On October 25, 2022, the Republic of Ireland’s Justice Minister Helen Mentee received permission to start the process of drafting the Sale of Alcohol Bill. This bill aims to replace about 100 laws that govern the sale of alcohol products in Ireland.
However, people and communities are concerned that Minister Mentee has decided to worsen existing alcohol availability regulations and to make alcohol more widely available across Ireland.
The proposed measures include:
- Allowing supermarkets and off-licenses (such as liquor stores) to sell alcohol from 10:30 AM on Sunday.
- Currently, supermarkets and off-licenses are allowed to sell alcohol from 10:30 AM – 10:00 PM from Monday to Saturday and from 12:30 PM – 10:00 PM on Sunday. The proposed change extends alcohol sales hours on Sunday by 2 hours. This would bring alcohol sale hours in supermarkets and off-licenses to 10:30 AM – 10:00 PM on all seven days of the week.
- Allowing pubs to serve alcohol till 12:30 AM every night of the week.
- Currently, pubs have to stop serving alcohol at 11.30 PM from Monday to Thursday, extending to 12.30 AM on Friday and Saturday and reducing it to 11:00 PM on Sunday. The proposed change extends alcohol sales hours in pubs by 1 hour per day from Monday to Thursday and 1 and a half on Sundays.
- Opening hours for late bars will stay the same till 2:30 AM. A new late-bar permit will be required to keep serving alcohol later than regular pubs.
- The proposed change would make it easier for bars to stay open till late by introducing a single annual late license replacing a system of special exemption orders currently needed on every occasion a venue plans to open past ordinary hours. Opening hours for night clubs to be extended till 6:00 AM. Last orders at 5:00 AM.
- No change to existing opening hours on Christmas Day when all pubs and nightclubs are required to close.
- New conditions for operating a late bar or nightclub will include a requirement to have CCTV on the premises and security staff properly accredited with the Private Security Authority.
- A new system of permits for late bars and nightclubs will be introduced as part of the reforms.
- Local residents and councilors will be able to object to late opening hours for pubs, bars, and nightclubs.
- The current licensing system will be maintained with licenses only granted by the courts and objections allowed from fire authorities, local authorities, the HSE, An Garda Síochána, and local communities.
- Expanding the grounds under which the renewal of a license can be objected to including, if a premises has not operated in a manner that protects staff, patrons, and performers from harassment and sexual harassment, including the “spiking” of drinks.
- The list of those who can oppose a license being issued or renewed has been extended to include local authority representatives and any person with a “substantial or bona fide interest” in the matter and is resident in the neighborhood and the local fire authority and gardaí.
Irish police warn extending opening hours for pubs and nightclubs will increase public disorder and put more pressure on the force
There has been no consultation with the police prior to proposing the changes to opening hours and licensing laws according to Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI). Therefore, the police are unaware of any details or what would be expected in terms of policing.
Already the police force is under pressure. A change in opening hours and licensing can increase public order incidents and further increase the pressure on the force.
If our members are dealing with these issues, where are they going to find the time to deal with policing night clubs?” questioned Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), as per The Irish Times.Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary, Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI)
Minister of Health ignores warnings from his own department about proposed law changes
A senior government source reports that a significant warning by the Department of Health was removed from the final memo on changing the alcohol laws.
The Department of Health is of the view the proposals in the Sale of Alcohol Bill, particularly those relating to extending opening hours and providing for the sale of alcohol as an amenity, will increase alcohol consumption, increase alcohol health harms and increase the pressure on our health services from illness and disease,” said the warning by the Department of Health which was excluded, as per Independent.ie.The Department of Health, Republic of Ireland
Officials of the Department of Health noted comments by the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy and to public health in relation to the legislation, stating that there is no public health justification.
The department wishes to make it clear that increasing the availability of alcohol leads to increases in consumption of alcohol, and there is and can be no public health justification for such measures,” added the warning by the Department of Health, which was excluded as per Independent.ie.The Department of Health, Republic of Ireland
It is the responsibility of the Minister of Health to objectively share the consequences on health caused by any laws and policies. But, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly excluded the warning from his department during the Cabinet debate on the topic. Instead of warning against extending opening hours and relaxing alcohol licensing laws, the Health Minister praised the measures in the Sale of Alcohol Bill.
Minister Donnelly’s attitude is clear from what his spokesperson said about this important information from the Department of Health being excluded by the Minister of Health.
The department does not bring observations to Cabinet. The minister does,” said a spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, ad per Independent.ie.Spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Justice Minister said that Minister Mentee is clear that alcohol sales cannot be treated as the same as other goods and that she understood that public health needed to be prioritized. However, the Justice Minister’s actions say otherwise.
The measures proposed by the Justice Minister will increase the availability of alcohol in Ireland. Increased availability leads to more alcohol consumption and therefore more harm caused by alcohol products to people, families, and communities.
The increasing availability of alcohol clearly goes against the recommendations of the World Health Organization in the Global Alcohol Strategy and the new Global Alcohol Action Plan – both of which were endorsed by Ireland. It also goes against the goal of decreasing alcohol consumption by 20% which the Irish government plans to achieve.
Increasing alcohol availability may threaten the effective implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland (2018)
If alcohol availability is increased as proposed by the Justice Minister, it can threaten the maximum potential benefit for communities that can be achieved through the Public Health (Alcohol) Act of 2018.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was adopted into law in 2018 in the Republic of Ireland. The government has taken a stage-wise approach and is making steady progress in implementing the different provisions of the Act.
- In 2019, several improvements regarding alcohol marketing rules stipulated by the Act came into force, including bans on advertising in public transport, 200 meters from a school, creche, or local authority playground, in cinemas except for films that are classified as over 18 and on children’s clothing.
- In November 2020, section 22 of the Act came into force which saw the separation of alcohol in specified licensed premises.
- The introduction of this regulation is part of a process to de-normalize alcohol as an ordinary grocery product.
- On January 11, 2021 section 23 of the Act came into force.
- This meant the implementation of measures to de-normalize alcohol in Irish society by banning multi-buy deals, short-term price promotions and loyalty points for alcohol products.
- On November 12, 2021 section 15 which prohibits alcohol advertising in the sports area and section 16 which prohibits alcohol sponsorship came into force.
- On January 4, 2022, section 11 which is the minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy came into effect.
In June, 2022 the Irish government also initiated the process to place health warning labels on all alcohol products (Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018). Once implemented, all alcohol products will include three warnings including that alcohol causes liver disease, is a risk to the fetus during pregnancy, and that alcohol causes fatal cancers.
Availability, affordability, and marketing are key drivers of alcohol use and harm. A comprehensive package of policy solutions targeting all these aspects, such as the WHO-recommended SAFER package works best to effectively protect people and communities from alcohol harm. Increasing the availability of alcohol as proposed by the Justice Minister threatens the progress achieved by the Public Health (Alcohol) Act and the future effectiveness of the Act.
Independent.ie: “Alcohol sales allowed from 10.30am on Sundays and pubs able to serve until 12.30am every night under new rules“
The Irish Times: “Gardaí concerned 6am nightclub closing will put further pressure on force“
Independent.ie: “Stephen Donnelly did not share warning from his officials on dire impact new pub laws will have on health services“