Public consultations on possible reforms to Ireland’s alcohol licensing laws opened on Thursday.
Consultations are being held to notify the proposed Sale of Liquor Bill, which would repeal the old laws relating to the sale of alcohol and the operation of pubs and nightclubs.
Earlier, representatives of the night-time economy have called for longer openings for pubs and nightclubs, along with other measures to increase the vibrancy of Ireland’s nightlife.
However, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the reforms would not be just about drinking hours and later opening hours, and would not be “free for all”.
She said she believes the hospitality industry has been hit hardest by the pandemic, and restrictions are still in place for many businesses.
Last week, the government announced a midnight curfew in bars and nightclubs, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Ms McEntee said Ireland’s outdated licensing laws needed to be reformed to help these businesses survive after the pandemic.
She has indicated that she intends to reform the law by the end of 2022, and is now seeking the views of stakeholders and the wider public.
In an interview on RTE News at One, Ms McEnty said the law needs to be streamlined and modernised.
“The fact of the matter is that this sector is dealing with old law. The law which dates back to 1833.
“We have the dancehall act of 1935 that’s being mentioned, and I think we can all agree that the dancehalls of the ’30s are very different from the economy of the nights now.”
She said late bars run into particular problems with the current law. “So for example, some late bars have to apply and essentially pretend they’re doing a late event or special event, and we know the event is open every night, because it’s that is the type of license under which they have to apply because it is the only one that exists.”
Ms McEnty said Dublin is one of the few capitals in the world where everything shuts down at the same time, and people don’t have many options.
She also said that the department is looking at adding an extra layer of governance around drinking alcohol online, so children as young as 12 or 13 can’t order alcohol online.
She said she is very mindful of the public health element of any change.
“People assume it’s long drinking hours and later opening hours. That’s not the point. But we certainly have to take into account the concerns that with possible changes to either opening hours or licensed born for the people who do.
“There is a perception that we are talking of opening every place by 6 am and it is not so. All this will be regulated. It won’t be free for everyone.”
The public consultation will be open until 21 January 2022.
Interested individuals, groups and organizations can complete online surveys to have their say.
More details can be found here: Justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/open-consultation-sale-of-alcohol