Seanad Éireann - Volume 173 - 18 June, 2003

Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003: Second Stage.

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

  Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. M. McDowell): I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for the opportunity to introduce this Bill at short notice. As the House is aware, publication of the Bill was approved by the Government yesterday. The fact that we are discussing it here today is an indication of the priority the Government and this House attaches to its subject matter.

  I thank to the members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for last Wednesday's discussion on the general scheme of the Bill. Having reflected on the outcome of those discussions, I have introduced a number of changes. I will mention these when I am dealing with the detailed provisions. Before entering into the detail, however, I wish to make a few general points.

  The Bill is an interim response to the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and the first report of the strategic task force on alcohol, which was established by the Minister for Health and Children. The House will recall that the Commission on Liquor Licensing was established by the Government in late 2000 to review the liquor licensing system and to make recommendations for any necessary legislative changes. By the time it had concluded its work at the end of March 2003, the commission had submitted four reports covering various aspects of the licensing laws and collectively containing over 130 recommendations.

  One of the commission's recommendations is a codification of the intoxicating liquor code which is currently spread across many statutes, some dating back to the early part of the 19th century. Such an exercise is long overdue. It will result in all law relating to the supply of intoxicating liquor in Ireland being found in one Act, which will be up-to-date, modern, readable and accessible. This exercise was first recommended in 1925. I have accepted that particular recommendation without hesitation. The preparatory work is already underway in my Department and I expect an outline of the Bill will be available by mid-2004.

  In the meantime, I have decided to bring forward the short Bill before the House in response to urgent recommendations of the commission. The proposals in the Bill are consistent with the recommendations set out in the interim report of the strategic task force on alcohol, which was published last year, and are also relevant in the context of the special initiative on tackling alcohol abuse set out in chapter 2 of the current social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress.

  The Bill does not seek to encompass the wider structural reforms advocated by the commission in its reports. My intention is that these will be addressed in the codification Bill. There will be ample opportunity to discuss the contents of that legislation, including the response to all the commission's recommendations, next year. The codification Bill will also provide us with an opportunity to revisit the provisions set out in the current proposal. My hope is that the sense of urgency, which we all share, attaching to the proposals before us, will facilitate a speedy passage of the Bill through both Houses before the summer recess in the knowledge that we will revisit this business next year and will be able to address any imperfections that may emerge.

  The second point relates to the factors that have contributed to increased alcohol-related harm in recent years. When we look at the facts that have contributed to the increase in alcohol consumption – societal and demographic changes, changing lifestyles and expectations, more disposable income among young people in particular and a lessening of parental control on young people – we realise that the problem of [869]alcohol harm is multidimensional and that simplistic solutions will not work.

  The State has an important role to play in addressing the problems associated with alcohol-related harm, but it must be combined with action at other levels. I refer here to local community action, action within the family – where values and parental example are crucial – and at individual level, where self-esteem and self-respect are all important. Senator Quinn spoke about this on a previous occasion and set out the four levels of action on this matter. I tend to agree with him and I have stolen his lines on a number of occasions.

  The proposals set out in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill form part of the State's response. Other actions are being considered by my colleagues, the Ministers for Health and Children and Transport, in the areas of advertising and road safety, respectively.

  When framing legislation in an area such as this, it is important to seek to strike an appropriate balance between potentially conflicting policy objectives and rights. It seems that we must respect the rights of the very many who drink alcohol in moderation, while protecting vulnerable groups, including young people and the families of those who abuse alcohol.

  We must have regard to the rights of the drinks industry and the licensed trade, while ensuring that practices that lead to excessive consumption of alcohol or that are exploitative are discouraged or prohibited. Risks to public order must be minimised, but not at the expense of basic rights and freedoms. I have been conscious of the need to strike such a balance in the proposals set out in the Bill.

  Some have criticised the Bill as doing too little, other have criticised it as doing far too much.

  Ms O'Rourke: Then the Minister must be right.

  Mr. M. McDowell: When one is attacked from all sides, it reassures one that one is not at either extreme of the pendulum.

  Section 1 contains the Short Title, collective citations and construction and commencement provisions. It is my intention to phase in the implementation of the Bill because some people will have a moral entitlement to decent notice before it comes into operation.

  Section 2 contains definitions. The definition of bar is taken from the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988. That is an important definition because a distinction is made in sections of the Bill between licensed premises and the bar of licensed premises. For example, in respect of hotels, this is of crucial importance because underage persons age are entitled to be in an hotel in which they reside. They should not be in a position where they have to produce evidence of age cards to gain access to the hotel. On the other hand, if certain requirements are made in respect of the bars of hotels, it is a reasonable balance.

[870]  Admission to the bar of licensed premises is prohibited in certain cases, but access to other parts of the premises – for example, a function room or a dining room or many public houses which serve food – is not affected. If a room is set aside which is not a bar, many of the provisions of the Bill will not apply to them.

  Some Members of the House will have heard Pat Kenny and me discussing the prospects of the Bill on radio recently. He mentioned certain pubs in the west which served families late at night. They will have time for rearrangements before the next tourist season and will be in a position to have special rooms where family parties can be served with food. The adults in the family party will be allowed to have alcohol with their food without infringing the terms of this legislation.

  This section also contains definitions of “drunken person“' and “disorderly conduct”. Arising from last week's discussions with the joint committee, I have brought the definition of “drunken person” into line with section 4(1) of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. People were asking what constituted a drunken person and whether somebody who was tipsy, merry or whose speech was slurred was drunk. My answer was that District Court judges, confronted with cases where this was a relevant issue, would decide on a common sense basis and, in criminal cases, beyond all reasonable doubt. We have decided on a high threshold in regard to drunkenness. To be regarded as drunk, a person must be intoxicated to such an extent as would give rise to a reasonable apprehension that he or she might endanger himself or herself, or any other person in the vicinity. In social terms, a person would need to be well drunk before these provisions would have effect.

  The broad definition of “disorderly conduct” takes account of the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing. Section 3 repeals a number of provisions being replaced in the Bill which I will mention as I move through the sections.

  In regard to conduct on licensed premises, the provisions set out in Part 2 of the Bill update the law. Sections 4, 5 and 6 deal with drunken persons and drunkenness, while sections 7 and 8 deal with disorderly conduct. They update and replace provisions in the Refreshment Houses (Ireland) Act 1860 and the Licensing Act 1872, which have fallen into disuse largely because of the penalties provided for under them.

  Section 4 prohibits the supply of intoxicating liquor to drunken persons by licensees, as well as drunkenness in the bar of licensed premises. It provides that a licensee shall not admit a drunken person to the bar and that where a person is drunk on leaving licensed premises, it shall be presumed that he or she was drunk while on the premises until the contrary is proved.

  Section 5 prohibits the supply of intoxicating liquor to drunken persons in licensed premises by a person other than the licensee. In other words, a drunken person cannot send a sober person to [871]the bar or rely on an intermediary to further the process of intoxication.

  Offences by drunken persons are set out in section 6 which provides that a drunken person shall leave licensed premises on being requested to do so by a garda. Moreover, such a person shall not seek re-entry to the bar of any licensed premises for a period of 24 hours. Access to a restaurant or other facilities within a hotel will not be affected. A Garda power of arrest is also included.

  Section 7 places a duty on licensees to preserve order on licensed premises, while section 8 prohibits disorderly conduct on such premises. A person engaging in disorderly conduct must leave the premises on being requested to do so by a licensee or member of the Garda and shall not re-enter the premises within a period of 24 hours. Again, a Garda power of arrest is included. The section also provides that a licensee may refuse admission to a person convicted of an offence under the section where such admission could reasonably be regarded as involving a substantial risk that the person would engage in disorderly conduct.

  The relevance of criminalising disorderly conduct and drunkenness is that no licensee can be held to infringe any law if he or she is defending his or her premises or person from admitting a drunken or disorderly person to the premises. The right of admission, implied generally by licensing law, to people of good behaviour is, to that extent, curtailed.

  Section 9 extends the temporary closure of premises penalty to include offences under several sections, including sections 4 and 7. While temporary closure of the premises will be mandatory in the event of conviction, the District Court will retain a margin of discretion with regard to the duration of the closure period. This penalty is confined under existing legislative provisions to convictions for under age drinking. The reason the mandatory penalty of closure for some period is being introduced is I want licensees and, above all, their staff to clearly understand they can say with safety to somebody on the premises that he or she has had enough to drink. Staff, in particular, will be able to say, “It is as good as my job is worth to serve you any more.”

  In America people in charge of admission policies to bars are inflexible. They can explain to customers who query their decisions that they will be sacked if they serve them. I want it to be understood that this provision is not just a matter of paying a fine of a few euro in the District Court. A fundamental cornerstone of our licensing law will be that if a person is drunk to the extent provided in this Bill, to admit him or her to a premises or bring him or her to such a state in a premises will be a serious offence. This will strengthen the hand of licensees against those who plead with them for more alcohol when they are clearly drunk, within the meaning of the Bill.

[872]  Other amendments of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts are included in Part 3, including, in particular, amendments relating to persons under the age of 18 years as set out in Part IV of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988. Section 10 provides that Thursday night closing time will revert to 11.30 p.m. instead of 12.30 a.m. The Commission on Liquor Licensing has recommended this change, which is also in line with the recommendations of the strategic task force on alcohol. At the recent joint committee meeting Deputy Deasy asked me to consider making this change for Fridays and Saturdays also. I have not received a recommendation from either of the expert bodies to that effect. Also, although I know he feels a mistake was made in the year 2000, this measure is enough for the moment. Next year, in the context of the consolidating and codifying legislation and a broad review of licensing law and policy, this issue can be revisited. We will then see whether there is public demand for the revisiting of the hours then in force.

  Section 11 replaces section 5 of the Act of 1927 which makes provision for the grant of special exemption orders. The section contains three changes. First, in subsection (7) it provides for a local authority a role in determining the duration of special exemption orders in its administrative area. The District Court will retain discretion in granting such orders but shall have regard to any resolution adopted by a local authority in the area in which the premises are located. The local authority, before it adopts such a resolution, must consult the Garda and consider views submitted by it and any other persons, including health interest groups, before adopting any such resolution.

  Second, the grounds on which objections to the grant of such orders may be made under subsection (6) are to be extended to include inconvenience or nuisance to persons residing in the locality, or an undue risk to public order in the locality. At present, the grounds are limited to “undue inconvenience to persons residing in the vicinity” of the licensed premises.

  Third, in the context of the District Court attaching conditions to the grant of special exemption orders, specific mention is now made of a possible requirement to install a closed circuit television system. This will not be the case in every premises.

  Section 12 prohibits the provision of entertainment during the 30 minutes drinking-up period permitted under existing provisions. Some Senators are not as expert as others on licensing law at closing times and some have never been in licensed premises when these hours have been reached. For that large majority in this House I explain that 12.30 a.m. is the latest closing time for ordinary pubs on a Friday night. However, with a special exemption a pub can trade until 2.30 a.m. In many cases, people are entitled to buy drink up to 2.30 a.m. and to continue drinking until 3 a.m. This effectively means that the dancing and drinking goes on until 3 a.m. This [873]section provides that drinking-up time is also cooling-down time and that entertainment, in particular dancing, comes to an end at 2.30 a.m. in order that everyone will be nursing the remainder of their drinks and getting their coats to go home at that hour. I know that the House will welcome such a provision.

  The Commission on Liquor Licensing recommended this change in order to ensure that the original purpose of allowing an orderly clearing of licensed premises is not defeated. It is ridiculous to have drinking-up time when people are on the dance floor.

  Section 13 substitutes a new section for section 32 of the 1988 Act. It prohibits the purchase of alcohol for or its delivery to persons under the age of 18. However, the purchase or delivery of intoxicating liquor for consumption by a person under 18 in a private residence where a parent or guardian has given explicit consent shall not be unlawful. The provision that is being replaced is flawed in so far as it permits a 19 year old to buy two trays of drink and deliver them to a 16 year old, as long as it happened at home, without any liability and without any parental involvement or consent being required. In the event that Senators are worried, I should say that the term “parents” includes people who are in loco parentis.

