Friday, 4 July 2003
Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
I am here to report on the amendments made to the Bill in Dáil Éireann, both on Committee Stage, which was held on 26 and 26 June, and on Report Stage on 2 July. I propose to outline briefly the aim and content of the amendments, some of which take account of concerns which were already raised in the debates on the Bill in this House.
In section 2, I accepted a minor amendment to the definition of "disorderly conduct", which makes clear it is not limited to the conduct referred to in paragraphs (a) to (e) of the definition. Two amendments were made to section 13, which constitute a new text for section 32 of the 1988 Act. These are intended to make clear that the subsections concerned apply to persons who are not licensees. The law in relation to licensees is set out in section 31 of the 1988 Act. Section 32, which is being replaced, deals with persons who are not licensees but who may purchase alcohol for, or for supply to, underage persons.
Concerns were expressed in both Houses and by other interested parties that the provisions in section 14 prohibiting persons under the age of 18 years from being in the bar of a licensed premises after 9 p.m. might adversely affect wedding receptions and other private functions. To make the matter clear, I introduced a new subsection (4) in section 14 to provide that it shall not be unlawful to allow a child accompanied by a parent or guardian, or a person between the age of 15 and 17, to be in the bar on the occasion of a private function at which a substantial meal is served to the persons attending the function. This addition necessitated a number of consequential amendments to sections 14 and 25.
I hope this explicit provision will have the effect of allaying the fears expressed on this subject. I should add that the existing provisions of section 35 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, which prohibit persons under the age of 18 years from bars where an exemption order is in force will remain unchanged. It means that after ordinary closing time, there is no question of a private function justifying the presence of young people in a bar.
Section 15(3) was amended to make clear that the age document requirement only applies in respect of 18 to 20 year olds who are in the bar of a licensed premises after 9 p.m. A small drafting amendment was made to the definition of "age document" in the section. Section 16 was amended to provide that it would be an offence for a person aged between 15 and 17 years to be in the bar of a licensed premises after 9 p.m. and before 10.30 a.m. the following day, except on the occasion of a private function at which a substantial meal is served to persons attending the function.
Having reflected on concerns expressed in the select committee in respect of section 17, I accepted that the inclusion of the word "knowledge" in subsection (1), which applies to off-licensees primarily, could mean that a licensee who complained to the Garda about persons consuming alcohol in the vicinity of the premises would, by such a complaint, be admitting an offence under section 17. To overcome that difficulty, the word "knowledge" in subsection (1) has been replaced with the word "privity". While it is a word not in common use nowadays, it basically means being complicit in something. In the context of section 17, it would mean that a licensee who wilfully turns a blind eye to the consumption of alcohol he or she has supplied in the vicinity of the premises would commit an offence. The word is used in section 13 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1924, which section 17 is replacing. I understand it still remains in use in the corresponding English legislation so there will be case law on it. Therefore, it makes sense to retain it rather than introduce new uncertainty.
Section 20 was amended slightly to clarify the definition of "reduced price" in the section. As I mentioned here two weeks ago, the aim is to ban "happy hours", but it would not preclude charging higher prices late in the evening or during a special exemption order. The amendment clarifies that the "day concerned", as referred to in subsection (2), is the day beginning at 10.30 a.m. on a weekday or 12.30 p.m. on a Sunday. If a higher price was charged in the early hours of, say, Wednesday morning, it would not constitute an offence to have a lower price in the same premises in the afternoon or evening of that day. If we view a day, as we are bound, as lasting from midnight to midnight, there could have been an unintended consequence that charging more late at night would effectively turn the rest of the day into a "happy hour", which would not be a good idea.
Some minor drafting amendments were made to section 21 to ensure that the terms used throughout the section are consistent. A new subsection (7) was inserted at the request of the Revenue Commissioners. It is a technical amendment to the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 to allow for the issuing of a tax clearance certificates in relation to a licence under 21. Section 21(6) provides that a tax clearance certificate is required before a licence for a national sporting arena will be issued or renewed by the Revenue Commissioners.
I thank the Leader, the Members and staff of the House for their assistance in enabling me to have the Bill passed by the House in a constructive and helpful debate. As I mentioned during the debates on the Bill, I intend to return to the House with a codification Bill next year when all Members of this and the other House and all interested parties will have the opportunity to revisit the licensing laws and the problem of alcohol related harm.
