Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I am pleased to be in the Seanad to deal with this short but nevertheless important Bill in the names of Senators Lawless, Boyhan, Craughwell and McDowell. There are a number of Government amendments to it.
As Senators will be aware, the Bill, as published, provides for a number of amendments to section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 which, incidentally, was introduced and piloted through this House by one of my predecessors, the first Minister for Justice, Kevin O'Higgins, who represented my constituency, and the 90th anniversary of whose assassination we commemorated just last week. I want to acknowledge his contribution over a wide range of issues not least in the matter of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927. My understanding is that during the course of debate on this important Bill in 1927 it was the intention of the then Minister, Kevin O'Higgins, to introduce a consolidated piece of legislation in the matter of intoxicating liquor dealing with statutes, some of which dated back at far as 1634 and many of which were enacted during the course of the 19th century. Of course, we now know that did not happen. Ninety years later we are still awaiting a consolidated single statute.I am not going to suggest that during the course of my Ministry that we will have one but I acknowledge the contribution of Senators Lawless, Boyhan, Craughwell and McDowell in this regard. Perhaps over the summer months, while enjoying a well earned vacation, if the same Independent Senators find themselves somewhat idle or in need of a project, they might like to assist in the drafting of the comprehensive and consolidated intoxicating liquor Act that Kevin O'Higgins did not get around to doing in 1927.
These Government amendments would remove some restrictions to Good Friday operations. As for the amendments to section 2, having regard to the complexity of the licensing code, the Bill as drafted, while acknowledging its importance, could in certain circumstances unless amended create further anomalies. Indeed, it could unintentionally create some unfair trading conditions for certain categories of licenses premises. That is why the purpose of my amendments is to ensure that all of the provisions in the licensing Acts that prohibit the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday are removed in their entirety.
Amendment No. 1 inserts the correct collective citation of the Licensing Acts in section 1 of the Bill. Amendment No. 2 provides for a number of amendments to the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927. It also incorporates the amendments to section 2 of the Act that is set out in the Bill as published, which would permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses and off-licences on Good Friday. Amendment No. 2 also amends sections 1(1), 4(7), 14 and 56(1) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927. In practice this will mean that the restriction on the sale of intoxicating liquor in hotels and the restriction on the sale of intoxicating liquor in registered clubs on Good Friday will also be subject to removal. The provision will retain the current symmetry between the rules of registered clubs and licensed premises on the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday. It will also mean that hotels will be permitted to sell intoxicating liquor to paying guests at any time on Good Friday and not only for consumption with a meal as is currently the law.
Amendment No. 3 provides for the amendment of section 7 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1960. It relates to the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor on holiday camps licensed under the Tourist Traffic Act 1952. Amendment No. 4 provides for the amendment of sections 11(5) and 22 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1962. The amendment of section 11(5) removes the prohibition on the granting of an occasional licence on a Good Friday. As Senators will be aware, an occasional licence, subject to obtaining an order from the District Court, allows the holder of an ordinary publican seven-day on-licence to sell intoxicating liquor for a special event at a place to which no licence is currently attached.
Amendment No. 5 provides for the amendment of section 14 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 that will remove the restriction on the sale of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday in premises operating on the basis of a special restaurant licence. It is my view that it would be inequitable to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses that happen to operate as restaurants or otherwise provide meals to customers but not in restaurants that operate on the basis of a special restaurant licence, of which up to April of this year we have recorded up to 500 such premises. Finally, amendment No. 6 amends the Long Title of the Bill to insert the correct collective citation. I have outlined my amendments and look forward to hearing the views of Senators on same.
Senators Lawless, Craughwell, Ó Donnghaile, Bacik and Black have indicated a desire to speak thus far and I will call them in that order. We will discuss amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, but then will proceed through them one by one. I call on Senator Lawless to begin.
I thank the Minister. He has had a long day today and yesterday by the looks of things. I, too, accept all of the amendments that have been tabled by the Government. I thank the Government for taking the courageous step to support this Bill.