  Section 14 substitutes a new section for section 34 of the 1988 Act. It prohibits persons under the age of 18 from the bars of licensed premises. However, under subsection (2), a licensee may permit a child, defined as a person under 15, to be present if accompanied by a parent or guardian, but not after 8 p.m. I have had discussions with a number of interested parties and I will be interested in and guided by the views of Members on the question of moving the 8 p.m. limit to 9 p.m., particularly in view of the fact that many people made the point that, on summer evenings, 9 p.m. is more reasonable.

  This discretion shall not apply where it appears to the licensee that the child's presence in the bar could reasonably be regarded as injurious to the child's health, safety or welfare. For example, if someone has a child in a pub all day, while he or she is drinking there, even though it is lawful for him or her to be there, the licensee is entitled to decide that it is injurious to the child's interests for such people to remain on the premises. Under subsection (3), a licensee may permit a person aged 15 to 17 to be present in the bar, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, but not after 8 p.m. Subsection (4) contains a number of exemptions to the general prohibition. The remaining subsections are broadly similar to existing provisions in section 34 of the 1988 Act.

  Section 15 introduces an entirely new provision in the form of the new section 34A to be inserted in the 1988 Act. It requires that persons under 21, apart from those in the company of a parent or guardian, will carry an age document in order to enter and remain in the bar, as opposed to any other room, of licensed premises. An age [874]document may be a Garda age card, a passport, an identity card of a member state of the European Union, a driver's licence or a document prescribed in regulations to be made by the Minister. An age document is not required in order to gain access to any other parts of the premises.

  This new obligation to produce an age document in order to gain admission to bars is intended to assist licensees in complying with provisions relating to under age consumption of alcohol and to assist gardaí in enforcing the law. The current voluntary system has always had the minor problem attached to it that one publican may think another publican will be more lax in his or her enforcement if he or she introduces a policy requiring its introduction, the consequence of which is that the lowest common denominator of enforcement tends to apply because of commercial pressures.

  In a recent conversation with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, I suggested that this Bill would cause a problem with cross-Border situations because people come from the UK and Northern Ireland, in particular, into this State and may not have such cards. However, he helpfully pointed out that every Northern Ireland citizen, aged 18 or over, has a voter's card, a fact of which I had not thought. This type of document, which shows a person's photograph, date of birth and signature, can be designated by me under the residual provisions contained in the section. It will make it easy for people aged 18 to 21 to cross the Border and it is good news.

  Arising from preceding amendments, section 16 contains a number of further amendments to the 1988 Act. It amends sections 31(2) and 33(1) to provide that the consumption of intoxicating liquor by a person under 18 is conditional on the explicit consent of that person's parent or guardian. Second, it makes it an offence for a person aged 15 to 17 to be present in bars of licensed premises after 8 p.m. I am willing to consider extending the latter to 9 p.m. Finally, it amends the existing temporary closure order provision, under section 36A of the 1988 Act, as inserted by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000, in order to make it an offence not to affix a conspicuous notice giving details of the closure order as required by that provision.

  Section 17 has been introduced following discussions with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on 11 June and the concerns expressed by Members in respect of off-licences. It contains provisions dealing with the consumption of intoxicating liquor purchased for consumption off the premises and, for this purpose, updates and replaces section 13 of the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act 1924. This section provides that a licensee shall be guilty of an offence if, with the licensee's knowledge or consent, intoxicating liquor supplied by the licensee in a closed container for consumption off the premises is consumed in another premises owned or controlled [875]by the licensee or in a public place within 100 metres of the licensed premises. This limit of 100 metres is also referred to in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003. The person who consumes such intoxicating liquor shall also be guilty of an offence. If a licensee gives a person drink, on the basis that they consume it outside the off-licence, he or she will be committing a criminal offence. The section also restates the existing prohibition on the consumption in an off-licence of intoxicating liquor bought there.

  Section 18 is intended to permit any member of the Garda, whether in uniform or not, to enforce the licensing laws. At present, the powers of non-uniformed officers to inspect premises appear to be restricted to drugs-related offences under the Licensing (Combating Drug Abuse) Act 1997.

  Section 19 provides that a person who claims that prohibited conduct has been directed against him or her in any licensed premises may seek redress before the District Court. For this purpose, prohibited conduct is defined as discrimination against, or sexual harassment or harassment, of a person contrary to Part II of the Equal Status Act 2000, on, or at the point of entry to, licensed premises. The forms of redress currently available under the Equal Status Act are being extended to include temporary closure of the premises concerned. For example, if someone was refused admission to a premises on the basis of his or her skin colour or sexual orientation, this provision would give the District Court the function of deciding whether that happened. It will also enable the District Court, in addition to the other remedies which were available to the equality tribunal, to make a closure order to emphasise the gravity of the infringement of the rights in question in the eyes of the court.

  Provision is also made in subsection (6) for the Equality Authority to apply to the District Court for redress in certain cases, while subsection (7) provides that the authority provide assistance to persons applying to the courts for redress. People have said that the equality tribunal was an easy place in which to claim redress, which I accept. However, I am now giving the Equality Authority the role of assisting people in making claims in the District Court, effectively giving it a right to participate where there are allegation that there have been infringements.

  I wish to emphasise that the proposed transfer of jurisdiction from the equality tribunal, ODEI, to the District Court is not intended to reflect any lack of confidence in or support for the work of the tribunal. It is rather a view that licensees should, in principle, be answerable for all their decisions in respect of admission, exclusion and maintaining order in their premises in a single jurisdiction. At present, the District Court is extensively involved in licensing matters, including the annual renewal of intoxicating liquor licences, the grant of special exemptions orders to licensed premises and the application of sanctions [876]and penalties and temporary closure. It makes sense, therefore, to extend the court's jurisdiction to include the adjudication of cases taken against licensed premises under the Equal Status Act.

  Under existing licensing law, licensees are required to operate their premises in a peaceful and orderly manner. This is a licence renewal condition. If, for example, a licensee admits or serves a person who is violent or disorderly, the action could expose him or her to an objection to the renewal of the licence before the District Court on the grounds that it is not being properly operated. Not admitting or serving a person can, on the other hand, expose the licensee to a claim of discriminatory action before the Equality Tribunal. A situation in which a decision to permit or refuse entry of service could expose a licensee to actions in two jurisdictions with different results is unsatisfactory, which is why I am proposing to adjust existing arrangements. I propose that, in future, it will be the responsibility of the District Court to adjudicate in such cases. However, the non-discrimination provisions of the Equal Status Act will continue to apply and heavier penalties will be available to the District Court than are now available to the Equality Tribunal, including temporary closure and revocation of the licence on the grounds of objections because of discrimination.

  Section 20 prohibits the supply of intoxicating liquor at reduced prices during limited periods during any day. These are called, colloquially, “happy hours”. This is intended to discourage practices which may lead to excessive consumption of intoxicating liquor. It will not prohibit or curtail practices such as sales or product promotions that take place over a period of days.

  Section 21 makes provision for two types of regulation. The first will prohibit or restrict licensees from engaging in promotional activities that are likely or intended to encourage people to consume alcohol to an excessive extent, such as promotions inviting customers to drink all they can for a flat amount of money. The second will specify particulars to be affixed to any container in which intoxicating liquor is sold for the purpose of establishing a link to assist the Garda in investigations, but not necessarily an evidential link for criminal purposes where off-licences are concerned.

  With regard to the first type of regulations, the Commission on Liquor Licensing recommended that promotional practices that are conducive or likely to result in excessive consumption of alcohol should be prohibited by law. That view is supported by the strategic task force.

  With regard to labelling requirements, section 17 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 provides that the name of the owner and the address of the premises should be clearly indicated on a label to be affixed to any container in which intoxicating liquor is sold for consumption off the premises. This has not been commenced for practical reasons and is now being repealed. I have included the new provisions arising from con[877]cerns expressed by Members, both in Dáil Éireann with regard to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill and in the Oireachtas joint committee hearing on this Bill. Implementation of these provisions by means of regulation is intended to avoid any later challenge to the legislation on the grounds that proper procedures had not been followed. It is also intended to notify the European Commission of proposed regulations under this section in accordance with the EU technical standards or temporary directives.

  These measures will enable me to be reasonable in applying the provisions. There may be no good reason for labelling every bottle of expensive champagne sold inside a cardboard box because it is highly unlikely it would be handed over to young people to drink. However, there are strong reasons in certain cases for certain types of containers to be marked in a particular way. I want to have some flexibility in this regard.

  The EU directives are intended to enable the EU Commission and member states to examine in advance proposed national technical rules in the interests of transparency. I am not free to do things which can interfere with trade. For example, if French wine exporters argued that to label and open each container was an infringement of their rights I would be in trouble with the EU Commission if I did not get their advance agreement.

  Section 22 deals with the application to register clubs. Sections that amend or replace existing sections in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 already apply to registered clubs by virtue of section 16 of the 2000 Act. Section 23 determines the exercise of jurisdiction by the courts in relation to sections 9 and 19.

  Section 24 contains two amendments to the Equal Status Act. The first is intended to safeguard the discretion of licensees in relation to the presence of persons under the age of 18 years in bars of licensed premises. The House will recall the furore over this prior to the last general election. The proposal is in line with the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and the strategic task force.

  The second amendment provides that a licensee may set a minimum age for the sale and consumption of alcohol which is above the statutory minimum age of 18 as long as the policy is publicly displayed and is implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. It will be possible, for example, for somebody to refuse the sale of bottles of vodka to people under the age of 21 years. As long as a notice to this effect is clearly displayed on the premises, he or she will not be in the position of a licensee who was recently ordered to pay compensation of €1,000 to a person who was discriminated against on age grounds in those circumstances. It must be non-discriminatory on other grounds and clearly advertised. If it is a rule of the off-licence that people under the age of 25 years are not sold huge amounts or certain types of drink, it will not be an infringement of their equal status rights [878]provided the rule is clearly advertised and not applied as a means of getting at other people on other prohibited grounds.

  I have an open mind on the provision regarding the 8 p.m. limit for the presence of children on premises. Some have argued that in rural parts of the west there is almost a 40 minutes difference in lighting on a fine summer's evening and that the 8 p.m. limit is too onerous. If the House is of that view I will be happy to concur.

  I am conscious that the introduction of the age document in section 15 at this stage of the tourism season might create difficulties for young people coming from Great Britain or Northern Ireland without passports or identity cards. It would be reasonable, therefore, to defer commencement of that until later in the year, possibly the early autumn, when the tourism season has abated. I look forward to the debate in the House and I reiterate my thanks to Members for facilitating me with this legislation at such short notice.

  Ms Terry: I welcome the Bill and agree with most of its provisions. Senators got the Bill in their post this morning and we are dealing with Second Stage today. More importantly, we are being asked to take Committee and Remaining Stages tomorrow. I do not understand why the Minister is seeking to rush the Bill through the House. I understand his desire to have it passed before the summer recess, but the Bill, for which we have called on many occasions, is so important that it deserves to be given more time and considered with due care and attention. It would have been better had more time been allocated to the various Stages. I hope it will not be rushed through the Dáil in the same fashion, although it probably will. It is a pity the Bill was not introduced long before now.

  I hope this very important Bill will deliver what we need in this area. Alcohol abuse in this country has in recent years given rise to serious concern and many serious public order offences on the streets. In extreme cases these have resulted in death. We need to tackle the problem.

  I agree with the Minister that many of these problems arise from the state of the economy. People have much more disposable income, especially the young, who work for their pocket money. None of this is handed up to their parents anymore; it is their disposable income and they are spending far too much of it on alcohol. I do not know if providing laws will change their attitudes, but it will be interesting to see whether any of these measures have the desired effect. I look forward to a review.

  There are many aspects to our drinking culture which stem primarily from the home in terms of the example given by parents and the extent to which they control their young children. When we are dealing with alcohol abuse, we must not focus on young people only. As we know well, we could go out on the streets tonight and find that trouble is being caused by people in their 20s or 30s. They may even be older. The measures in the Bill will [879]apply to everybody and it is to be hoped that the desired effect will be achieved. Alcohol abuse costs the country €2.4 billion each year, or €600 per person, which could be spent in many other areas where it is badly needed.