The Minister is welcome back to the House. I have no problem with these amendments which effectively tidy up the legislation. We discussed at length the issue of children being present on licensed premises and I favoured the Minister's original proposal of a limit of 8 p.m. after which children would have to vacate the premises. However, having listened and spoken to others who had strong views on this issue, especially those in the tourism industry, I concede that the 9 p.m. limit will facilitate people who wish to partake of a meal with their children in a restaurant or bar where food is served. I hope this resolves the problem people had with the original proposal. Apart from that, I have no problem with the amendments and thank the Minister for bringing them forward.
I thank the Minister for attending. Some of the minor amendments that have been made were referred to previously by our spokesman, Senator Jim Walsh, who is unable to attend this debate. I thank the Minister for taking on board these important and common sense amendments.
I welcome the Bill, although I have a pioneer pin and a vested interest in much earlier closing times for licensed premises. It is evident that a great deal of work has gone into the legislation and especially into the amendments that have tidied it up. I agree with the manner in which the Minister has changed the legislation because it affords people an opportunity to make a living while at the same time allowing patrons to attend and enjoy whatever event is being held.
The changes to the Bill are especially evident in the new measure regarding children being present on licensed premises in hotels where weddings and functions are being held. I thank the Minister sincerely for changing that situation. It is a very good amendment. Parents and publicans act responsibly and the Minister has put in place legislation that will allow them to continue doing so. This will lead to a better society.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. I welcome the amendments and do not have a problem with them. I still have concerns about the provisions relating to children being present in pubs after a certain time and about the age card. However, I am pleased the Minister has seen fit to take on board some proposals, for example, extending to 9 p.m. the time limit before which children may be present on licensed premises. We need to tackle the problem of under age drinking. It is worth repeating the importance of ensuring these provisions and the existing legislation are enforced and that the resources are in place to do it.
The Minister said he would bring forward codifying legislation next year. Will he consider examining the issue afresh, especially with regard to licensing hours? Perhaps a pilot scheme of flexible opening hours should be examined because it is not a good idea for all pubs to close at the same time and it is not the solution to the problem. There are other more modern ways of dealing with it. Nevertheless, I welcome the changes made by the Minister.
The amendments are acceptable and modest. I hope the Bill will make a difference because there is a serious problem with alcohol. I am concerned about the fact that there are problems enforcing the existing law in this area. I hope this additional legislation does not confuse matters and is enforced.
I am sure the Minister does not have time to listen to programmes such as "Liveline". A woman rang into the programme yesterday to say that her 15 year old daughter bought wine in three different supermarkets in Dublin and the girl had no make-up on her or anything else that would have made her look older. That was profoundly depressing to hear.
I take the point others have made about parents taking more responsibility. This is important because apparently a considerable amount of alcohol is consumed by young people before they leave the home. Sometimes publicans and off-licences are blamed when, in fact, the drink has been consumed within the home. That is something we must examine.
I wish the Bill well. While the Minister could not accept my amendment requiring those who are repeatedly charged with drunkenness to be referred to an addiction centre, he said he would see if something could be done elsewhere. It is pointless just fining such people. We need to let them know that society reckons they have a problem and we must try to see if we can obtain some help for them. It is not how one would want any person, young or old, to behave. I wish the Bill well and hope it works.
I welcome the comments and will respond briefly to the points made. I assure the House that much remains to be done with intoxicating liquor legislation. It is worth reiterating the following example in case anyone is thinking of investing heavily in the area.
The position of theatres under the liquor licensing laws is highly unsatisfactory. Premises operate on theatre licences issued by the Revenue Commissioners in circumstances that I imagine were never contemplated by those who adopted the laws. Effectively, all-night drinking is taking place with the odd performance on stage in buildings that none of us in the House would regard as theatres and that are not substantially different in layout from this Chamber. That this should happen is wrong and I will address it. It was too complicated in the time available to devise methods of working out what is and is not a theatre in the commonly accepted use and meaning of the term. Perhaps we will have to restrict theatre licences to being certified by the Arts Council or some such system. There must be some system in future of working out what is a theatre.
Any person contemplating making substantial investments in this area should bear in mind that the fact I have not dealt with it on this occasion is not a green light. I do not want to be told afterwards that people invested a great deal of money in a project on the assumption that the law would remain as it stands. I intend to bring proposals to both Houses at a later stage to deal with the issue. The strategic task force will examine additional facilities related to this area and will be in contact with the Courts Service in this regard.