Some people have contacted me claiming that the passing of this legislation today would be a black day for Ireland. I contend that today is a great day for Ireland and it is wonderful that the Government has accepted the Bill. The legislation will have brought Ireland into the 21st century and catered for one of our largest industries - the tourism industry.
Incidentally, the Bill, as proposed by my colleague, Senator Lawless, is not a Bill that forces people to take drink on a Good Friday but merely leaves the option open. We are not trying to trample all over the religious beliefs of people in Ireland. The people who have religious beliefs will continue to observe them. The people who wish to have a drink will do so. I sincerely hope that on Good Friday in 2018, I will have a pint with my good colleague, Senator Lawless, in a hostelry somewhere close. I thank the Minister for his time.
Since Senator Lawless has expressed support for the Government's amendments then clearly I am happy to express support, on behalf of the Labour Party, for the amendments and the Bill. Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke on behalf of the Labour Party on Second Stage in support of the legislation. I think the legislation is a sensible move towards the consolidated intoxicating liquor code that the Minister mentioned. We are all hopeful that we will get the code some day. I know many legal practitioners who have made a great living from the complexity of the code and interpreting it for clients.
All of us are conscious of the harm caused by alcohol in society. We are also aware of the need for a mature attitude towards alcohol and responsible consumption. The current law has anomalous exceptions about which Senator Ó Ríordáin quite amusingly spoke on Second Stage. As the current law is simply not fit for purpose, it makes sense to introduce this rational change. I am delighted to support the change and the amendments too.
I, too, welcome what the Minister has said. Some people might be surprised that I support the legislation bearing in mind my background of community work and helping people who have problems with alcohol, in particular family members. I am in favour of the change because I believe it will help reduce the harm that alcohol does to the health of our people, which is interesting enough.
In recent years, Holy Thursday has been the day on which people become frenzied as though alcohol was about to be prohibited. The excessive amounts of alcohol that are bought because the pubs are closed on Good Friday is a sad reflection on our society. Alcohol is then consumed in homes in the presence of young children. I am really concerned about this unhealthy example that gives children. Members are all familiar with the recently-published report by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon in which he cited the impact alcohol misuse has on children. In addition, bar workers look forward to not working on a Good Friday and being able to spend time with their families. Any changes made to the licensing laws must ensure that one can opt to work on a Good Friday and workers are paid the same rate as that which applies to a bank holiday.
The idea of a pub being a regulated environment should make it easy for the responsible server of alcohol to be built in as a requirement in licensing law in Ireland. Many people drink at home before they go out to socialise, which means many licensed premises serve alcohol to people who already are intoxicated. The important issue is not whether the pubs are allowed open on Good Friday but our unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I hope it is okay to say a little bit about this matter. This matter is being addressed by the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. There is a genuine disbelief around the country that public representatives do not favour a Bill that will save lives. The lobbying by the retail and alcohol industries must not be allowed to shape Government policy. The aims of the alcohol industry to maximise consumption and the aims of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to save lives are incompatible.The saving of even one life is much more important than the profits of multinational corporations. Three people die every day in Ireland from an alcohol-related illness and this must be tackled.
I am encouraged by the fact that both An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar and the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin have both been Ministers for Health and must know that alcohol is a psychoactive drug and should be treated as such. I hope they will put the health of the nation before the wealth of the alcohol industry. The fact that alcohol is legal does not reduce the harm it does and we have an obligation to ensure that Ireland is not defined by our consumption of this drug. I hope we will arrive at a time when the idea of the pubs being open or closed on Good Friday will be irrelevant.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to the House and congratulate him on his appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. He comes very well equipped to that role and has vast experience in that area. I also pay credit to his former role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and his work in Northern Ireland trying to re-establish the power-sharing Executive there. I hope that comes to fruition sooner rather than later. It is inconceivable that they will not realise the necessity of power-sharing as they face into the Brexit situation.