  Of 15 and 16 year old boys, 66% are current drinkers. Approximately 33% of 15 and 16 year olds binge drink. This is something we did not see ten years ago when the same level of alcohol abuse did not exist among young people. Our hospitals are seeing the results of this, as Members will know from our discussion of the recent “Prime Time” programme which brought the matter home to so many parents who saw what was happening on our streets. The programme showed the extent to which young people will go in terms of the amount of drink they imbibe. In many cases, they end up in accident and emergency rooms. Every night, 25 drink-related assaults occur on our streets. That is a shocking and frightening figure for parents. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform knows the experience of having a child assaulted, as do I. It is horrific to allow one's young child into town at night only to discover later that they have been subject to a drink-related assault.

  Every measure in the legislation is worthwhile, but unless they are enforced there will not be any benefits. There are laws already in place which are not enforced and I doubt whether some of the measures in this legislation will be either. The provision which permits gardaí to enter a public house in uniform or out of it is very positive, but it is not clear whether we have the personnel to take advantage of it. Do gardaí have time to do it?

  I rang a Garda station in Blanchardstown recently and asked them to attend an incident I witnessed which had the potential to become very serious. I was told that it would be three hours before they could get to me. I know the Minister is sick and tired of the Opposition speaking continually about the lack of gardaí and the absence of the additional 2,000 personnel the Government promised, but unless there are sufficient gardaí to monitor and enforce the Bill's provisions, this will be a waste of time. It will be extremely difficult for a publican to put a regular out of his pub who is drunk and disorderly or a danger to others. We are placing huge responsibilities on publicans. I agree with the measures, but we will have to wait to see if they are implemented by publicans or not.

  I agree with reverting to the early closing time on Thursday. As the Minister said, Fine Gael has suggested that we should also roll back on the Friday and Saturday opening hours.

  Ms O'Rourke: I agree with that.

  Ms Terry: I am a liberal person and I would have no difficulty with allowing public houses to remain open 24 hours a day if people were able [880]to deal with alcohol in the way that people in Spain can deal with it. My son was working in a pub there last year and it remained open all night. Pubs in Spain close for an hour between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., but there is no violence on the streets. The people there can take their drink. I would prefer to keep the closing hours as they stand, but the Commission on Liquor Licensing reported that since opening hours were extended incidents of public disorder have increased significantly. The numbers are frightening and they must be related to late opening.

  I would like the Minister to repeal the late opening on Friday and Saturday. I have not decided whether to put down an amendment to provide for that. I will consider it over the next hour or so. The matter needs to be reviewed, which is why I welcome the Minister's promise to do so.

  If we had the gardaí on the street, we would not have the serious anti-social and public disorder problems that exist at present. It is the lack of a Garda presence which is at issue. The Irish youngsters who go to work in Munich and other European cities are told that it is not acceptable to misbehave there. They know that if they do they will be picked up by the authorities. Anti-social behaviour is not tolerated there, but it is tolerated here. If one walks down the street late at night, one will see people doing all sorts of things, but there are no gardaí there to arrest them.

  I agree with many of the Bill's provisions including the requirement for identity cards for those under 21. The Minister asked if Fine Gael would allow children under the age of 15 to remain in a public house until 9 p.m., but I would prefer to keep the limit at 8 p.m. I attended a committee meeting in recent days at which a Member raised the issue of a person returning from a match at Croke Park who wished to have a meal in a pub with their young kids. It was thought that 8 p.m. was a little too early. However, if one enters a pub on a Sunday, one will see very young children running around uncontrolled. I do not want to see them in the pubs at 9 p.m. when they should be at home. I recommend that the Minister maintains the limit at 8 p.m.

  I have asked about labelling on previous occasions. It will be of great assistance to gardaí who meet young people out and about with the cans they have bought in an off-licence or pub if it can be ascertained which establishment sold the alcohol.

  Any measures we can introduce to control what is happening are welcome. The measure existed previously, but it was not a regulation. I would like the Minister to have it provided in the legislation that pubs must use closed circuit television within and outside their premises. The great benefits of the use of CCTV are evident and I would like to see the Minister impose its use on publicans. I agree with many of the provisions. My big problem with the legislation, however, is [881]that it will not be enforced because the resources are not available to do so. I look forward to the rest of the debate.

  Mr. J. Walsh: The Minister is a frequent visitor to the House which is indicative of the amount of legislation he is dealing with, his attention to his portfolio and the frequency with which this House raises issues of public importance. This Bill amends all of the licensing laws since 1833, a period of 170 years. I was speaking to Senator Moylan earlier today and he told me he had recently come across a report in the local newspaper that a person had been fined a number of shillings under one of the provisions of the licensing laws. The court had to be adjourned for an hour in order that calculators could be consulted to determine what the fine should be. It must have been a mandatory fine. That demonstrates the need to update the law, a point that has been made regularly. This legislation is a step in the right direction in that regard.

  The Commission on Liquor Licensing, which deserves our compliments, was established in 2000 and issued its report in March 2003. Much of the content of this Bill is a result of that report. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the Minister's commitment in so expeditiously dealing with the recommendations and ensuring they were brought before the House just three months after the report was issued. In the past 12 months this House has had many debates on alcohol abuse and public order, both of which are connected to the Bill to a greater or lesser degree. The Bill deals with combating drunkenness, disorderly conduct, under age and binge drinking. It is intended to ensure compliance with and enforcement of the intoxicating liquor code.

  It is worth noting that this issue commanded the attention of the social partners which provided in chapter two of Sustaining Progress that an effort be made to tackle alcohol abuse. This abuse has a devastating effect on individuals and those around them. Alcohol abuse within families not only causes immediate trauma but can have a lifelong adverse effect on children exposed to it at an early age. The Minister has taken a strong stance in addressing this issue.

  I welcome the definition of “drunkenness” in section 2. I presume it is the result of consultation with various parties. It states that a drunken person “means a person who is intoxicated to such an extent as would give rise to a reasonable apprehension that the person might endanger himself or herself or any other person in the vicinity, and “drunk” and “drunkenness” are to be construed accordingly”. It is a good and logical definition. People acting in that manner obviously need to be taken to task by the licensee and the legal authorities.

  Representations were made about the definition of “licensee”. There was concern that people acting on their behalf, be they staff or otherwise, would be covered by the definition. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this. What is the posi[882]tion of a leaseholder? A practice has arisen, which we should not discourage, whereby a large corporate entity has expanded into both the hotel and licensed vintners trade. It leases its pubs and ensures within the lease that they are operated to a good standard. I presume that the licensee would the leaseholder. Might complications arise in that regard? It seems a little unfair that if the leaseholder, who is the licensee, has passed on obligations to the lessee, that the lessee would not be culpable in some way in this regard. That struck me from some of the points made in the objections and comments the Minister received.

  The Minister mentioned the varying degrees of responsibility the State and individuals have. If I have a criticism of the Bill, it is that we might be moving the balance of responsibility too much towards the licensee and not enough towards the individual. The fine for a first offence in the case of a licensee is €1,500 and €2,000 for subsequent offences but for the individual it is €300 for the first offence and €500 for subsequent offences. I can call to mind various people who might well be apprehended under the provisions of the Bill and who would not have those financial resources. That is a complication. Where people have those resources, however, one could ask who is causing the greatest offence, the individual, by being drunk and disorderly in the licensed premises, causing offence and creating difficulty for others there to enjoy themselves, or the licensee, who may not have attended to the problem as promptly or efficiently as he or she should have. This provision might be revisited on Committee Stage. Arising from this there is a duty under sections 7 and 8 to preserve order and prevent disorderly conduct. It is right to have that obligation; it is a condition of the licence that the holder maintain a satisfactory code of practice in the premises in order that people are not put at risk.

  Section 9 provides for temporary closures. A temporary closure is virtually mandatory under the provision and I can understand its inclusion. It is an effective remedy because it will have a serious impact on the ongoing financial viability of licensed premises. However, there could be a small amelioration of the closure for a first offence. In other words, the fine should apply in the first instance but a second or subsequent offence would result in temporary closure. Perhaps this could be considered. As there is a probability of the Probation Act being applied, perhaps the legislation should reflect this.

  Senator Terry made an interesting point about section 10, which changes the closure times from 12.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. on Thursday nights, and raised the prospect of extending this to Fridays and Saturdays. Following a meeting of the local authority last night, I discovered the local hotel in the town centre had discontinued its discos at weekends. An adjoining fast food outlet closed recently, too. The problem of public disorder which often emanated around closing time from the fast food outlet, in a special exemption area, [883]has gone. I hope it will not return. It highlights the point that special exemption orders result in people leaving premises late at night under the influence of drink, congregating in areas and getting into conflict with each other. People can drink until 10.30 p.m., 11.30 p.m. or 12.30 a.m.

  As my party's spokesperson on justice, I should perhaps not say this, but I have never had great difficulty with pubs closing even after those hours – regardless of whether they had an exemption order – providing that everything was orderly and that no difficulties arose. There is an element of common sense to be exercised in these areas.

  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is, in some ways, setting an example to some of his colleagues in other Departments in terms of the enhancement of local government. I welcome the introduction in the Bill of a consultative role for local authorities with regard to special exemption orders because these have an impact on the society of which local councillors are representative. It is appropriate, therefore, that local councillors be able to comment and that the judge would have to take that into account in arriving at a decision. I might have gone further and given local authorities this role completely, as happens in other jurisdictions, but in light of the system in operation here, the Minister has gone quite a way in respect of this matter. I welcome that and I urge him to resist any advocacy he may be receiving to the contrary from various interested parties.

  I have heard some associations argue that music should be allowed to continue during drinking-up time, but, as the Minister said, this is also a cooling down period. One cannot finish one's drink and be on the dance floor at the same time. To do so would certainly invite an accident. I agree that the half-hour drinking up time should be for precisely that purpose and that there should be no distractions from people finishing their drinks. Given the price of alcohol today, it should be an offence to squander resources by leaving any of it behind.

  Sections 13 to 16, inclusive, deal with under age drinking. The introduction of controls in this area is welcome. The necessity to provide proof of age is long overdue and we should continue with it regardless of any resistance the Minister might encounter. I am not sure whether the identification requirements should be expanded beyond the age of 21. There are 22 and 23 year-olds who look younger than 21, so I do not know whether difficulties will arise.

  Regarding the time at which children under 18 should vacate licensed premises, I have a different view to that enunciated by Senator Terry. I am inclined to suggest that the Minister make a distinction between summer time and winter time. There are people who will travel with their families – this is something we should encourage – on a Sunday and they may go for a drink, a meal or whatever on the way home. For people [884]leaving the beach on a fine summer's evening, the 8 p.m. cut off point can be a bit tight.

  I do not know whether the Minister would wish to do this, but I would also make a distinction between, on one hand, pubs that are exclusively licensed premises and hotels, in particular, on the other. Not all hotels would have rooms other than the bar where families can go to enjoy a drink or whatever. I suggest that children be allowed to stay in hotel bars until 10 p.m. and until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. in other licensed premises in summer time, with the 8 p.m. limit remaining in winter time. That should be considered.

  We should be trying to achieve the implementation of this Bill in a way to which the public will subscribe without feeling that it is an undue imposition upon their normal activities where they are acting responsibly. It might be prudent, therefore, to take a more lax approach initially so that if difficulties are identified in a review, we can then tighten the legislation. Doing it the other way around might build up certain opposition to the introduction of these measures.

  On section 17, I have some sympathy with licensed vintners on the issue of consumption within the vicinity of their premises, particularly if it is within a range of 100 metres. This may impact unfairly upon licensed vintners. It is not easy for them to patrol in this manner and people are ingenious when it comes to circumventing and breaking the law. I have no doubt that measures will be taken to do that. I suggest that the impact of this provision on licensed vintners be monitored very closely and form a significant part of any review.

  With regard to the inspections by gardaí, whether in uniform or not, I can certainly see the reason for this. On a note of caution, however, I put it to the Minister that we should avoid a situation where some unscrupulous licensees might be tempted to oil the wheels of enforcement. That needs to be monitored in order to see what will happen.

  I fully agree with transferring certain responsibilities from the equality tribunal to the District Court. People can still seek redress before the District Court. Sometimes when people think of equality they take the concept literally. We have had a situation in my town where, for funerals involving specific families, the Garda have gone around days in advance asking all licensed premises to close for the day of the funeral simply because they anticipated difficulties and trouble. In such a scenario, the publicans do not have very significant rights on their side, and we should ensure greater balance. I have had experience myself of Travellers trespassing on my land and, in the company of a garda, suggesting that if I paid them £1,500 they would move. When I asked why I should do that, they replied that this is how much it would cost me anyway to go to court and force them to leave.

