhelming sense of puzzlement. What is it about disaster prevention that compels us always to put the issue on the long finger? If there is any activity in which time is of the essence, it is disaster prevention. As long as we dither and prevaricate, we run the risk of waking up one morning to find that people have died because we did not take action in a sufficiently timely manner. As already stated, my views on this issue, like those of many other people, were formed by my experience of the Stardust disaster. More than 20 years after that tragic event, however, we have not learned all the lessons we should have learned. We have still not taken the steps that were recommended in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

The Bill has its roots in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. As so often happens, it is the horror of an actual disaster that concentrates minds and provides the drive to action. In this case, it produced the Hamilton report, which was published not long afterwards in 1990. The Bill is, incredibly, only now putting some of the key recommendations of the report into operation. More than a decade later, we are getting around to closing the stable door.

What is it about disaster prevention that encourages this foot-dragging, this refusal to take timely action? It extends even to the way the Bill is moving through the Oireachtas. It was published in 2001, but it was not until the end of last year that it actually started its progress through the Lower House. What kind of message does that send about the priorities of the Government in respect of this matter? The licensing of indoor events, vital though it is, is only part of a much wider picture of safety. The tardy manner in which the Bill has been dealt with should encourage us to take the opportunity to consider the broader picture to see whether the same attitude prevails.

The report of the strategic review of fire safety and fire services in Ireland has been gathering dust on the Minister's shelf since it was published more than two years ago. The report is a long and comprehensive document and contains a menu of urgent recommendations. In its own way, it is quite hard-hitting, although I recall that, at the time it was published, it was condemned as a whitewash by a number of chief fire officers. They argued that the report effectively covered up a number of key deficiencies in the system and that the Department had worked energetically to prevent its release in light of this.

The report made a number of far-reaching recommendations and it went to some pains to stress the urgency of action. The key recommendation, a sort of umbrella under which much material was gathered, was for the establishment of a national fire authority. The report, which was published by the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on 29 January 2001, states:

Our primary recommendation is that a new National Authority for Fire and Civil Protection/Emergency Services be established. We believe that the new Authority should be brought into being through integrating and amalgamating into a single structure the functions currently discharged by [five different bodies].

That was more than two years ago. The national authority was needed to provide for an integrated approach to fire safety, so that the issue could be properly approached from a strategic point of view, instead of using the over-localised, piecemeal system we had at that stage. As far as I can see, we will still have it after the Bill comes into effect.

Perhaps the Minister of State could put my mind at rest about this matter. It seemed that the case for the national fire authority was convincingly made in the report of the strategic review. I was pleased, therefore, that the then Minister, Deputy Dempsey, gave a commitment to set up the authority within a six-month timeframe. That was in January 2001. It appeared that this matter was, at last, being approached with the sort of urgency it deserved. I looked forward to hearing about the establishment of the national fire authority. Since then, what has happened? I am open to correction, but, as far as I know, nothing at all has been done until today.

Will the Minister of State outline his view on a national fire authority? Is the view expressed in the commissioned report being rejected? The six month period to which the then Minister referred has come and gone four times over and the report has continued to gather dust on the Minister's shelf until today. The Minister of State could put my mind at rest by stating that he has taken into account some of these recommendations. I note that he did not mention the national fire authority.

Are we fooling ourselves that we are addressing all the issues by belatedly passing legislation of this nature or are we employing a piecemeal approach, taking one little bite at the problem and returning to it later? Are we congratulating ourselves for finally dealing with only one part of a much wider problem? Are we continuing to drag our heels on issues such as this when we should be making haste? I would welcome answers to these questions.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State and I welcome the introduction of this Bill. My only regret is that it was not introduced earlier. As Senator Quinn said, it has taken a certain length of time for it to come before the Houses.

I have a personal interest in the Bill. I was working in the Stardust at the time it burned down, but I happened to be off that night. My wife was not working there, but I lost a number of school colleagues. I know people who still react when they smell smoke or hear any kind of commotion on a night out, even after all this time. That is the effect of a tragedy such as this.

The Bill is comprehensive, yet well balanced. It provides for an immediate response to incidents which arise through accident or, in many cases, neglect. It is a preventive and not reactive Bill. The many improvements in outdoor events that have taken place in recent years, including those as a result of the Planning and Development Act 2000, are very welcome and the extension of these improvement to indoor events is a great step forward.