In respect of this Bill, it is welcome that the Government will adopt it. Although Senator Lawless has brought in the Bill, he accepts it will go through faster when Government, Opposition and Independent Members work together. It is timely. This Bill was introduced before by former Senator Imelda Henry, who is in the Gallery today and worked very hard on it. We disagreed on it at the time. I adopted a stance similar to that of Senator O'Reilly at that stage. However, like on the road to Damascus, we changed our opinion. It was impractical, particularly in respect of Dublin. Incidentally, these provisions do not force anybody to open on Good Friday. If conscientious objectors have any problem, they do not need to open. It is a matter for themselves, which is reasonable. I am also aware that Padraig Cribben and the Vintners Federation of Ireland are working on this.
Frankly, the Bill is quite irrelevant because a number of pubs will not be open next year to avail of its provisions. A lot of rural pubs will be gone. The Government, Government Members of independent stature and others can publish statements about naming and shaming and all that stuff. It is all going to damage rural Ireland and rural pubs. How nice this is. This is just trimmings. One day will not make any difference to the life and soul of rural pubs. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of rural pubs in Ireland. Unfortunately, the Government and Sinn Féin supporters will be collaborating in this regard. That is fine. That is the way they want to go. It will be a sad day for rural Ireland when the reality hits home. It will be too late to reverse the situation then. The laws are there and are being enforced. They are effective and they are getting results. I think people realise that. There is no way I will in away endorse anyone drinking alcohol. That is not a question of fact.
The Acting Chairman, Senator Horkan, has been highly effective in this regard and, as a nominee of the vintners in Dublin here, has certainly pioneered this legislation. He has been persuasive in respect of getting the Fianna Fáil Party to adopt and support it.
I really find our colleague, Senator Leyden, to be highly entertaining. We have had some remarkable outbursts from him, particularly in the last Seanad. He seemed to go quiet there for the last six months but I think he is coming back into his form again. It is good to see.
I know the Acting Chairman agrees with me.
On a serious note, I am delighted for Senator Lawless. It is not everyone who can say they successfully got a Private Members' Bill over the line. I did need persuasion on the necessity to have pubs open on Good Friday. There are 365 days in the year and they are only closed for two. It is not the biggest crime in the world to leave them closed. I have, however, been persuaded by the arguments, particularly those of Senator Black, given her background, experience and phenomenal work. If she does not have a problem with the Bill, I do not think any of us really can have one. I congratulate Senator Lawless.
The Government amendments are primarily technical to ensure that equity flows across all the beer pipes, as it were, in the pubs throughout the country. We have seen a remarkable growth in the brewing and craft beer industry. In County Clare, we have the craft brewers' festival in Doolin, which is one of the most successful festivals in the county. It was created because of the number of cottage breweries that exist in the country. There is proposed legislation to improve brewing. The Minister might like to inform the House as to when he intends to bring that legislation forward.
I have also noted media commentary over the weekend that the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, has proposals to protect rural pubs. It is a big challenges. In lots of villages, pubs are now only really open at weekends. There is no way they can make a viable living out of it. Many publicans must now find day jobs and so forth. We need some thinking outside the box in terms of protecting what is part of the fabric of rural society. We often talk about the importance of the post offices. The pubs have a critical role to play as well, particularly for people who live alone. We need some creative thinking in that regard. I am in the presence of some very successful publicans. Senator Leyden owns the Dáil Bar in County Roscommon and Senator Byrne is a very successful publican from a line of many generations in Limerick. There is a lot of service to the hospitality industry in this House.
I welcome the thinking outside the box it is hoped the Government will do. A lot of people are worried, particularly about the proposed legislation on drinking and driving and so forth. The pubs have an important role to play in society. I commend Deputy Lawless on his Bill.
I remind Members that it is Committee Stage and we are dealing with amendments. There will be opportunity for Senators to make general comments on Report Stage. I would like to get through the amendments, if possible.