  We have got to be sensible and logical in the way we apply legislation. I disagree that persons caught under the equality legislation should be [885]able to object to the renewal of a licence. The equality legislation should be dealt with on its own merits and have its own penalties. That should not be one of them. The Bill is a fine example of the Minister's determination to confront issues of public concern, and the House should commend him because we have encouraged him in the past to do that. I welcome the introduction of the Bill.

  Mr. Norris: I have just a few comments to make on the Bill. I welcome it in general but note that it is really a kind of stop-gap measure. The Minister has very engagingly acknowledged this. I welcome the Minister's statement that one of the commission's recommendations is a codification of the intoxicating liquor code currently spread across many statutes. This means, in other words, consolidating and reviewing the entire code. That is where the real action is going to be and it is very important that we do this.

  I will return to this matter later but, without intending any insult or insinuation about the operation of the licensing laws at present or the professionalism of personnel in the Dublin District Court, I ask the Minister to look at how the licensing laws are enforced in practice. We have never done that. There is obviously something wrong with the system, but one takes one's life in one's hands by criticising the Judiciary, certainly outside of these hallowed walls. There is something wrong, however, and I do not know why the Judiciary is not telling us about it. It is just implementing the law. The latter is clearly deficient, however, so why is the Judiciary not saying something?

  If one criticises the Judiciary in public, one gets into difficulty. I am not making any implication here, but I would like to know why – I am sure it is because of our deficiencies as legislators – there is not some channel whereby judges can ask us to review laws. If there was some kind of meeting place between these two branches of Government, judges could tell us if they are troubled by a law that they are applying, that they are not very happy with the results of its application but that they are bound by its provisions. Could we not establish a mechanism where they could alert the Oireachtas to their concerns? We sometimes read about it in the newspapers when a judge criticises the Oireachtas. Why is there not a proper, efficient bridge whereby, without causing abrasions, contusions, difficulties and outrage, we could learn from each other and know where they were?

  I am not criticising the operations of the court except in so far as it produces a result that is absolutely lousy but I would like to know, for example, how it is that half the pubs in Dublin get licensed. There are pubs in my area where there are machine gun battles along the counter, yet they get their licences renewed. Is this a peaceable way of conducting their business?

[886]  It seems that judges do not have to ask questions. Nowadays, if I understand it correctly, the judge only investigates, or is only required to investigate, when there is an objection from the Garda. That is a dereliction of duty. There is a responsibility when issuing a certificate to say the premises in question is worthy to be opened as a licensed premises which is a place where many dangers can ensue. Why is it not an absolute obligation in law, as it is in morality, for the person issuing the licence to be sure that it is a proper and reputable premises? When I taught in Trinity College I gave recommendations to my students. My recommendations were all highly valued because I never gave them out unless I knew the people involved and what the circumstances were. If there was something shady in his past, I would advise him to get somebody else to write it because I was not going to stand over it unless I could say he was caught with half of the Odyssey written down his or her left arm, under the cuff, in an examination. The same standards should apply in courts.

  Mr. M. McDowell: He must have had a very long arm if he could have had half the Odyssey written on it.

  Mr. Norris: It was in shorthand. Recently the Garda, the civic authorities and neighbours objected to a place near where I live, The Temple. I will not sully the record of the House with the descriptions of the behaviour outside as a result of the excessive drinking. The pub was repeatedly granted its licence. How did this happen?

  The centre of Dublin is over-endowed with these enormous aircraft hangars where young people are force fed into the drinks situation. How do they get their licences? Perhaps nobody objects. The very word “judge” suggests judgment. Is there not a requirement to probe every single licence application? If not, is there not some system that could be applied before they get to judges, who I know are busy people, to say there is a recommendation from the Garda or whoever it is? Every single premises should be investigated. I also know it is because of some legal anomaly the judge, apparently, has no discretion in this.

  We are talking about violence in O'Connell Street, yet through the enactment of our laws and through their application in the courts, we are licensing the selling of drink at all hours of the day and night by supermarkets along O'Connell Street. That is pouring petrol on a burning fire. Why is this happening and what can we do to make sure that it does not continue to happen? This is a difficult situation.

  I am a libertarian, laissez faire kind of person. I do not give a damn if people drink at 5 a.m. That is not what worries me. I do not think that it worries the Minister either. What worries all of us is the behaviour of people after they have drunk. We have a huge job of education to do to show that certain behaviours are not acceptable. [887]I approve of the Minister's very timely and useful intervention to protect the rights of licensees who want to exclude people. The licensee has a perfect right to tell somebody who is behaving badly to get out of his or her pub but that does not always resolve all the problems.

  Last weekend – I was just home from London and the aeroplane was late – as I went down to get a bottle of milk, I saw my local, decent publican standing at the open door of his premises and stopped to talk to him. Two young lads and a girl went past, they wanted to get in but the publican said he was closed. They drifted off, came back and one of them said to me, quite pleasantly, “You are the fellow off the TV.” The other lad then said, “You are the effing queer off the TV” at which the girl decided to investigate and grabbed me by a certain section of my anatomy that I will cover by the discreet appellation of the undercarriage. Her companion was so thrilled by this phenomenon that he came up and hit me an almighty clout on the ear which is still ringing from the effect.

  I asked my pal, the publican, if he would mind calling the Garda, which came around pretty quickly. When I rang to ask if somebody could be sent down, I was asked if I could give a detailed description of the apparel, the age and appearance, and so on, of the people involved. I said I could but that I had not the slightest intention of doing so. When asked why not, I said it had another thing coming if it thought I was going to stand in the middle of Parnell Street with a thick ear, drivelling down the phone to the effect that assailant no. 1 was wearing an off-the-shoulder number, diamanté with matching accessories and slingback shoes from Carl of Manhattan. It brought the van round and scooped them up. As they were being put into the car, one said, “You are effing joking.” His lady companion stuck her head into the van and gave a description of the gardaí which I will not share with the House. When I asked why they did not arrest her, they said they had been called worse. I am waiting to have my vocabulary extended to find out what was worse than what that lassie called them.

  This illustrates in a simple way that there is violence; even when someone politely says they are closed, there can still be violence because of the behaviour. The drinking is not the problem but the behaviour. The Minister has experience of this in his own family whereby violence can be perpetrated on young people and drink is not the problem. On Bloomsday – this was very sad – one of the young actors was wearing an enormous papier maché heads of James Joyce, which was set alight. He could very easily have had his head burnt off but for the rapid intervention of some others. I do not understand this kind of nastiness. I very much welcome the codification and hope that there will be this investigation.

  I am not casting any slurs on the District Court but why is there this anomalous situation? There are many instances where the Garda, the local [888]authorities and local people have objected, yet the pub gets its licence. I am not impugning that decision but to get that result there is something wrong somewhere and if it is not with the court, it is with the law.

  The Minister referred to the rights of the drinks industry but he need not have bothered. The industry is well able to look after them. I never saw such a ferocious lobby in this House and other places. I welcome the fact that the grounds of closure order are being extended to include nuisance to neighbours. This is a question of behaviour and I do not see any reason people should have to tolerate drunken and disgusting behaviour outside their premises.

  With regard to the removal of the Equality Authority from the operation, this is a mistake for a number of reasons. People are more likely to make a complaint to the authority than the District Court. They do not want to go to court, about which they are inhibited, particularly in areas like—

  Acting Chairman (Ms O'Meara): The Senator needs to conclude.

  Mr. Norris: No, I do not. The Acting Chairman would like me to conclude. I beg her pardon and will conclude if I may just finish this paragraph.

  Acting Chairman: My apologies, I have underestimated the time allowed. The Senator has almost five minutes.

  Mr. Norris: Almost five minutes? Again, I was right. It is so unnerving. I thank the Acting Chairman for that reminder.

  People are reluctant to go to court, particularly in a situation where sexual orientation is involved, even though we have changed the law and so on. Perhaps because I have got older and more used to this, I am surprised that many young people would hesitate going into open court in the District Court. On this occasion I will make a criticism which may be 20 or 30 years out of date. People have a long memory of the way they were treated in the District Court. I recall the jibes and insults routinely showered on gay people in the Dublin District Court. They do not have a happy memory of the place and will not be happy to go there. Why do we use the term “learned judge“? Are there two categories, learned judges and those less learned? I understand a learned judge expressed the view that this was a way around the Equality Authority and would weaken it. This was quoted on radio. I see the Minister shaking his head; obviously, he does not believe this. I doubt that he wants to weaken the Equality Authority but these are people involved with the law and we need to listen to them.

  With regard to the times at which people are allowed to have their children on licensed premises, I have taken up the Minister's suggestion. That was one of the reasons I left the Chamber, [889]for I thought I would get in first and table an amendment straight away, since we are galloping apace with this legislation. I have produced a kind of half measure and would like to take the few minutes remaining to recommend it to the Minister.

  Section 14 amends subsection 34(2)(a) of the 1988 Act to provide:

    It shall not be unlawful for such a holder to allow a child who is accompanied by his or her parent or guardian to be in the bar of the licensed premises between 10.30 a.m. (12.30 p.m. on a Sunday) and 8 p.m.

I want to leave that unchanged, since it refers to children and does not make any difference to people of 15 to 18. I do not think it appropriate to have young children in the bar of a public house after 8 p.m. I am not sure it is appropriate to have them there even before that time. There are many irresponsible parents who damage their children by trailing the poor little brats around after them into bars and lounges. I really do not think that an appropriate environment. However, it is fair enough for people between the ages of 15 and 18 to be allowed to stay for the extra hour until 9 p.m. rather than being sent to bed by Nanny at 8.01 p.m. I have therefore tabled an amendment to section 3 to provide that it shall not be unlawful for a person between 15 and 18 and to change the time to 9 p.m. That is reasonable, for one is allowing people who are on the threshold of adulthood, if not already adult, to remain with their peer group. However, I cannot see any justification for encouraging children to be in pubs at that late hour.

  I have another question about how licensing laws operate. I gather that matters have been much improved since, but 15 to 20 years ago I witnessed a rubber-stamp situation in the District Court which I felt was not appropriate. Special exemptions are a matter of definition. What is so special about them? They are all over the place. I had thought there was a requirement that a special exemption be for something special, but I know places in my district which get 30 in a month. There is nothing special about that, so the whole thing is a farce. It is just a way of getting round the licensing laws. If we are to have a special exemption, let us have it tightened up so that we know what it is – the barman's birthday or the anniversary of the Pope's coronation. Whatever it is, let us have a special reason for a special exemption.

  Mr. M. McDowell: You will have some religious publican with the calendar of saints' feast days.

  Mr. Norris: Splendid. I am all in favour. We could have had a real burst with St. Anthony out in Fairview. Seriously, it brings us all into contempt if we say that we are having a special exemption with no special quality to that occasion, meaning that we have 30 or so in a [890]month. I know that has happened and I do not think it should.

  Mr. Minihan: I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on bringing forward this legislation, an initiative which I consider both urgent and timely. I am pleased the Bill is being introduced in the Seanad, since we have had several debates on the issue in recent months, in particular one on the serious concerns raised regarding the abuse of alcohol by young people. I welcome the Bill's measures as timely and necessary. If we are to be serious in combating the effects of alcohol abuse in this country, we must introduce legislation that is not just token in its approach but serious in its content. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill's scope, which shows his determination to tackle this worrying abuse in today's society. Reading the explanatory memorandum and examining the Bill's contents, I am tempted to observe that it does everything that it says on the tin.

  To put in context what we are debating today, I remind the House of the statistics placed before us by international studies of alcohol consumption in this country. I referred to them in a previous debate, but it is timely that we once again focus our minds on them. As a nation, we are now drinking more than almost all our EU colleagues. In the last six years, the consumption of spirits alone has increased by over 50%, while there has been a staggering increase of nearly 100% in cider consumption. Between 1989 and 1999, per capita alcohol consumption increased by a massive 41%.

  Those statistics are even more staggering when we compare them with our EU neighbours. Nine of the other EU member states have shown a decrease in alcohol consumption over the same period, while three countries showed a modest increase of just 5%. If we look back in ten years to view the present figures and see that they are not the height of the curve, we are in danger of a very serious problem. Binge drinking among young people has also been highlighted in international studies, particularly among people of 15 and 16. That is also an area of serious concern.