In respect of the change in the legislation dealing with private occasions where a substantial meal is served, I want to make it very clear that this provision should be narrowly construed. Chips left out around a bar do not constitute a substantial meal. I hope this amendment is construed in the spirit in which it was tabled.
A number of Members made the point, reiterated by Senator Tuffy, regarding enforcement, namely, that there are difficulties enforcing the existing law. They asked whether this Bill would complicate matters and what prospect there was of it being enforced. I take those points at face value. However, one of the methods of ensuring a law is enforced is self-enforcement and giving publicans and hoteliers a sense that they would be much wiser to comply with the law without the threat of people knocking on their doors than otherwise. That is why the closure orders that apply to under age drinking and the production of ID and the provisions relating to drunkenness are stated in tough terms in the legislation. The idea is that publicans will know that, if they are found to be in breach of these orders, there will be serious consequences.
I take the point about checkout staff. I did not hear the programme in question but people running supermarkets who go into competition with people running off-licences should bear in mind that they operate under exactly the same law as an off-licensee. I fully sympathise with checkout staff. It is probably a mind-numbing experience for them to hold items in front of the bar code machine. In those circumstances it is difficult to concentrate on what is happening. By the same token, however, supermarket proprietors must realise that the law is the same for them as it is for an off-licensee in a specialist store. If their staff operate to a lower standard just because they are busy or it is a stressed occupation or whatever, it is up to the supermarket owners in question to put some method in place to make sure that does not happen. If supermarket owners allow alcohol to be checked out at the same checkout desk as all other food, they must bear the consequence if they make a mistake. They could easily have a separate payment system for wine and spirits in a supermarket which has an off-licence attached to it and if they economise by having a single checkout system, the law will not forgive them if the consequence of that is, effectively, a reduced degree of vigilance as to who is buying the product in their stores.
Perhaps Senator Henry would convey to her colleague that if a closure order is made in respect of a supermarket which is licensed for the sale of alcohol, it will carry the consequence that the supermarket will be closed. That will not be a pretty picture. The false economy of allowing staff at a checkout counter to deal with alcohol could lead to terribly serious consequences for supermarket owners if the kind of behaviour Senator Henry mentioned took place.
I agree with Senator Henry about the courts addiction treatment option. The more I thought about it after the debate on the matter, the more satisfied I was that it should be dealt with in a sentencing statute and general powers of the courts in criminal cases legislation rather than restricting it to cases under the licensing Acts. It should be more general in dealing with public order offences, domestic violence offences and many other offences where drink, unfortunately, plays a part.
I thank the Minister and the staff for the work they put into the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to combat drunkenness and anti-social behaviour on our streets. I hope it will do that. It will certainly put a major onus on the publicans to ensure that people leaving their premises are not in a drunken state and on the individual not to be in a drunken state on the streets.
When I spoke earlier I confined myself to the amendments—
I thank the Minister and ask him to consider, when working on the codification Bill, the possibility that we might re-examine the late closing on Fridays and Saturdays if, in the meantime, it continues to be a problem. I thank the staff and the Minister in particular for the work they put into the Bill.
I thank the Minister and his staff for what I consider to be a worthwhile and important Bill. I was particularly impressed by the serious points the Minister made in respect of closures of pubs and supermarkets. Perhaps we should have provided for a notice to be displayed on the door of the premises to that effect.
As someone who worked with young people, I recall winning my first senior championship medal in Offaly in 1966 when we had a panel of 23 or 24 players, only two of whom took a drink. In 1989, I trained a minor team that won an All-Ireland and of 24 players, only two took a drink. A serious incident took place last year when we won an under-14 championship in our own town, where 11 of the under 14s took a drink. That is the change that has taken place in society and that is the reason the Minister has to take these serious steps. Publicans may regard them as serious but many parents will thank the Minister for doing what he has done.
I thank the Minister and his officials. The Minister is having an effect already because I went to the unveiling of the Daniel O'Connell painting downstairs at 5 p.m. at which we were offered glasses of water and cups of tea. No substantial meal was being served. The Minister is having an effect already, although they are not yet offering Horlicks at these receptions.
An aspect of the representations from some hoteliers which fascinated me was that somehow all human life would end if children were not allowed in bars all night. Do they not understand that the situation we are now providing for obtains in a large part of the world and there is no decrease in the enjoyment of family holidays? Like Senator Tuffy and others speakers, I have expressed my concern and I intend to keep an eye on the sentencing policy with a view to determining if we can do something with these people. I congratulate the Minister on his efforts.