I congratulate the Minister and Senator Lawless. We support this Bill. In a previous life as Lord Mayor of Belfast, I was a vocal champion for renewing, reviewing and ultimately changing our licensing laws and how they operate in the North. It would be hypocritical of me if I did not champion the same in this institution. The reason I champion it, as Members have alluded to in terms of previous contributions, is because of the potential economic benefit for our tourism sector, the importance of that to the economy of the State and what it does for job creation, provision of services and so on.
I have some issues with the broader sentiment of the Bill. While I support Senator Lawless, and he knows he has our party's support, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to outline some of the issues, not so much in the Bill because it is very direct in what it sets out to achieve, but in the broader context of the issue of our relationship with alcohol in Ireland. Senator Black referred to that during the course of her contribution.
Senator Leyden accused us of being in cahoots with Fine Gael. I do not understand why this Bill could be brought forward and yet the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Support for this legislation today does not mean we should not have the opportunity to debate the real concerns about Ireland's relationship with alcohol, its impact on the cohesion of our society, and the tangible practical issues it brings to bear on our health care system and other aspects of life, including the financial and many other burdens.
Another issue I touched on in the Second Stage debate is workers' rights. I appreciate fully that it is a separate matter in terms of what this Bill sets out to achieve, but it would be remiss of us when we are debating this issue not to reflect the experience of workers in the hospitality sector. Currently, the trade is dominated by minimum wage pay, no overtime rates, no pension and no sick pay. There are no guaranteed hours of work. The bar and hospitality trade have become a template for the low wage exploitation economy that has taken hold of large sections of our economy. Research by the Nevin Economic Research Institute reveals that 345,000 workers, equal to 25% of the workforce, earn an hourly rate below the living wage of €11.50 per hour.
While I do not believe that is a negative in terms of what the Bill can do, I am sure the Minister will accept that in its broadest possible sense it puts an onus on us to reflect on the people who work in our bars and the hospitality sector generally who are already under a huge amount of pressure. If Senator Lawless has achieved more than one objective with the passage of this Bill, his focus remains on the people who work in the sector.
As a society, we need to reflect on our relationship with alcohol. I welcome the Bill. It is the right decision. It is stand-alone legislation in that regard. If done properly and if all the issues I have outlined are dealt with in a truly national conversation, this is welcome and very important legislation.
I endorse the Bill and congratulate Senator Lawless on it. I echo the comments of other Members who lamented the stalling of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and referred to the powerful lobby that seeks to dilute it. I hope Fianna Fáil will take note of that. This issue should be a priority. The countless reports of hidden harm and the effects of alcohol on our children and on families are available for all to read.
I will be brief. In the late 1980s, when Ian Paisley finally had to give in to pubs opening on Sundays, there were protests about that. I do not believe there will be protests about this Bill in this part of the country.
I refer to the harm alcohol can cause. Home drinking has increased massively. I have memories of being a young adult when, for the first time ever one Christmas, my mother decided to buy a bottle of wine.
No, it was not. To assuage her religious belief, she dutifully introduced Blue Nun to the seven of us. We thought that was astounding at the time but when one looks back one realises it was a naive time. I thank Senator Lawless. I hope we will all enjoy sensible drinking and that this measure will allow us come into the 21st Century in that regard.
I join in the tributes to Senator Lawless for introducing legislation in the House, which is a good thing to do. He made the point that a publican had the freedom to opt out of this in the sense that an individual publican might not necessarily open. That is fair enough to a point, but there will be pressure and a commercial imperative on publicans. What is happening up the street can become a difficulty and they could tend to lose customers, so it is putting them in an unfair position.
I understood we would have a proper Report Stage. I have a few difficulties with this legislation. That we are starting to try to deal with the alcohol question is at variance with health policy in general. That sends the wrong subliminal message and it is a mistake in that respect. I genuinely believe it offends many, although not all, people from all the Christian traditions in this country who have dearly held religious beliefs around the fact there are two sacred days in the calendar, Christmas Day and Good Friday. It offends the sensibilities of a number of people in this regard. I genuinely believe those people's sensibilities, sensitivities and feelings in this matter and their rights of citizenship should not be ignored or cavalierly regarded. I regret that. I have an amount of anecdotal evidence to support it.