  I note that the Bill precedes another, much more comprehensive Bill now being prepared. The Minister intends it to reform and codify the entire liquor licensing laws of Ireland. While the major Bill now in preparation will in due course require lengthy debate, I hope that this Bill will be speedily enacted. Wisely, the Minister has sought to deal with a limited number of well-defined objectives which require immediate attention. Measures include the updating of provisions and penalties first fixed in 1872, amending and fine-tuning legislation of a more recent vintage, and innovative measures appropriate to modern social conditions.

  Having served as a member of a local authority for the past four years, I warmly welcome the Minister's proposals to allow them to set the boundaries of late-night licensed trading in their [891]areas. For the first time, the views of ordinary citizens in cities and towns across Ireland about what they will tolerate will be formally communicated, through their elected local representatives, to their local District Court. In some ways, that might address some of Senator Norris's concerns.

  I would like to deal in more detail with those provisions of the Bill which have caught my attention and a few aspects which the Minister might examine before Committee Stage. The provisions under sections 4 to 9 in Part 2 of the Bill largely update and improve the law regarding the sale or supply of drink to persons who are already drunk, offences committed by people who have become drunk, and the obligation of the licence-holder to keep an orderly house. All those provisions are welcome, and I have only two minor issues which I ask the Minister to examine. First, I wonder why the provision in section 18 of the Licensing Act 1872 entitling a licence-holder to turn out of the premises any person who is drunk has not been repeated or replicated in the provision of paragraph 4(1) of the Bill. I respectfully submit that, at the same time as requiring the licence-holder to refuse to admit any drunken person, there should be formal recognition of the licence-holder's right to remove from his or her premises any drunken person who has already gained admission and who has refused to comply with a lawful request to leave, subject, of course, to the limitation that only moderate or reasonable force be used in removing the drunken person from the premises.

  I appreciate that, under section 6(1), it will be an offence for a drunken person to refuse to leave the licensed premises when requested to do so, either by the licence-holder or the gardaí. However, I wonder whether it is fair and proper, having regard to the legal, practical and insurance issues which daily arise for publicans, hoteliers and their employees, to impose a statutory obligation on licence-holders to refuse to admit drunken persons and at the same time fail to recognise and uphold their right to remove those who have already entered the premises when observed to be drunk. Worse still are cases where people enter a premises having already been lawfully refused admission. Can the licence holder do no more than call the Garda?

  Section 9 is significant and welcome. It deals with the mandatory application of closure orders for licensed premises in the event of convictions under the new offences in the Bill of permitting drunkenness, disorderly conduct on licensed premises and irresponsible trading practices. These closure orders were first introduced in the 1988 Act and will now be extended to these additional serious offences, which is a welcome further measure in the fight against drink-induced anti-social behaviour.

  Sections 10 and 11 bring closing time back to 11.30 p.m. on Thursdays and permit local authorities to set the times for the late night licensing [892]trade. Those are sensible and practical moves which are also welcome. We need to use a leash method. We extended the hours and now we must review the situation, so a tug on the leash every now and then is no harm.

  The limitations and conditions now being imposed on District Courts for granting special exemption orders for the late night licensing trade is also welcome. Section 12, if enacted, should assist the Garda in the orderly clearance of late night dancing venues at a reasonable time, without spoiling the fun for anyone.

  The Minister referred to section 14 and said that he is open to other views on extending, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., the time at which those under 15 years must leave licensed premises. It should remain at 8 p.m., however, as that is a reasonable time for any child to leave. If we opted for Senator Norris's amendment, we would be obliged to introduce two identity cards – one for those over 18 and another for those over 15. There would be red and yellow cards, so perhaps we should stick to 8 p.m.

  The extension and clarification of what documents will be acceptable as proof of age in section 15 is also welcome. There is enough scope there for everyone to comply and it should serve young adults and licence holders well.

  Sections 13 and 16 clarify the existing exception of drinking in a private residence with parental consent. The Minister should reconsider this. The provisions of section 31(2) of the 1988 Act may be too wide and may encourage irresponsible parents and guardians, on one hand, while facilitating retrospective parental consent to avoid prosecution or conviction, on the other. There have been cases of under age persons ordering alcohol, from cider to spirits, and having it collected and delivered by taxi to a private residence as though ordering a pizza. This provision should be reworked so that, in the event of a prosecution, it would be open to a court to hold that the purchase for, supply to or consumption by a person under 18 years in a private residence would not be unlawful where there was explicit consent from that person's guardian and where the surrounding facts and circumstances were reasonable in the opinion of the court. In this event, the court could have regard to issues such as the quantity and type of alcohol purchased, supplied or consumed, the location and time of consumption and whether there was parental or adult supervision at the relevant time.

  Section 18 provides for gardaí not in uniform to enter, inspect and observe within licensed premises for the purpose of preventing or detecting offences under the licensing Acts. That should increase conviction rates.

  Section 19 provides for the transfer of jurisdiction in equality cases to the District Court and it contains adequate safeguards for those who would otherwise bring such cases to the equality tribunal. Every District Court decision in such cases shall be in writing and the court must give a reason for the decision made in providing for [893]the right of appeal from the District Court to the Circuit Court. Section 19 is the essence of practical good sense and removes an anomaly which has given rise to some unusual decisions in recent times. I commend the Minister for restoring common sense to both the licensing and equality laws in this regard.

  Sections 20 and 21 are new provisions in Irish law which respond quickly to a recent disturbing trend in drink retailing, namely, the promotion of a particular premises, product or brand by irresponsible special offers and discounts such as “all you can drink” challenges for a fixed sum admission price. We seem to be moving from happy hours to nightmare nights. These provisions refer to persons on a licensed premises consuming intoxicating liquor to an excessive extent, as referred to in section 21(1)(a). This may have to be extended to include persons likely to be attracted to licensed premises by promotion. In addition, since there is no statutory definition of what is excessive, it might be helpful to broaden the definition of what is unacceptable to include, for example, the consumption of intoxicants which, in the opinion of the court, is excessive, unreasonable or unhealthy.

  I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on his urgent action in dealing with matters of immediate public concern. I look forward to the early passage of the Bill into law as well as the promised major Bill dealing with licensing law promised for mid-2004. The Enlightenment philosopher John Locke once noted, that for laws to be effective they need to be written in men's hearts. The Minister's actions in bringing forward the Bill are compatible with that sentiment.

  Ms Tuffy: I thank the Minister for coming before the House and for his contribution.

  I am unhappy with the speed with which the Bill is being dealt with. We need time to review legislation of this nature in order to see what improvements we might suggest and for the Minister to consider those suggestions properly, rather than having to do so hastily. We should take Second Stage one week and deal with the subsequent Stages the following week.

  I welcome the changes made after the committee meeting last week, including those which took account of submissions by Labour Party Members. In general, rather than an interim measure, we should go straight for considered, comprehensive legislation, perhaps involving Green and White Papers. That is not to rule out urgent amendments or tidying provisions which could be made in the meantime – some of these are included here – but there are also many new provisions in the Bill. I agree with some of them and not with others, but they should not be brought forward in a piecemeal way. The matter should be dealt with comprehensively.

  There is also the enforcement of existing provisions. I am concerned about whether some of the new measures – such as the drunkenness provision – can be enforced. The most important [894]issue is under age drinking and enforcement is a fundamental aspect of this. Improvements, some of which are included in the Bill, can be made in this area.

  I raised at committee level concerns about children in pubs. I retain those concerns, despite the Minister's comments at last week's meeting. We must separate the issues of children in pubs and under age drinking because they are totally different. Some people do not like children in pubs, but I do not have that concern. It is very much a moralising thing for us to make judgments about parents who bring their children into pubs. I am concerned that this provision is possibly anti-family and anti-parents of a certain age who have children under a particular age. I do not agree with children being in pubs unaccompanied or running riot, but parents with children should be facilitated, as is currently the case, in pubs and hotels. I am not ruling out considering this issue, but it is wrong to bring this provision forward at this stage. I suggest that the Minister consider a later time, perhaps 10 p.m. rather than 9 p.m.

  I do not agree with the provision that the owner of a licence may set the age limit for their premises. That is an anomaly in the legislation. I am totally against under age drinking of alcohol, but there should be definite criteria and there should not be discretion or discrimination in respect of one adult versus another. At least the provision on ID card facilitates the implementation of rules on under age drinking, but the setting of an age limit by a licence holder is of no assistance in trying to ensure that we tackle under age drinking; it is very much based on allowing subjective judgments to be made by licence holders. The latter runs contrary to other parts of the legislation.

  The Minister has amended the provisions on drunkenness, but I continue to have concerns about whether they can be enforced and about the definition of a drunken person, although it would be difficult to come up with a better definition than the one contained in the legislation. The provision in regard to a publican who serves a drunken person is severe and there will be difficulties with it. The mandatory closure order is a severe penalty for a publican who is in breach of this legislation. Since it is mandatory, this penalty should not be imposed for a first offence. That is one change I suggest to the Minister.

  I welcome the fact that local authorities are being brought into the scheme of things, but this issue should be considered more comprehensively in terms of future legislation. I will not disagree with the provision about rolling back closing time on Thursdays, but the issue of closing time needs to be looked at in a much broader way. I am in favour of more flexibility and the Minister should consider introducing pilot schemes where longer or more flexible closing times are brought in. That is being done in other countries. I do not see how bringing closing time forward by half an hour or bringing it back by half an hour is the way to deal with the problem. We need to look [895]at this issue more comprehensively and in a more open-minded and modern way.

  Nightclub owners are concerned about the provision which prohibits entertainment for the last half hour of drinking time. Their concerns should be considered by the Minister.

  I wish to refer to the provisions in regard to the Equality Authority and the new jurisdiction for the District Court. I am concerned that these will create inconsistency and an anomaly in that other equality cases go to the equality tribunal, but these will not. Senator Norris raised concerns about these provisions and I agree with him in that regard. People might not be prepared to go to court, whereas they may be more inclined to go to the equality tribunal. The mediation function of the investigation officer of the tribunal will not be available in the District Court. Costs will now be a factor, but they were not in the case of the equality tribunal and that will be a deterrent in the bringing of cases. I appreciate the concerns about people abusing the equality legislation, but that matter is dealt with in the part of the legislation concerned with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The latter are different issues from that of equality. Although they might sometimes be confused, it is wrong to roll back the equality legislation as a way to deal with people who abuse facilities in public houses.

  If there is a lot of difficult legislation for licence holders and their staff to implement, there should be requirements in respect of training for those in the licensed trade regarding their legal and other responsibilities. There should be a provision whereby under 18s would not be allowed to serve in pubs. Under section 34(2)(d), it is acceptable for an under age person to be in a pub if they are employed in it. That provision should be reconsidered.

  There is also the issue of cutbacks in other areas. Funding needs to be provided by the Government for the implementation of the Youth Work Act and for other initiatives because much more needs to be done to encourage young people to engage in leisure activities other than drinking alcohol. Senator Norris and others mentioned incidents in which they have been involved. I went into the city centre recently and somebody tried to start a fight with the person accompanying me. We saw things in the city centre which put us off going in again. If there were more gardaí on the beat, I would have felt much happier in the city centre despite those incidents.

  I am in favour of strict legislation, particularly with regard to under age drinking, and its enforcement. Whatever legislation we introduce should not be reactionary. We should have a broader and more open-minded approach to alcohol abuse and under age drinking. After this debate, I will be attending an event for the Special Olympics because the area I represent on the council, Lucan, is a host town for the Irish team. There is a great feeling around Lucan at present and I know it is the same in other towns. [896]Many activities have been organised around the Special Olympics and they are all alcohol free. That is the type of thing which should be promoted in terms of trying to encourage people to have a different outlook, impressing on them that using one's leisure time is not only about getting drunk and that there are other ways to enjoy one's self.

  Mr. Kett: I welcome the Minister. I do not know who informed him recently that he was talking the talk, but not walking the walk. With five or six Bills in as many weeks, we are certainly running to keep up with him. I was surprised to hear some Opposition Members state that the Minister is moving too fast with the Bill. Since 1997, they have been seeking debates on this issue and for action to be taken. Now that action is being taken, we are being asked for papers to be produced which might delay the Bill for two or three years. Now is the time to deal with this problem because it is at its worst.