Above all, the principle of promoter responsibility is crucial to the Bill. I welcome the Minister's statement that these measures will be put in place for events of 1,000 people or more. The input of the fire authorities is crucial and I welcome the participation in the licensing procedure of the Garda, health boards and the ambulance services, as well as the local authorities and fire services.

The wide powers of access for officials and gardaí prior to an event are crucial. There is no use waiting until a tragedy occurs to take action. This Bill allows for action to be taken before an event. If an official feels that certain measures must be taken to prevent tragedies, he can ensure they are taken. I welcome the provision in the Bill dealing with the fire regulations, which gives legal recognition to the many changes that have taken place over time.

More effective and appropriate penalties as well as their enforcement are also crucial. In the past the enforcement procedures available were totally inadequate, resulting in people walking away from their responsibilities. The 73 recommendations in the Hamilton report were designed to regulate an area of public activity, which until that time had had very little regulation.

This Bill goes a long way to ensuring that every measure possible is taken to ensure the public can safely enjoy their chosen entertainment. The individual licensing of events puts the onus on the organiser as opposed to the statutory bodies to ensure safety. In Dublin for a number of years there has been a problem with what are called 'raves'. These are unofficially organised, unlicensed events where huge numbers of young people gather. They are very lucrative for the people running them. Sometimes they are held in buildings which do not comply with fire regulations and in some cases in derelict buildings. These have generated huge profits for unscrupulous individuals with the risk of the loss of many young lives. These risks, coupled with the misuse of drugs such as ecstasy, can be lethal. There is no use waiting until a tragedy occurs to deal with these problems. Because of the nature of the whole area of entertainment, there is a wide range of events and venues.

The Bill goes a long way towards streamlining the rules and regulations on safety, particularly those concerning structural matters, electrical wiring, fire safety and other issues. I welcome section 18, which provides that the fines imposed by a court will accrue to the local authority and local fire service. These funds will assist in the enhancement of services provided by the authority, including the fire and ambulance services. I suggest these could be used towards the recruitment of more fire prevention officers.

We all saw the tragic pictures of the event in the USA recently where a simple firework caused dozens of deaths. This can happen so easily. The powers this Bill gives to the relevant authorities – the fire service, Garda, health boards and local authorities – will allow them to be preventive and not just reactive. I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the introduction of the Bill, which I support.

Michael Brennan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on the legislation. I am sure this Bill will have the support of all Members of Seanad Éireann. Over the past 20 years we have been very lucky that no tragedies have occurred. It is essential for the health and safety of people attending such events that legislation be introduced. I compliment the Minister. The extra responsibilities given to the fire service will give it every opportunity to inspect these venues. Where work needs to be carried out, that can be done before the events take place.

In so far as liquor licences are granted for such events there needs to be a framework for crowd control. I also support Senator Quinn's request concerning a national fire authority. Much information has been collected from local authorities on the fire services in each area. Many recommendations have been sent to the Department on this and it is essential that this be implemented in the future, separately from this legislation

The Bill also strengthens the hands of local authorities as regards fees. I note that a waiver of fees in certain circumstances is also included in the legislation. I wish the Minister well and look forward to the passage of the Bill through this House.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators from all sides for their very constructive contributions to this all important debate on the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001. I appreciate it is some time since the Bill was originally initiated as it took a long time to get into the queue. It is almost complete and I have no doubt we will get the necessary co-operation from the House with a view to ensuring we can proceed with the Remaining Stages as soon as possible after Easter. Once enacted, the Minister will be able to sign the regulations to which I referred in my earlier contribution. It is in all our interests to have this implemented as soon as possible.

This Bill concerns fire safety and there is general consensus on the principle, even though there may be some questions on the detail into which we can go on Committee Stage. I thank the Senators those who contributed to the debate for the very constructive approach and support for the Bill. I am heartened by the consensus of the House on the importance of the Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001. I look forward to an informed and interesting debate on the detail of the Bill during Committee Stage.

The object of the Bill is to ensure public safety at large-scale indoor events and amend and update the enforcement of penalty provisions of the Fire Safety Services Act 1981. While the Bill is about indoor events we used the modus operandi available to us in Part 3 of the Bill to amend aspects of the 1981 Act. In particular the section concerning the withdrawal of fire safety notices has been recommended by all the professionals who advised me on this Bill.