I would be concerned about the issue of workers' rights, which has been well articulated by colleagues. Traditionally, Good Friday was a day off for the people who worked in the bar sector. I hope they will receive adequate remuneration. Some of them may have personal difficulty with this measure. Traditionally, it was a day of rest. Those two big days marked the Christian calendar. They were part of our Christian tradition in Ireland.
There is a mythology that in some way this measure will assist tourism.What assists tourism in Ireland is our distinctiveness, our native culture, our difference, our Christian values and our traditions. Maintaining our identity attracts far more people to the country than shredding that identity on the altar of naked commercialism and constantly seeking to fumble in the greasy till and add the ha'pence to the pence.
Senator Leyden is right in saying that the rural pub is under threat. It is an endangered species which offers its own problems in rural areas. It has its own difficulties in terms of the tourism sector and the quality of life of people who live in isolation. While he is right about that, opening on two further days a year is not the way to resolve the matter. From talking to them, I know that the great majority of rural publicans do not want to open on Good Friday. They would prefer the status quo. This is putting them under further economic pressure with costs. It was a day on which their premises were closed and on which they carried out repairs or whatever. Now they will be under commercial pressure from their peers and their neighbours to open and put in staff for a day, which, in most instances, will not yield a return.
I think more reflection ins required in respect of the Bill; we are rushing into it too much. We need to stand back a little. It is too easy to jump on every fad. With regard to the Minister in some way improving in our position, I think people want us to keep our tradition and culture, and stand up for what is right. Many people outside the House have genuine and sincerely held religious views on Good Friday, which is very sacred to them. I am not sure that we should not respect it a bit more.
I welcome the passage of this legislation and I congratulate Senator Lawless. I also pay tribute to our colleague and former Senator, Imelda Henry, who prepared this legislation in the previous Seanad. I welcome the members of the LVA and Dublin vintners today.
While I understand Senator O'Reilly's point of view, a report published yesterday on the agrifood sector by Ciaran Fitzgerald, an economist, showed that tourists spend €6.5 billion in this country annually and 65% of that is outside Dublin, including in rural regions, where it is the largest and, in some cases, only economic activity.
While I understand the religious aspect, I have seen tourists in Limerick city looking to get food on Good Friday. Places have not been open and it has been very inconvenient for them. Therefore, the legislation we are passing is most welcome. It is about choice. Nobody is saying that people have to go out and drink on Good Friday. When sports clubs and the different organisations that were able to serve drink on Good Friday were open, people had a choice; they either went to them or they did not.
I also support what Senator Black said about the amount of binge drinking that was happening. People were going out and bulk-buying drink from supermarkets on Thursday, which was also anti-publican. However, this is about giving people choice and facilitating tourists. I welcome the Bill's passage.
I join colleagues in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. I wish him well with his new portfolio. I also welcome the former Senator, Imelda Henry, and her colleagues in the Gallery. In particular, I commend Senator Lawless and his colleagues who co-sponsored the legislation. I welcome the passage of the Bill.
While I understand Senator O'Reilly's reservations, I am of the view that it is in the best interest of health and controlling the abuse of alcohol. We all know what happens at Easter and Christmas. There is a big stock-up of alcohol in private houses because the pubs are closed on Good Friday. Far more alcohol is consumed - in fact, dangerous levels are consumed - because the licensed premises are closed. I also contend that pubs being closed drives more people to drink on Good Friday than would do so if they were open.
Senator Ó Donnghaile mentioned the licensing laws in Northern Ireland. For as long as I can remember, droves of people have travelled to the Border towns in the North in order to take a drink on Good Friday. The only reason for doing so was that the pubs in the Republic were closed. While they might not necessarily have been going for a drink at all, it was something they could not do in the Republic on that particular day.