  The Bill tackles drunkenness, disorderly conduct and addresses under age binge drinking. The Minister consulted widely before bringing it before the House. He consulted the Commission on Liquor Licensing and the strategic task force and took on board all their recommendations. He also consulted the social partners. It is reasonable to state that he consulted wisely and has brought broad legislation before us.

  There is no doubt that we, as a nation, have lost the run of ourselves in respect of alcohol. Everything nowadays seems to revolve around drink. If there is a birth there is a booze-up, if there is a marriage there is another one and there is also one for a death. Every moment in between provides an occasion for drinking, in some capacity or other. I can recall in the place I work the general topic on a Monday morning between teenagers, 20 year olds, 30 year olds is how the weekend went and how much people had to drink, where they were and so forth. There is almost a prize-giving ceremony for the individual who consumed the most.

  I went to the Dublin-Laois match on Sunday. On the way home I dropped into my local to have something to eat. I came back there five hours later to see the same people there at 11 p.m., some of them falling into their drinks. Senator Jim Walsh referred to “the sin of leaving drink behind”. These people were spilling it, which to my mind is even worse.

  The publican at this local has a clearing up time for children of 7 p.m. The match was over at 5.40 p.m., so it was a rush for certain families to get there and have their meal and their few drinks. At 7 p.m. the publican was ordering all children off the premises. That was too soon, given the circumstances. Maybe 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. is reasonable.

  Young people have been targeted in a big way in relation to the new culture of drinking, with some justification. If we reflect on the “Prime Time” programme, which was referred to during [897]the debate on the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill – the young girl saying she was drinking 15 vodkas and Red Bull in any given night – I wonder who ordered the last five for her. I know if I drank ten of them, English would be my second language. That is apart from the damage such drinking was doing to the young girl.

  The 35 to 55 year olds are also answerable for poor conduct where drink is concerned. I refer in particular to drinking and driving. I grew up in an age where people could drink and drive to their heart's content, without fear of the law. Very many people – and I include myself – found it extremely difficult to give up the habit. These are often the very people to criticise the young generation who are terrific in that regard. I would probably still be at it if it were not for my children. Young people are far more responsible in that regard than we are.

  One of the issues that is overlooked completely, however, is the damage drink is doing to these young people and to their bodies. At their age they feel untouchable. Maybe sufficient has not been said in this regard by the medical profession. I am not sure it is their job to do so. It would not be any harm if a programme was initiated whereby people were made aware of some of the negative aspects of the excessive consumption of alcohol. Drinking on this level inevitably gives rise to violence and thuggery and the fact that people cannot go out at night to enjoy themselves without feeling insecure and unsafe and without the freedom to do what they want.

  Members spoke this morning on that very topic during the debate on the European Convention on Human Rights, and freedom was referred to as a human right. If one cannot go out and do whatever one wants on a given night, it is a poor reflection on us as a society and as a nation. There is now much greater awareness of this issue. A report on public order offences, commissioned by the National Crime Council and mentioned by the Minister when last he was in the House, noted that the number of public order offences proceeded against had gone up by 160% between 1996 and 2001. The most frequently invoked section was drunkenness in public areas and threatening and abusive behaviour. That in itself indicates there is a strong link between public disorder and drinking.

  I welcome the stronger penalties the Minister is introducing in relation to the sale and supply of alcohol. People who own licensed premises should be responsible for the behaviour of the people within them. They are making enough money. I also welcome the proposed ban on ‘happy hour' drinking and the promotional element of alcohol, although I believe the Minister has to get clarification on this from the European Commission. Allowing people to drink their heads off within a specified period obviously can give rise to excessive drinking. I would imagine the faster one drinks the quicker one gets drunk.

  I also welcome the powers the Minister is introducing for non-uniformed gardaí. It is surprising [898]that non-uniformed gardaí did not have the same powers as their uniformed colleagues. The provision for new closing hours, back to 11.30 p.m. on Thursday night, is also welcome, as is the initiative the Minister is giving to local authorities in relation to exemptions. That is a good thing. It gives local representatives who should have their finger on the pulse a better say in their communities.

  That could create a problem for someone like me as a councillor in Dublin if this is being widely invoked. If the position is as bad as Senator Norris has indicated, it would mean having to make representations on a daily if not an hourly basis. It is empowering local representatives to play a greater role, however, in making and shaping their communities, even though the Irish Nightclub Industry Association has problems with city councils and local authorities being involved. It fears it will mean an extra layer of bureaucracy. My own belief is that if people adhere to the law they should not have a problem, whether they are answering to a judge, local authority or otherwise.

  It is to be hoped the Bill passes through both Houses. The Minister is to be congratulated on the fine work he is doing.

  Mr. Feighan: I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill, although with some reservations. I believe it is being pushed through too fast. It would have been preferable if more time had been taken to research the Bill and examine some of its specific points. There are, however, aspects to the proposed legislation that should be welcomed.

  I am a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children which heard there has been a four-fold increase in the last five years in the number of women who were so drunk they could not remember if they had been sexually assaulted. Two years ago the VHI undertook a very effective poster campaign showing bottles and pints, with the caption: “Which one of these drinks can't be spiked? None of them”. For more than two years people were worried about a “date rape” drug, Rohypnol. It transpired from the research that not one woman's drink had been laced with Rohypnol. It was all alcohol. It ended the myth that the misuse of Rohypnol was prevalent in our society. Instead, it was alcohol poisoning and that is why this issue should be addressed.

  The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill going through the Dáil proposes to give the Garda Síochána the power to seek closure of badly run licensed premises and fast food outlets. While I accept that public houses should be closed and have a responsibility, those offending should also have a responsibility. We are proposing to close down public houses but, eventually, we may be closing down schools and football grounds because of the violent behaviour of those emerging from them.

[899]  There is a penalty points system associated with driving. Perhaps we should award penalty points against those shouting on the street late at night. The Garda Síochána has the power to fine on the spot but if someone emerges from a licensed premises and is abusive or threatening, it would be an idea to give him or her two penalty points. After receiving a certain number of points, he or she could be banned from drinking for a year. We are putting far too much emphasis on the licensed premises. Those entering them are also responsible for their actions.

  About five years ago I had a licensed premises and took a drink. A man came up to me and said he had had so many pints of cider one night that it made him rob cars. I turned to him and said I had drunk twice as much that night but that I went home quietly to my bedroom. Unfortunately, 95% to 99% of those who take a drink are being tarnished by the small percentage who constantly cause mayhem. It is time we put a stop to this.

  The Minister has stated a time will come when gardaí will operate hand-held video cameras and that if a licensee appears to be responsible for drunken people tottering out of his or her pub, he or she will face closure. Last week members of the Traveller community virtually laid siege to a pub in County Mayo, a point raised in the Seanad today. Last week most of the pubs and businesses in my town were closed for two days because of a funeral, as were most of the pubs in surrounding areas. Perhaps 30 or 40 gardaí – to whom I pay tribute – were present to make sure fights would not break out. If one is trying to run a business, it is not acceptable that one has to close for two days. In other towns pubs have had to close for two weeks in the one year because of the possibility of violence. This is unacceptable. We all have a responsibility in this regard.

  I welcome the fact that a licensee may permit a person aged 15 to 17 years to be present in a bar unaccompanied by a parent or guardian but not after 8 p.m. I ask that the Minister reconsider the time limit. He should not implement this measure now but wait six months. There is a difference between urban and rural areas. I despise the fact that there are many young people in pubs in urban areas. However, if this measure gets rid of the confirmation and communion discos, the Minister should reconsider. There are places, perhaps in rural areas, to which adults go for a drink and bring their 15 or 16 year old children. There should be a room adjacent to the pub with a pool table or television set in which the children can meet their friends while their parents are having a drink. Perhaps the Minister should consider a provision—

  Mr. M. McDowell: If it is in a separate room, it is no problem.


  Mr. Feighan: Unfortunately, the separate room is usually licensed, as is most of the building. Therefore, it can be very difficult to define—

  Mr. M. McDowell: Only the bar is covered by this.

  Mr. Feighan: Is the Minister able to—

  Mr. M. McDowell: A separate room with a pool table in a licensed premises is not covered.

  Mr. Feighan: That is welcome.

  We have the wrong system. When I had a bar and somebody asked me if I would buy a certain person a drink, I was very conscious that that person might have come out to have only two or three drinks and that he or she might have been driving. I thought it common courtesy to suggest to him or her that somebody wanted to buy him or her a drink and give him or her the opportunity to say, “No, thank you. I am driving.” I used to pass on this message to the person offering to buy the drink and state to him or her that his or her gesture was welcome. Not many publicans do this. It is not something for which we could legislate but could recommend that they do so. I am sick and tired of having pints thrown in front of me when I am driving. If one is dealing with a constituent, one is insulting him or her by not drinking a pint he or she purchases for one. As Senator Jim Walsh rightly stated, one is throwing money down the sink. I do not know how we can address this problem.

  The Bill contains many good provisions but I have a problem with section 21(1)(b), which deals with the responsibility of the off-licence to identify the products which will be sold on the premises. Will the Minister reconsider this proposal? It is not necessarily bad but impractical because the costs and labour involved in pricing an individual item are prohibitive and of no benefit. Will the Minister consider a provision whereby a judge could implement the aforementioned measure only where an off-licence has been prosecuted? In this case I would welcome it.

  People drink a lot now, as they did 20 years ago, but I have no doubt that a mixture of substances is being taken nowadays. I live over a shop and note that, 20 years ago, people coming out of licensed premises had a scream but the screams today are very sinister because those involved have taken substances other than alcohol. We must tackle this issue also.

  Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on responding so promptly to these issues. Over the past six to nine months the Opposition has been calling for this debate in respect of both the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill and the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. When this Bill was introduced, it was introduced too quickly—

  Mr. Feighan: I am actually making—

[901]  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his contribution. Allow Senator Ormonde to continue without interruption.

  Ms Ormonde: The Minister has said this is an interim measure. He will look at the issues the Senator is raising, and others, but to suggest that it should not be introduced just yet and that we should do more research—

  Mr. Feighan: I want to clarify what I said.

  An Cathaoirleach: No. Allow Senator Ormonde to continue without interruption.

  Ms Ormonde: I will deal with the matter quickly because I am losing time. The Bill is in response to public concern. I remember debates in the Seanad in recent months in which such concerns were expressed. The public asked for this Bill and wants the issue to be solved once and for all. How do we go about this? We started with the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, have addressed the issue of under age drinking very nicely and are now dealing with the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. There are pitfalls – nothing is absolute. That is the reason we are discussing the matter. We are now discussing licensed premises to see how they can help to curtail the problems of drunkenness, binge and under age drinking.

  One is taking one's life in one's hands going out at the weekend. I was going to a film in Temple Bar on Friday last at 6.30 p.m. and young people were sitting around with their packs of drink. I have no doubt they were there long that time. There were huge droves of young people almost liquored up at that time. I looked at them, knowing I would be contributing to this debate today. There is something wrong with our culture if we allow ourselves to go down this road. I ask the Minister to play tough on it and I am with him. There is no way other than the holistic approach. It will not be easy.

  I welcome sections 4 to 8, inclusive, which deal with drunkenness. The Minister will have no trouble handling that issue because we can all see the drunk in the pub. If we are in the pub, it is up to us to remind the barman of the legislation and that he should not sell him drink. We would have no difficulty in helping the barman or the worker. As citizens we have a role here. The blame should not be put totally on the publican. He has a major role to play and he may also have a crowded bar and may be trying to serve everybody. This is also a public relations exercise as the information must get got out to the public at large that the legislation has been introduced. One can now say to a barman that he cannot serve a drink to a particular person, that he can be removed. The Garda can come in, whether in uniform or not, and remove him. This is the way forward and it is a great protection for the public.

  I welcome also the provisions dealing with under age persons. I hate to see young people around pubs. If a young person is in the pub for [902]a long time before 8 p.m. that is at the discretion of the owner. I would tighten up that provision and say they should not be in the pub at all. If a culture is started between the ages of four to seven, it is inculcated. I invite the Minister to adopt a stronger approach on that aspect.

