Thursday, 19 June 2003
Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"(4) The Court may, if it sees fit, refer a person convicted under subsection (3) for alcohol abuse assessment and with his or her agreement, treatment if required.".
This is the amendment I withdrew on Committee Stage. I still have concerns about a drunken person who has got his or her skull full. Given our reputation abroad, stag parties are advertised here because one can get so drunk. That is the culture. I would like those who are convicted to realise that paying a fine is not what society expects. Society expects more than this because not only did the person get drunk but he or she also probably has a serious problem.
The value of fines was explained very vividly by Senator Bohan who said that while publicans should be fined €10,000 or €20,000, the pub should not be closed down. For the person involved the same should apply. Where I would like to see the legislation take a stand is on the question that people in casualty departments should be encouraged to look at the fact that they may have a serious problem. What I have proposed in my amendment is pretty mild because one cannot force people to do much. I hope the Minister can accept it. Because the Bill will receive a great deal of publicity I would like to have it included to deal with those who, on occasion, are so seriously drunk that they are convicted for second and subsequent offences. I would be grateful if the Minister could accept it.
I have explained my thought processes in relation to this matter. I am sympathetic to what Senator Henry is attempting to achieve. I have already acted on foot of the amendment, through my officials, to see whether we can direct the District Court towards putting people in touch with counselling and treatment centres in these kinds of offences. I am not sure, however, that this should be done in a licensing law context. I am not sure it should not be a general rule of the District Court that it should be done and that it should be done in relation to one offence only under the licensing code when there are many others to which it could also apply.
While I am not accepting the amendment, I am grateful to the Senator for raising the matter. It is an important point which will have to be dealt with, either in the context of general public order legislation, the revised licensing Bill next year or future legislation dealing with the sentencing powers of the District Court. I have no doubt the Senator will remind me if I do not deal with it in any of those contexts.
I am sorry the Minister cannot accept the amendment and I will certainly remind him because it is a most important issue. The unfortunate thing about this legislation is that it does not tackle the cause of what is a serious problem. I took seriously what Senator Mooney said about our corrosive culture. The Minister spoke about advertisements. There was, for example, the "Guinness is good for you" advertisement which depicted a man carrying a horse whereas now we have seductive advertising. I hope the notion of referral will not be pursued too far into the future and that an effort will be made to recommend it. Casualty departments try to insist that the people involved see someone about their problem. It would also be helpful if the District Court was enabled, under legislation, to refer people for help.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
Legislation such as this which has been scrutinised at a level unseen in a long time shows the interest of Members in the issue of the abuse of alcohol and its adverse effects. The Minister must be commended for tackling the matter in such an energetic way. The provisions of the Bill will have a significant impact on the problems we have been highlighting and which the Minister undertook to tackle in other debates. The Bill will encourage support for groups such as the No Name Club. We should encourage that effort among young people.
Although serious, the debate was conducted with good humour. Senator Terry said it was difficult at times to distinguish between Opposition and Government Members. The Minister indulged us in that regard. He showed he had a tremendous grasp of the detail of the Bill. His cogent and persuasive arguments in dealing with Members' concerns were impressive. I thank him for his interest and contribution in this regard.
I thank the Minister and his officials for the time they have given to the House on this Bill over the past couple of days. I support the Bill and hope it will tackle the anti-social and public order problems on our streets. I look forward to its review in 12 months. We will then see how successful or otherwise it has been. I put a lot of faith in the Minister to ensure it works. If not, I will not be slow in letting him know.
I thank the Minister and his officials for the time and effort they have put into this Bill. I do not know how well it will work but we must try to make sure it does. Some sections will make a big impact, for example, those which provide for the ending of the happy hour and sponsorship within pubs and the decision to keep young teenagers out of pubs. These are important measures.
I have listened with horror to the tales of those who work in the alcohol unit of the Department of Health and Children. Until we manage to do something about the causes of excessive drinking, we will not have as much impact as we would like. I will keep at the Minister to try to get people to associate their drunkenness with the problem of alcohol abuse. Whether we want to describe alcoholism as a disease or a serious social problem, I do not mind. Whichever it is, we must try to tackle the issue as it is costing us a fortune.
I thank the Minister, his officials and everyone who participated in the debate. Between 5 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. there were seldom less than 15 Members in the House. It was an expression of good will that everybody who spoke was so enthusiastic. The Minister's enthusiasm was unbridled, except that unbridled has a sort of raunchy association not quite appropriate in present circumstances. There is no doubt it was wonderful for us to have had such a good intimate debate on such an important matter.
I thank the staff of the House, in particular. Members of the Dáil have long gone home but the staff here are working away. It has been well worthwhile having the Minister here as he gives real value.
I thank the Chair. I thank the Minister and his officials who have put a lot of time and work into this excellent Bill. We might be happier if he could accommodate us in some areas but all in all this is a good Bill with which the people I represent should be reasonably happy. I thank the Minister for meeting the representations we made at times when he was extremely busy.
I thank Members for their kindness, good humour and generosity of spirit throughout the passage of this legislation. I thank the Cathaoirleach and officials of the Houses of the Oireachtas for facilitating the late sitting and all the efforts made to ensure the legislation was passed before the summer recess. It could have fallen casualty to the huge queue of legislation. It is important that the message goes out now rather than later. Nothing would have been gained by delaying the legislation until the autumn but a lot would have been lost.
I pay tribute to the officials in my Department who turned the Bill round so quickly. Gordon Holmes's commission reported in March and all the policy issues had to be teased out in April and May. As Senators can see, some of them in regard to hotels, hotel bars and the happy hour etc. required immense amounts of detailed thought. There were times when I thought that the idea of a compulsory age card could not be made work because of some of the issues that arose. My officials put huge ingenuity and skill into drafting the legislation. I was a hard taskmaster in asking that it be done so rapidly. I am grateful to them.
I thank those involved in the Commission on Liquor Licensing, Gordon Holmes and the members of the commission and the others involved. The commission gave rise to this legislation. The full fruits of its labour will only be seen next year. The officials responsible for this legislation also played a large role in the functioning of the commission. An enormous amount of hard work was done behind the scenes.
I am happy to confirm that the general rule of law that nobody is responsible criminally for the acts of another does not apply to licensees. I direct Members to page 104 and succeeding pages of Liquor Licensing Law of Ireland by James Woods, third edition, which set out at great length that, unfortunately, licensees are liable for the acts of their servants or agents acting within the scope of their employment.
I thank Members of the House for what has been a rewarding and valuable experience. I fully appreciate that the law is a tiny fraction of the solutions that are available to us in relation to all the issues regarding drink and youth culture. However, I am equally clear that if we did not enact this law, the people would ask us what we were doing about the issue. Whereas it is not the entirety of the solution, or even the majority of it, it is a valuable piece of work and I am deeply grateful to this House for all the efforts Members have put into making it much better.
Question put and agreed to.