I believe it will assist the tourism industry here. It is ludicrous that at the beginning of the tourist season and heading into the height of it, tourists cannot have a drink in public houses here. That has been wrong. While bearing in mind what Senator O'Reilly said about tradition and religious offence, quite frankly, other legislation passed in this House and in the Lower House has offended people of religious thinking far more than this legislation will do.
I commend the legislation to the House and I hope it also goes through Dáil. If people want more time to think about it, they can consult with their colleagues in the Lower House and propose amendments that Deputies could take on board. I welcome the passage of the legislation.
The practice normally is that just one person from each group speaks to welcome the passage of legislation I am happy to welcome the passage of the Bill on behalf of the Labour group. I commend Senator Lawless on his great work in getting it through. For all the reasons I and others have given, it is important that we see it through. I hope it goes to the Dáil. We live in a republic and it is an important step in the development of a more mature attitude to alcohol consumption and also in the separation of church and State. The points about harm done by alcohol are well made as are the points about workers' rights. However, those are not irreconcilable with the merit of the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for accepting the Bill. It is good to see a Private Members' Bill, introduced by a Member of the Opposition, pass through the Seanad. We have had a number of these and this is another success for the Seanad.
I say to Senator Bacik that Members facilitated the passage of the legislation quite quickly and I said I would let them speak on Fifth Stage. I may be regretting it slightly. I call Senator Gavan and ask him to be as brief as possible. Most of his colleagues have said a lot of what he would have said otherwise.
I wish to refer to a meeting I had with the vintners. It was not a particularly successful meeting but I had not expected it to be. They mentioned to me that this Good Friday Bill was offered to them as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. While I am speaking from memory, I believe the vintners explained to me that they clearly rejected that because they did not believe the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would ever see the light of day again. My one regret is that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was not passed before this legislation. I must be clear on this; that is Fine Gael's fault. Fine Gael Senators have objected and blocked their own Bill, which is shameful. I am encouraged by the Taoiseach's comments yesterday, but it is beholden on all of us to ensure that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which is a Fine Gael Bill and not a Sinn Féin Bill, is actually passed as it is and not made toothless. If that does not happen, shame on all of us.
I did not get the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of the Bill due to being abroad on Oireachtas business. I wanted to add my voice. I will try not to repeat what others have said. I welcome the Bill. I congratulate Senator Lawless on his tireless work. I also congratulate the former Senator, Imelda Henry, on the work she did on this matter in the previous Seanad.One topic mentioned by those a little uncomfortable about the Bill is respect for traditions and values. As a person from a minority background, the most important value is that the State is a republic, that all those in the State are tolerated equally and that the value system of the majority is not imposed as much as was previously the case. That is an issue on which the country is slowly progressing and the Bill is yet another example of how we are starting to open up. If people choose not to take alcohol on Good Friday - as I will so choose due to the peculiar nature of my personality rather than any religious views - that is fine. However, legislation prohibiting the consumption of alcohol of Good Friday is no longer needed and Ireland needs to move more quickly towards being a secular and open republic. I commend the Bill.
I thank Senator Lawless for the Bill. I was very happy to co-sign it. He put an enormous amount of work into it from beginning to end. It has not had an easy passage. Many people had to be convinced and many changed their minds along the way. It must be acknowledged that it was not a walkover. Senator Lawless had to consult and convince people. He had to argue and set out the rationale and logic behind the legislation. He did that exceptionally well, as is the case with anything to which he applies himself. I acknowledge that because it was not all simple. At the beginning of the process, it was not certain that this Stage would be reached. I acknowledge the consultations, work and focus that went into the Bill and the constant need for Senator Lawless to keep bringing the matter up and on the political agenda, which he might not say himself but many Members know to what I refer. I acknowledge and thank the Minister for facilitating the legislation as it would not have come to fruition without his input. He is new to his very important role and has contributed to making the Bill a success. Perhaps this is an example of new politics and it is a good example thereof. We have arrived at a common-sense position and the right legislation. Members will look back on the Bill and wonder why it was not passed a long time ago. I particularly acknowledge the work and commitment of Senator Lawless.