  I am opposed to the “happy hour” and the fixed charge because that is a reason for getting in and remaining in the pub for the night. At a fixed charge of, perhaps, €20 for the night, one is home and dry and one can drink all one wishes. I am pleased the Minister is about to tackle that problem.

  I have no difficulty with the closing time of 11.30 p.m. However, the Minister then referred to entertainment for the last half hour, before 11.30 p.m.

  Mr. M. McDowell: It was 2.30 a.m. After 11.30 p.m. there is a special exemption.

  Ms Ormonde: I thank the Minister for the clarification because I thought there was something odd about it. Section 11 deals with special exemption orders. The Bill provides that the duration of exemption orders will be determined by the local authority in consultation with the Garda and health interests. While the district justice will grant the licence, the local authority will determine the duration of special exemptions. That is rather clumsy. If there is an objection it goes back to the district justice. A role is being taken away from somebody and given to the local authority. That is not how it used to be. I wonder how it will work on the ground. I welcome the local authority having more power in that area because it will give them an opportunity to get involved and to be aware of it. I was trying to think it out and decided to float it. I am not convinced it is a good idea.

  I like the provision which deals with the production of evidence of age and I hope it will be implemented. That provision should be spelled out because there will be those of 25 and 26 years of age who may look 18 and they should be required to carry the evidence of age card. The Minister is doing his part well but it is a societal issue.

  Mr. M. McDowell: It is.

  Ms Ormonde: That is the bottom line. The question is how it will be implemented. The Department of Health and Children has a role in promoting health programmes as alternatives to alcohol-related activities. Wearing my other hat, I am not convinced that the social, personal and health education programme is working. I am not sure that what young people learn in the classroom and in the education world is transferred to the outside world. How do parents link in with that programme? The Department of Education and Science has a role and will have to be incorporated into our thinking.

[903]  There is also the problem of parenting supports. Often we are dealing with a dysfunctional fabric of society. Counselling is needed for those who may not be able to help the young people who are misusing alcohol. They may not be able to handle it and may have their own problems. A back up system is needed to assist them.

  The problem can start with students engaged in part-time work, which provides them with money. How can their leisure time be monitored? Those who employ young people have a responsibility. While this is not the Minister's area of responsibility it is all part of a bigger picture. The Minister has started and I welcome what has been done so far.

  I go back to what I said many months ago, that parents, irrespective of the age group of young people who may be aged from 15 up to 40, still have the guidance role for their children.

  Ms K. Walsh: Hear, hear.

  Ms Ormonde: They have to take full responsibility. Everybody knows his or her rights but with rights there are responsibilities. If all those points could be incorporated into a future Bill, perhaps under a separate agency and a separate Minister dealing with this area, the public would be pleased.

  I congratulate the Minister, who is responding well to this problem. I invite him to make it known to the public that this is where we are at. The bottom line is that we have a public relations exercise. I ask him to get after the sports clubs and the drinks industry in respect of advertising and glamourising the sale of drink and what it stands for. Let us get back to a society we all love. This is a beautiful little country. Do not let it go downhill.

  Mr. O'Toole: We should shoot them all and be finished with it.


  Mr. O'Toole: I feel suffocated by the unctuous moralising that has been all around me for the past two hours and I cannot handle it any more. I feel I should oppose every section of the Bill for all kinds of reasons. No more than the Minister, I would be considered to be a libertarian in many ways and I have much difficulty with what is contained in the Bill. I am aware of the reasons for it and I welcome the fact that the Minister is responding to many issues. I am not sure all the answers are in the Bill. There are some provisions with which I have no problem.

  This issue should not be driven by “Prime Time” television images which suit its particular tale. Young people are no worse today than when I was young a long time ago. I could tell stories about how we, as students, spent every penny we had on drink or whatever was the particular fun at the weekend. I could tell stories of those of us [904]who made poitín in Dublin flats and apartments. The world has not changed that much. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of hammering kids, blaming parents and so on. I will give the reason because there is an issue here.

  I listened very carefully to the Minister's speech and I agree there is a problem. The problem is much more in the demand area than in the supply area. This Bill deals with the supply area and that approach never works. It reminds me of the great idea which originated in Europe in the mid-1980s regarding how we might deal with the drugs problem, including cocaine – that we should convince the farmers of South America to grow carrots instead of coca plants on the basis that this would stop production. There will always be ways of getting a banned substance. If politicians have one thing in common, it is that we have ways around things. We know young people will always find a way around a constraint.

  Young people of today are far more responsible than my age group at their age. I have a difficulty with boundaries or limits which constrain human endeavour. I think of Parnell at the top of O'Connell Street – let no one stop the march of a nation. We get this reaction whenever one starts to impose limits.

  Mr. M. McDowell: At least he is still vertical.

  Mr. O'Toole: It is interesting that the point was made that SPHE, social, personal and health education, is not working. Some of us were blasted against the wall when we tried to have it introduced. Right wing elements of the churches stood in its way and are still blocking it to make sure it does not work and that people do not find out how they might run their lives.

  There are issues we should examine. I understand the point made about closure at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Publicans have not done their cause any good in this regard. It was and is always possible – there was nothing in previous legislation or the Equal Status Act – to stop people from refusing drink to somebody a licensee feels should not get drink, for honest reasons. I have not seen anybody charged for this.

  The Equality Authority worked within the law. I get worried when I hear legislators pass the blame. It is like blaming the Garda for the law which we made. Those involved in the courts and other authorities simply put it into effect. Whether the authority should or should not have done what it did, it was the law. We said one could not discriminate against a person under a certain age and the authority decided it must be tested. When it was, it went a particular way. I did not like the outcome either because it should be right and proper for a publican to say “No” in such situations. However, I do not want to blame the authority.

  I have no difficulty with the Minister getting legislation through the House quickly. It is the right thing to do. I am in favour of getting it through as quickly as possible and have no diffi[905]culty with dealing with something over a couple of days. I have no difficulty either with the “burden of proof” being “a reasonable apprehension”. However, I notice the Minister has used the terms “drunken”, “drunk” and “drunkenness” almost synonymously, which is probably wise but I ask him to consider two issues in regard to it. Perhaps it would be worthwhile bringing forward an amendment.

  The interpretation of “a reasonable apprehension that the person might endanger himself or herself or any other person” does not go far enough. A person could be utterly incapable, in the original definition of the words “drunk” and “incapable”. The word “incapable” is important. A person in charge of a bar might decide that a person is not doing any harm to anybody but he or she might be utterly incapable. I think that word could be usefully added to the definition. It could fit. We would then have the words “a reasonable apprehension that the person is incapable and might endanger himself or herself”. Will the Minister consider this?

  I do not understand the reason for the inclusion of the words “in the vicinity”. This bothers me. Why can we not say “that would give reasonable apprehension that the person is incapable and might endanger himself or herself or any other person“? We do not need to add the words “in the vicinity”. People could go home and endanger someone in the home. I do not suggest that we ask bar staff to make this judgment but the point is that we do not want this to provide a loophole.

  Section 4 refers to the drunken person. Like many arguments the Minister and I have had during the years, it is like arguing the ninth part of a hair on minor matters. The difference between section 4(1)(b) and 4(1)(c) is like a piece of calculus. It reminds me of something a guy said to me a long time ago about a car crash. He said, “You would go fierce close before you'd hit.” Section 4(1)(b) states a licensee shall not, on the licensed premises, “permit a drunken person to consume intoxicating liquor” while section 4(1)(c) contains the words “permit drunkenness to take place in the bar”. If we take the view that at a certain point somebody becomes drunk, what we are saying is that a person should not be given a drink at the point before which he or she becomes drunk. There is an inconsistency and it is not quite clear how this will work. It should be written in a different way.

  It is clear in section 4(4) that the prosecution could say that “it is a defence to prove that the licensee took reasonable steps to prevent the drunkenness concerned taking place.” That is better than section 4(1)(c) which is like a piece of calculus. What is the Minister's view, as a lawyer, of section 4(3) which goes close to damaging the principle of presumption of innocence? It does not quite do this but it is so close that it may have that outcome.

  It will not surprise the Minister to hear that the section which causes the greatest problem for me in this legislation is section 19 regarding equality [906]legislation. Somebody said to me earlier that the Minister was looking after his own union. Effectively, this hands the issue over to the legal profession. The equality employment tribunal made the procedure informal and allowed access. The idea of somebody setting up a court case is not on. The situation is bad enough in the tribunal. I saw a case recently where there were two senior counsel, one junior counsel and a couple of solicitors involved. That was never the intention.

  This section will provide for a case to be brought to court. I heard the Minister's reasons for this and do not have time to go through the whole issue. It is possible to provide for gradation. The Minister has said the Equality Authority can become involved in two ways and give resources. Can he clarify this? Does it include resources to have a person represented by a lawyer in court? He did not state this.

  A more important question is whether it will be possible to add an extra step in this section. Could it be said the case might go to the District Court, if necessary? Could a case start off with the authority and the party against whom the complaint is made have the option of saying whether he or she wishes the case to be taken in court? That might allow some balance. It is unfair to ask a Traveller who genuinely has no malicious intent, a gay person, a woman, a disabled person etc. to bring a case to the District Court. Is it possible to include an extra step in the legislation?

  Ms Feeney: I wish to share my time with Senator Kate Walsh.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Ms Feeney: I welcome the Minister and thank him for being with us all day. People describe particular arrangements as being “the best show in town” and this Bill is one of them. In it the Minister addresses the issues of drunkenness, disorder and under age drinking, which together give us the worst show in town. We must have measures such as those proposed by the Minister to combat this. However, the Minister is doing it through more than this Bill alone. He has recently brought a series of measures before the Houses such as the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill. When we debated that Bill in this House, similar issues were raised.

  I hear what the Opposition is saying about there not being enough time for this Bill. However, if we had gone into the summer recess, the Opposition would be screaming from the highest heaven as to how the Government could do such a thing. Therefore, the Minister's timing is apt. We must rush this legislation through for the good of all concerned.

  The Minister received a submission from the Irish Medical Organisation, as did I. It highlights areas which could be examined in regard to this legislation. For example, it calls on the Government to introduce measures to prohibit publicans [907]engaging in the practice of encouraging excessive drinking. The Minister has recognised this in his speech and it is reflected in this Bill, since section 20 prohibits the sale of liquor at a reduced price. In other words, “happy hours” will now be discouraged or not allowed at all.

  I urge the Minister to enforce the prohibition of the presence of small children in pubs after 8 p.m. Having listened to the debate, I am inclined to suggest that we be more flexible with regard to the time limit, especially during the summer and for children who are not so young. When I am out for lunch on Sunday afternoons, I often see very small children in pubs. However, there are other age groups of children who play outside in the grounds of pubs and hotels. Perhaps we could examine this matter further, since we do not want to be spoilsports.

  When the Minister was before the House last month, he commended Senator Quinn for putting responsibility back on individuals. I am glad this Bill provides for the onus to be returned to the individual. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol and is asked to leave one pub should not seek to gain entry to another and, if they do so, it is an offence. I congratulate the Minister on this provision which puts the ball back in the individual's court. If I remember correctly, an Opposition Senator said that the Minister was putting too much onus on fast food outlet owners and pub licensees. However, he is now sharing this responsibility, for which I congratulate him.

  I am confused about the provision regarding the presence of 15 to 17 year olds in pubs. What will happen in a nightclub context in that regard? Senator Jim Walsh said drinking-up time is for doing just that and that dancing is dangerous at that stage of the night. However, as a mother of four children, I would rather my children danced during drinking-up time rather than stand knocking back as much drink as possible. Perhaps it is a female thing, but people are better off dancing. Women are softer and can encourage the men away from the bar. In any case, dancing is far more enjoyable than drinking.

  The Minister said there would be a broad review of the licensing laws next year. In that context, I ask him to examine nightclubs, rather than prevent dancing during drinking up time. Surely there is an onus on the licensee to provide food where there are bar extensions. I urge a return to the chicken and chips in a basket.

  I am glad to see that the Special Olympics is alcohol-free. I am a volunteer for the event and our orders include abstinence from alcohol or substance abuse. If they can do it, we all can. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill.