My experience of attending community or official meetings in Northern Ireland is that people are just offered tea whereas here people feel they must produce alcohol at meetings. I am not being a spoilsport but we have to get away from the culture of foisting drink on people when a cup of tea is just as good. I am delighted with the Bill and I thank the Minister.
Whenever I get bad service from young people in shops or stores, I automatically think they are tired from drinking the night before. I feel strongly about this matter from an economic as well as a social point of view.
I also thank the Minister and his officials. The Minister and his Department are working very hard on this issue. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the busiest Department and ministry and the Minister is in this House more often than any other Minister. The Minister and I have our differences but I learn a great deal from his explanations of the different aspects of the legislation and I thank him for that.
I too join previous speakers in thanking the Minister for the action he has taken in introducing the Bill. We have had numerous debates in this House about the consequences of under age drinking, and the points have been well made, but the question that is continuously asked is what action does the Government intend to take? This Minister is serious about his role, the influence he wants to have on society and particularly this scourge of under age drinking.
This legislation was brought forward in the right spirit and with the right motivation. Points were made by previous speakers with regard to enforcement by the gardaí and publicans but there must also be self-enforcement on the part of people. If they face up to their responsibilities, we can come together as legislators, members of the public and parents to act responsibly to try to curb this scourge affecting our society.
I compliment the Minister on the time he has spent on the Bill. I remember the four and a half hours he spent here on Committee Stage when he made his points forcefully and well. It is a credit to him that he has brought this legislation through in such a fashion and with such passion and interest. I thank both him and his officials.
I also welcome the Bill. On a personal note, I am always amused when the subject of changing the culture of drink arises during discussions with friends. We had a heated discussion last night on the subject in a restaurant. If someone is forced to call the emergency services as a result of drinking too much, perhaps being twice or three times over the legal limit, they should be fined. Perhaps the Minister might discuss this with the Minister for Health and Children as such a proposal would overlap with his Department. It is an issue that could be looked at. If people received a bill in the post for a few hundred euro, on top of a hangover, it might sober them up and make them think twice. The emergency services are needed for genuine emergencies. Someone getting deliberately drunk after spending €80 on alcohol should be able to afford the same sum as a fee to contribute to the administrative cost of the emergency services. I make no apology for this as it would get straight to the nub of the problem. While this is a personal opinion, it would be worth looking at.
I thank Members of the House for their kind remarks and supportive approach to this legislation. I echo what Senator Moylan said about my officials who have played a very constructive role in enabling this legislation to be brought forward. They responded to the reports of the Intoxicating Liquor Commission, which only became available in April, in what I consider to be record time in the bringing forward of this legislative package.
On the question of enforcement, I reiterate my earlier remarks about self-enforcement. We live in a society where the success or failure of this legislation will depend on whether the Garda Sióchána puts its shoulder to the wheel in making sure it is enforced. I may have to talk to the Commissioner and the Commissioner designate on this subject but it strikes me that it may have to be enforced on a regional basis as it is difficult if it is always the local garda who has to come down heavy on the local publican as people complain about the abuse of power and authority. In urban areas a specialist squad which would operate on a random basis would be more effective. If one goes into a public house accompanied by a single member of the Garda Síochána, it is difficult for the garda to check all the cards of everybody going in and out to make sure the law is being complied with. A few high profile instances where six gardaí came to make sure the law was being complied with on a random basis would get the message across that this was not legislation intended to remain on the shelf but rather intended to have a practical effect. That would probably be the best use of Garda resources but, again, I have to defer to the views of the Commissioner and Commissioner designate who have operational responsibility for the deployment of Garda resources. I take from this House, and the debate and reservations expressed earlier, a strong mandate to communicate to the authorities within the Garda Síochána that it is the view of this House that the Legislature has done its bit and that it is now up to the enforcement authorities to do their part.
I thank all Members of the House for their kind words and supportive and well thought out contributions to the debate. I hope the input of this House has made a significant difference. When we come to consider the matter again, in the context of the codification of legislation next year, it will be interesting to see what practical effect this legislation has had. I am hopeful it will have had those practical effects but politics is a matter of ups and downs and I hope I will not be here reporting a sense of disappointment. I hope we will have seen considerable results for all the hard work undertaken on all sides of the House in recent weeks.