I join other Members in commending Senator Lawless on bringing forward this sensible legislation. I compliment him on his contribution in the House to date. Like many other Senators, he is new to the House but he is leaving his mark and the Bill is one example of that. When the prohibition was first introduced, the concept of drinking alcohol at home was a non-entity because no-one ever did that. Unfortunately, in today's world more and more people are drinking at home. That is not a good thing. I encourage people who want to have a drink to go to a public house to do so because when one is at home - and I take the odd tipple myself at home - the temptation is to open the bottle and not pay much attention to the measures one is consuming. When one is in a pub, measures are calculated and one knows how much alcohol one is getting. The ship has sailed a long time ago on the issue addressed by the Bill. It is sensible legislation that I fully support. I compliment Senator Lawless again on bringing it forward.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for taking the Bill today. I also thank the Leader, Senator Buttimer, for honouring his commitment and ensuring that Committee and Final Stages of the Bill are being taken today. I also thank the co-sponsors of the Bill, Senators McDowell, Craughwell and Boyhan, along with James Geoghegan, who helped me with the Bill. I commend my great friend, former Senator Imelda Henry. Her father is also a great friend of mine. I acknowledge the work she put into the Bill and thank her for it. It provided a basis for me to build upon. I thank the former Minister for Justice and Equality and current Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Fitzgerald, who advocated the change put forward in the Bill to the Government. I am delighted to have the support of the Government in bringing the Bill through the Seanad. I thank the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for ensuring that amendments were submitted in time to make certain that, along with pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises will be able to open on Good Friday once the Bill has been passed by the Dáil and signed by the President.
The passage of the Bill is another progressive step in Ireland's long journey towards separation between church and State. It is understandable that when lawmakers try to introduce legislation to change a practice that has been in place for almost 100 years, people pause to reflect upon that. However, that is what legislating is supposed to do and it is what I came to this House to effect. There is an affinity to the day of closure but in many cases it is leading to alcohol abuse. Government policy is to reduce binge drinking, which is an objective with which no Member would disagree. Cheap, low-cost alcohol needs to be removed from supermarkets and off-licences. Under existing legislation, an 18-year-old with €10 could buy 10 cans of beer on Holy Thursday to keep for the next day but could not meet friends in a pub on that day to drink two to three pints costing the same amount of money. Removing this 90-year-old provision from the Statute Book sends another clear message that Ireland is a pluralist, global and forward-thinking country.
The passage of the Bill also says something about the Upper House, which survived an attempt to abolish it in 2013.
I believe Seanad Éireann was preserved by the people of Ireland because they believe that parliamentary democracy can serve their interests and that this House can have a decisive and influential role in that process. The passage of the Bill, initiated in the House, reinforces my belief. I again thank the Minister, Deputy Flanagan.
I was trying to get other Members to be brief and will certainly attempt to be brief myself. I wanted to step out of the Chair to make comments I would not otherwise have been able to make. Almost all issues have been addressed but I particularly congratulate and thank Senator Lawless for putting the legislation forward, along with his co-sponsors, Senators Boyhan, Craughwell and McDowell. I also thank my party, Fianna Fáil, for supporting the legislation. It had to consider and deliberate on the Bill. I thank the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, his Front Bench team and other party members for their support.
When I was elected to the Seanad, I told the Licensed Vintners Association, LVA, which represents Dublin publicans and was good enough, along with another body, to nominate me for the Seanad, that I would do my best to have this issue addressed but, as a new Senator, I was unsure of what the outcome would be. I am delighted that, a year after being elected to the Seanad, the Bill is progressing through the House. Pubs are the lifeblood of communities in both rural and urban areas across the country and are also very important to tourism. The number of visitors from the UK, which is our biggest market, has dropped significantly this year. Anything that detracts from Ireland's attractiveness to that market is not a good thing. In recent years, many pubs in Dublin have opened on Good Friday to serve food and soft drinks. They will now also be able to serve alcohol.
