Ireland has developed considerably since the Intoxicating Liquor Act was passed into law in 1927, particularly with regards to economic and social aspects.
The tourism sector has grown significantly, making a greater contribution to the economy, while the Irish population has become more diverse and less inclined to practice religion. These developments merit the re-examination of the current Good Friday rules.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, which proposes to permit the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday, addresses these changes.
Furthermore, this piece of legislation will facilitate the continued growth of Ireland in terms of tourism, the economy and social diversity.
Although the Government does not oppose this Bill, there are a number of issues with the Bill, which I will address shortly.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 proposes to amend section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927. This amendment will remove restrictions on sales of intoxicating liquor on Good Friday.
Furthermore, amending section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 would permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in off-licences and public houses.
However, the Licencing Acts and Registration of Clubs Act make the regulatory environment considerably complex, and this must be considered when debating the proposed Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017.
As a result of these complexities, there are a number of issues with the current proposed legislation that must be addressed.
Firstly, with regards to removing restrictions on sales during Good Friday, the licensing code is considerably complex. Passing this Bill without addressing the licensing code would create further inconsistencies and unfair trading conditions for certain premises.
Secondly, the Bill proposes to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor in off-licences and public houses; however it would not remove the restriction in respect of restaurants operating under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988.
Excluding restaurants from the provisions of the Bill would in part defeat the purpose of Bill – to re-examine and update our current legislation to better match modern day Ireland, in particular with regards to tourism and the economy. Moreover, it would create unfair trading conditions.
Additionally, it would potentially discriminate against the sale of intoxicating liquor in public houses which happen to operate as restaurants under a special restaurant licence.
Furthermore, the details of the Bill with regards to hotels have yet to be clarified. In my view this is an important aspect of the Bill. Hotels are an integral part of our tourism sector and we need to produce legislation that will allow them to operate fairly and equally with other premises.
Thirdly, Section 56 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927 deals with prohibited hours in registered clubs which hold a certificate of registration from the District Court under the Registration of Clubs Acts.
In order to obtain registration, a club must incorporate requirements into its rules, including a rule which provides that intoxicating liquor shall not be supplied to members or guests on Good Friday.
In order to retain the current regulatory balance between registered clubs and licensed premises in relation to Good Friday, an appropriate amendment to the Registration of Clubs Acts would be required.
The Government has proposed in their legislative programme to bring forward a Sale of Alcohol Bill, which would repeal all the statutory provisions currently set out in the Licensing Acts and Registration of Clubs Act and replace them with updated provisions. Like the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, these updates will be better matched to Ireland’s contemporary social and economic environment.
Therefore, the Government is not opposed to the underlying principle behind the proposed Bill. However, there are a number of complex areas, which must be addressed with further legislative reform, such as the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill, to avoid unfair trading conditions and discrimination.