The Bill bridges the safety gap to allow for the regulation of large-scale indoor events from the perspective of public safety and crowd control and management. It provides a statutory basis for the codes of practice that were in place. It will now provide public authorities with the necessary legislative backing to prevent or control potentially unsafe concerts, for the benefit of performers and the public alike.

The legislation is workable and will clarify greatly the roles both of public authorities and promoters alike. The Bill is aimed at public safety and will put in place a licensing system to deal with crowd control and crowd management. The licensing system is specifically designed to ensure promoters will take account of crowd control dynamics by planning for and reacting to evolving situations.

Senator Kitt referred to the input of authorities, apart from the fire authority, including the Garda Síochána and health agencies. The licensing system provides for an input from the latter bodies. The fire authority will co-ordinate the process and decide to grant or refuse a licence, as appropriate.

Senator Bannon referred to the costs involved. The fees and fines handed down by the courts will be paid directly to the fire authority. The system, therefore, will be self-financing. I do not anticipate any additional cost. The fees and fines will be more than adequate to cover any additional costs.

The Bill also provides for insurance. Promoters will be required to produce evidence of public liability insurance, not just for the day on which the application is submitted. If multi-licences are being sought, I will want to be assured that the period of cover is for the whole year. Even if the insurance year runs from June to the following June and the licence is from January to December, I will want an assurance that the insurance policy will be available for inspection or, if necessary, can be presented to the fire authority at any time after renewal. I am anxious not to allow a situation to develop whereby proof of insurance is only required at the time the application is submitted and processed. It would be somewhat foolhardy of us to do so.

Senator Kitt referred to multi-licences and a number of similar events taking place in one venue. There will be no necessity to have a licence for each specific gig – it will cost €1,000 per individual but it will be €1,500 for a multi-licence, which is fair and reasonable. There will be provision for multi-licences for small, similar events in a particular class. For instance, it would be unfair to expect The Point to apply for licences for each event as there are so many such events taking place there. The Point management can apply, as others can, for a multi-licence for a number of pop concerts where the audience comprises a maximum of 1,000 adults or 750 in the under 16 age bracket. The same will apply to large hotels, seminars and exhibitions.

The question of attendance levels at conventions, conferences and exhibitions was raised. The maximum will be 2,000 but I do not think there are too many parties, apart from one, which would have 2,000 people attending such events.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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They might become unruly.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The legislation also covers churches, a subject Senators may wish to discuss at a later date. As far as venues are concerned, each event will require a licence as crowd management issues vary with the type of gig and audience profile. A rave gig with a teenage audience would require a high level of crowd control, whereas a classical concert would not. For example, a Daniel O'Donnell concert would only require a low level of crowd control.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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They all adore him.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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They can be rowdy, though.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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It can vary from time to time. Senator Quinn raised a question concerning the recommendations of the Farrell, Grant Sparks report on fire safety and services, including the proposal to establish a national fire authority. A number of recommendations are being considered by the Minister. We can all agree that there are many positive recommendations to improve the delivery of fire services. It does not follow, however, that it is essential to establish a national fire authority to implement many, if not all, of the recommendations proposed by the Farrell, Grant Sparks report. The Department is working with fire service stakeholders to develop an approach towards implementing the recommendations, many of which can be implemented without establishing a national fire authority. While no definite decision has been taken, I would be happy if the recommendations could be implemented without a national fire authority. Is it necessary to have another layer of bureaucracy? If it can be done otherwise, it should be.

The recommendations include the development of community fire safety and a risk-based approach to fire cover. These recommendations should be examined more closely. I have no intention of delaying their implementation but before taking any further steps, I want to ensure frank and comprehensive discussions take place with the stakeholders concerned. That is the way to proceed.

I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate for their strong support for the Bill. I hope after Easter the Leader of the House will afford time to debate Committee, Report and Final Stages which will ensure the Bill's early enactment. I can go into more detail concerning the regulations on Committee Stage. I have already indicated what the thresholds and fees will be but there will be other regulations also. As soon as the Bill is enacted, those regulations will be laid before the House. Parents whose children are attending such events will be in a position to rest more easily once the Bill has been enacted. The Bill is in the best interests of all concerned, including promoters and the many, both young and old, who will attend such functions in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7May 2003.

Sitting suspended at 4.50 p.m. and resumed at 5.30p.m.