I thank former Senator Imelda Henry and welcome her to the House, along with the chief executives of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, VFI, and the LVA. They have also done great work on this issue and many others. To hear Members such as Senator Frances Black supporting the Bill gives one confidence it will result in less alcohol being consumed on Good Friday than was previously the case because there is much anecdotal evidence of off-licence operators saying Holy Thursday is their busiest day of the year. An off-licence not far from my house ran out of beer on a Holy Thursday several years ago.
This is a very significant day. The Minister might outline how soon the Bill might pass through the Dáil, although I acknowledge that is a matter for the Business Committee. Senators want the Bill enacted long before Christmas if possible in order that there be no likelihood that it will not be in force by Good Friday 2018.
In reference to a point raised by Senator Gavan, both publican representative organisations support the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and have no difficulty with it. They may have felt that it was being frustrated and that if their piece of legislation went into it, it might never see the light of day but they are not against the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
I was very pleased on behalf of the Government to facilitate the passage of the legislation by offering the co-operation of the Government to Senator Lawless on the Bill, which was debated in the House earlier in the year. A number of issues were raised by Seanadóirí in the course of the debate. It is not my intention to address them because we will have a further opportunity to do so. However, in response to Senators' concerns about the Sale of Alcohol Bill, to which reference was made, I wish to state that it is not gathering dust on any shelf anywhere. It will proceed in the next session. I acknowledge what the Taoiseach has said on that in recent times. I also acknowledge, however, that there is further work to be done and that it is unlikely to be enacted in its current form. Like all legislation, it will be subject to rigorous, robust and full debate in the Dáil and also in this House. That is precisely the manner and means by which and through which legislation is enacted.
A number of Senators made reference to workers' rights. It was appropriate that they should do so. I want to acknowledge what this Government has done in that regard, particularly in response to the recently published report of the Low Pay Commission. Workers' rights and workers' pay will continue to be a priority for this Government. I acknowledge again the second increase in the minimum wage. The second increase in the lifetime of this Government has now been agreed and will come into force on 1 January 2018 in the form of an increase of 30 cent per hour. It is modest but it keeps well ahead of inflation and it also underscores commitment on the part of this Government to its objective to ensure that every family will benefit from an economy that continues to grow and from economic progress in recent years that was hard won . During the summer months, when the Seanad goes into recess, the Government will engage at the highest level in respect of the Estimates for departmental spending and the budget that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, looks forward to introducing in the autumn. We will continue to acknowledge the need for wider and broader support for lower-paid workers to achieve the objective of opportunities for all.
I wish to commend the initiative of Senator Billy Lawless, an Independent, with the support of other parties in this House. I commend Seanadóirí and acknowledge the cross-party support. I also acknowledge the contribution of Members of the previous Seanad to the genesis of this legislation. In that regard, I acknowledge the work done by and initiative show in respect of this matter my colleague and friend and former Senator, Imelda Henry. I am pleased to see her present for the enactment here in the Seanad of legislation that she was particularly interested in during the course of her career.
Senator Martin Conway is not here. He made reference to the Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill. It is a Private Members' Bill in the Dáil, which, like the Bill before the House, was not opposed by Government. The Government is currently working on Committee Stage amendments. I will say, for the benefit of those in this House and beyond who are interested, that there will be restrictions in that legislation. The hours of trade will be restricted to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the sale of alcohol in these craft brewery premises will be restricted to those who have participated in tours of the premises. I also understand that consumption on or off a premises would only be applicable to a product that is either brewed or distilled on that premises. This is a Bill that would require a measure of work. However, that is work which we will, I hope, be in a position - by way of the cross-party co-operation and support that facilitated Senator Lawless' Bill - to be able to complete by the end of the year in both Houses. I acknowledge that there is work to be done on that legislation.
I acknowledge the role of Senator Billy Lawless in respect of the Bill before the House, which is important in the context of ensuring that all our legislation is of a type, form and measure that is befitting of a pluralist republic. This legislation is very much in keeping with that objective.