  Ms O'Rourke: On a point of order, there have been calls from some Members to extend this debate until 6.15 p.m. Therefore, if it is agreeable to the Minister, I propose that he be called to reply at 6.05 p.m.; that Second Stage conclude at [908]6.15 p.m.; and that Private Members' Business conclude at 8.15 p.m.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Ms K. Walsh: I thank Senator Feeney. I wish to share some time with my better half, Senator Maurice Hayes.

  Ms O'Rourke: The Senator has plenty of time.

  An Cathaoirleach: Would Senator Hayes prefer to wait for more time after Senator Walsh?

  Dr. M. Hayes: If that is satisfactory.

  Ms K. Walsh: I wish to praise my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for having the courage to bring forward this legislation. For many years, successive Ministers have vowed to tackle the problem of excessive under age drinking and failed, either because the measures enacted did not go far enough or were watered down at the behest of certain powerful interest groups. Upon taking office, the Minister pledged himself to tackle the problems and is doing so.

  It is ironic that he was lambasted in certain quarters of the media at the beginning of the year for failing to take action and then sharply criticised when he announced his proposals for allegedly trying to censor the nation's fun. The old adage that there is no pleasing some people is no more true than in this case. The criticism that, by trying to curb the excesses of alcohol abuse, the Minister is somehow trying to stop the nation having a good time, is an important one because it demonstrates an underlying weakness in society – that we associate alcohol with fun and enjoyment.

  Enjoying a drink is seen as the norm but those who do not drink are almost regarded with suspicion. Family occasions, from birthdays to weddings, christenings to funerals, all revolve around lots of alcohol. If teenagers do not drink, they are not regarded as being part of the crowd.

  Some of the debate in the Oireachtas in recent months appeared to treat the problem of alcohol abuse as relatively new – something that appeared alongside mobile phones and the Celtic tiger. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that drunkenness and the misuse of alcohol by young people are new. Our culture has always been tainted by its close, cosy relationship with alcohol.

  What is different now is that young people have more disposable income and there is a raft of new products with a high alcohol content available, especially targeted at youngsters. It is also the case that young people do not seem to have any difficulty getting their hands on such products. Now more than ever, the pressure seems to be on young people to be part of the crowd. This is the reason so many of them have their first drink, as I have discovered from young constituents of mine in north Kildare. They tell me it is [909]not cool to say one does not drink. Their peers expect them to be part of that gang, which involves drinking copious amounts of alcohol. It is difficult to outlaw or legislate against peer pressure. However, we can prevent teenagers' excessive use of alcohol, which is why this Bill is so important. It aims to make it more difficult for teenagers to get served and offers greater punishments to those who serve them.

  The sad fact is that teenagers want to drink and get drunk. They see their parents, relatives and friends doing so. Tackling our attitude to alcohol and our own tolerance of a drink culture is a societal problem. The Government cannot force a change in attitude. However, as with the example of the successful penalty points system, deterrents and punishments can be put in place which may help to foster a change.

  One of the main provisions of the Bill is a bid to tackle drunkenness and excessive or binge drinking. The Bill includes revised provisions, including stronger penalties, in regard to the sale and supply of alcohol to drunk people and drunkenness in licensed premises, which I applaud. For far too long, we have tolerated drunkenness from a cultural and legal perspective. If publicans are prohibited from serving drunk people with alcohol, perhaps as a nation, we will begin to question the acceptability of getting drunk.

  Critics have often pointed to the situation in European countries, where French, Spanish or Italian teenagers would look aghast at one of their peers if he or she was drunk. Why do we not ask why that is not happening in Ireland? It is not the case in Ireland because teenagers see drunken adults falling in and out of pubs and clubs. As, clearly, adults see nothing wrong with it, why should young people? If people are no longer to be allowed drink in pubs when drunk, the mask of acceptability might slip. If we can change the behaviour of adults, we might perhaps change the behaviour of young people. It is unfair to criticise teenagers for drinking when we fail to show leadership or a proper example.

  Opposition Deputies and certain interest groups have been quick to criticise the Minister and argued that these provisions are naive, that it is impossible to stop people from getting drunk and for publicans to determine who is drunk. I thank the Minister for defying the critics and taking the initiative.

  Mr. U. Burke: I wish to share my time with Senator Ryan.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Mr. U. Burke: I warmly welcome the Bill and have no difficulty with the speed with which it has been introduced if its provisions will help in some way to reduce the abuse of alcohol, regardless of who is at fault. The sooner it is implemented the better. However, many aspects will be very difficult to implement because the Garda will be relied upon to enforce it. Good will goes out the [910]door in situations of alcohol abuse. When the Minister backs up the Bill's provisions with a commitment to provide for an increased Garda presence on the ground, we will see a change in the country's attitude to the abuse of alcohol which costs the Exchequer €2.4 billion per annum, which amounts to €600 for every man, woman and child. Figures like this provide a perspective on the problem. I welcome anything the Minister can do to reduce this cost as speedily as possible.

  The Minister has indicated that members of the Garda Síochána will have hand-held videos at their disposal and that where it appears that licensees are responsible for people exiting their premises in a state of intoxication, they will be held responsible and face closure of their premises. That is welcome, yet many towns and villages do not have access to a member of the Garda Síochána from 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. Recently, in the west, three 999 calls by a publican who wanted help in an urgent matter were not responded to. While I recognise the Minister's difficulties and will support any measure he introduces to bring about change, the deployment of Garda forces must be quickly addressed.

  The Minister has suggested that there be a proliferation of café outlets from which drink may be served. That would be a recipe for disaster. If it is not possible to monitor sufficiently well the current outlets, how can additional premises be monitored? There is no point in pursuing the continental model referred to by the Minister until there is a sea change in the attitude to drink and its attendant difficulties.

  Section 11 is a cause of concern in terms of local authority input on the question of exemptions. The number of exemptions constitutes a scourge. While we all benefit from them when we want to organise public or private functions, they have proliferated. It is necessary to more closely define what is meant by a special occasion. Even the Judiciary will see a reason for granting rather than refusing them.

  All Senators received submissions from nightclub owners who want to extend closing hours to 4 a.m. Their reasons for this proposal do not stand up to scrutiny. I hope the Minister will not differentiate in this area. All licensees, including publicans and nightclub owners, must play on an even pitch. The suggestion of staggering closing times is no justification for extending closing times of nightclubs.

  Mr. Ryan: There are many aspects of the Bill with which I have no difficulty because many of them are concerned with making the present law enforceable and, therefore, worth implementing. It came as a shock to us all to discover that a garda out of uniform could not observe activities in a pub to see whether people under age were being served. It was also a shock for me to discover how difficult it was to persuade the Garda that certain pubs were serving people under age. I made a speech in the House late one Thursday [911]afternoon, which featured in “Oireachtas Report” at midnight. I said my 17 year old daughter had told me she would not dream of attending a nightclub in Cork because it was full of junior certificate students. I said I assumed that the members of the Garda Síochána who also had teenage children knew the same thing. At 8.55 a.m. the following morning I got a telephone call from a senior member of the force who told me I was giving out about the Garda. I was not. I was giving out about the lack of enforcement of the law and assumed the Garda knew what I knew. The club in question, with other nightclubs in the area, was raided the following Saturday and subsequently closed. My children never forgave me because they said it became impossible for under age teenagers to attend nightclubs.

  When my 23 year old daughter was 16 years of age, she told me of another nightclub serving people under age. It has now been closed for a month but I knew for seven years that it was a well known location for serving teenagers under age. Anybody with teenage children who talks to them could provide any member of the Garda Síochána with a list of the premises concerned, which varies from time to time. There is an enforcement issue, separate from Senator Ulick Burke's concern about resources. I know the Garda Síochána is under pressure and probably has a list of priorities. However, if it rigorously and consistently enforces the law on under age drinking, it will begin to deal with a number of the other problems in this area, especially if we, as legislators, support this approach.

  Like other Members, I have been asked to sign a pledge to undertake that I will not be photographed in public with a drink in my hand. That is an invitation to the tabloid press to catch us out. I do not have to remind the Minister of the problems associated with attending bars under various circumstances. I have refused to sign the pledge because it is ridiculous. I will not be caught with a sucker punch because I happen to have a glass in my hand when somebody takes a photograph.

  I am not madly keen on the prohibition on children. I spend as much of my summer as I can in the Corca Dhuibhne gaeltacht and for most of those who holiday in the area there is nowhere to go but the public house after 8 p.m. The only other places available are enormously expensive restaurants. The place where everybody on a camping site or in a holiday home goes at night if they want to stay out after 8 p.m. or until 11 p.m. is the pub. I can see what is involved and I can understand what the Minister must consider, but we should think this measure through. I am one of those who agrees with the Minister's willingness to be flexible on the 9 p.m. limit. As he said, the time varies.

  I wish to make a suggestion which does not apply to this Bill, but is relevant. Everybody who ends up being collected off the street by the Garda or an ambulance to be brought to a [912]hospital to sober up should pay the entire economic cost of the process. It is an affront to have the health service pay for that in the case of people who can afford to get themselves blind drunk on a Saturday night. We should be prepared to discuss sequestering their salaries or their wages to pay the real costs they incur. I have got extremely drunk in my day but I never set out to get intoxicated. I am disturbed by the increasing tendency of a section of our young people to go out and get so drunk that the following day their boast is that they cannot remember what they did. How one can possibly enjoy oneself when the condition required to do so means one cannot remember what one did is a mystery to me. There is a cultural issue involved which goes beyond the law of the land and which we, as opinion formers and law makers in society, must address.

  There are aspects of the Bill about which I am not madly keen. I have a question about the “happy hour” provisions which are a little prescriptive. Many of my students will take great exception to the legislation as they enjoy the “happy hour” which many of the student orientated pubs in Cork provide.

  On the issue of young people, I agree to a degree with Senator O'Toole. Our young people are not that bad, but they have more money and fewer inhibitions than was the case before. I have seen no sign of excessive drinking harming them in the short term, but the scale of the drinking most of them indulge in will, by their late 20s and early 30s, do them serious physical harm and hurt society. We have a certain obligation in this regard.

  As I have said over and over again in this House, the matter comes down to enforcement. One of the most fundamental laws in our society is that no person under the age of 18 should have an easy way to get their hands on alcoholic drink. It is an adult pleasure which should be restricted to adults and we must ensure that distinction is made clearer and clearer.

  Dr. M. Hayes: With the permission of the House I wish to share my time with Senator Henry.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Dr. M. Hayes: I am grateful to Senator Feeney for her attempt to share time with me earlier. It would be unchivalrous to suggest that it become a test of sobriety that one knows what fellow Senators are doing.

  I commend the Bill to the House and I thank the Minister for bringing it forward at this time. He is only too well aware, as other Senators have said, that there are deep cultural issues involved in this matter. It is important to see this legislation as only one of a series of instruments which we need to use. It is important also not to give the impression that we are dumping on young people who are only doing what we teach them [913]to aspire to do. It is the adults in society who set the cultural norms. Theirs is the cycle we must break. There is not a great deal of logic in talking about introducing continental mores to Ireland while that culture remains.

  I grew up in a public house and I probably kept within the bounds of the law. I am only too well aware of a number of the issues the Minister raised. To echo a point made by Senator Ulick Burke, enormous responsibility is put on the licensee, which is proper, but that licensee is then entitled to be assured of the support of the Garda. Some of the cases which arise will be very difficult for licensees to deal with. Given the ubiquity of hand-held video, I wonder if it is possible to encourage pubs to install closed circuit television and to use the evidence from it.

  I would also like to see a slightly more relaxed attitude to children. I understand what we are trying to do, but within the Minister's proposal there is the germ of a possibility of making parts of a premises family friendly. I am glad to see the Minister has defined the “bar” and the place where alcohol is openly on sale. The more he can do to ensure that children can come to the pub to be with their parents in the evening, particularly in country areas and holiday towns, the better. Publicans should be encouraged to provide pool rooms away from the point of sale.

  I ask the Minister to consider the matter of the 100 metre limit which seems to be fraught with difficulty. We all remember what used to be called “bona fide houses”. If one could travel three miles, one could become a bona fide drinker in a ring of pubs. One could see a series of places being established 101 metres from an outlet. Will the Minister consider what has been done in the North where a local authority can declare parts of its area to be places in which it is not permissible to drink publicly? The measure has been quite effective. I commend the general thrust of the Bill and I wish the Minister well with it.

  Debate adjourned.