The Department of Justice has launched an open public consultation on alcohol licensing reform. The link is
and it's open until 21st January.
What should be on Beoir's shopping list? An end to the surrender principle so we have pubs where people need them, for one. An end to discrimination between wine, beer and spirits licensing, for another. I'm inclined to put in a request to end prohibition on Christmas Day. Anything else?
Is it weird that we have opening hours specified at all? If you want to have a drink at 6am, with minimal forward planning the pub being closed isn't going to stop you. Maybe this should be governed locally rather than nationally?
Good point, there were always local exceptions anyway, the "early houses" on the quays where the dockers waited to be signed on a ship.
Certainly in Waterford the early houses have all disappeared, peoples drinking habits have changed I suppose
Jordans that was the best known of them opens early only once a year for "Booze, Blaas and Banter" as part of the Imagine Arts Festival
The submission is done. Here's what was in the questionnaire, and what I answered: Licensing application systems
At present some alcohol licensing applications are made to the District Court, while others are made to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court is involved in the majority of new applications. There is a proposal to streamline court involvement so that all court licensing matters (in relation to alcohol) are entrusted to the District Court.
What are your views on the existing licensing system?
The system is overly complex and presents an unnecessary barrier to entry for the market. It should be simplified.
Do you think that all licensing matters should be dealt with by the District Court?
Yes, this would simplify matters and reduce costs.
How can the alcohol licensing application process be improved?
We feel very strongly that the surrender principle/extinguishment requirement should be abandoned. It is a huge barrier to entry and distorts the on-trade in particular, discouraging the set-up of small community pubs while incentivising the closure of existing pubs so their licences can be transferred.
Are there related improvements which you would like to suggest with regard to the alcohol licensing application process?
A simplification of categories. There is no need for beer and spirits to require different licences to wine. Alcohol is alcohol. The implication that beer in particular requires a tighter degree of regulation is discriminatory toward beer drinkers.
Categories of licence
There are many different types of alcohol licences available in Ireland; the variety of alcohol licences that a venue or premises selling alcohol can have is quite broad. It is intended to streamline and re-categorise the types of alcohol licences available to establishments to ensure a more straightforward, open and coherent process while still ensuring that the sale of alcohol can continue to be controlled appropriately.
What categories of licences would you like to see in operation?
Retail: a single on-licence and a single off-licence covering all alcohol retail sales.
Wholesale: a single wholesaler's licence covering all alcohol wholesale sales.
Manufacturer: maintaining the current manufacturer's licences, with the exception of the Producer's Retail On-Licence which would be unnecessary if the general retail on-licence was easier for manufacturers to acquire.
Is there a need for streamlining? If yes, when, what and where would you streamline?
Yes. There is an inherent discrimination in the existing system, whereby wine is treated as an essential ancillary product with food, whereas beer retailers are controlled more strictly. This is anachronistic, harmful to the artisan beer industry, and anti-consumer. All types of alcohol should be treated equally under the new licensing regime.
How could alcohol licences improve the cultural offerings available throughout the country?
Flexibility is key. The protectionist barriers put in place by the current system make it very difficult for events to be licensed, which can sometimes mean they don't happen at all. In particular, Ireland's excellent food and drink offerings are a core part of its culture and there should be more events which promote it. Making temporary licences easier to obtain will help this.
Ireland, in common with many other jurisdictions, has traditionally implemented its alcohol licensing requirements with due cognisance given to public health concerns (such as the proven adverse health effects of over-consumption of alcohol, the need to restrict the availability of alcohol to under 18s, public order and public safety, etc.).
In your opinion, how best can a public health approach inform the reform of alcohol licensing laws?
The current system, based on the surrender principle and high barriers to entry, creates an industry where large floor-spaces and high-volume drinking are necessary to cover the costs of buying a licence. Small pubs and specialist drinks outlets (including at the place of production) are uneconomical to set up, mainly due to the licensing system. Beoir believes that a more diverse drinks trade, with an emphasis on quality over quantity, will lead to a healthier, more continental approach to alcohol. Making this change must begin with the liberalisation of licensing and the end of the surrender principle.
Nightclubs, late bars and Special Exemption Orders
Nightclubs and late bars operate on the basis of special exemption orders which are obtained from the District Court for premises to which an on-licence is attached. Such special exemption orders were originally intended for when a “special occasion” is taking place on the premises. However, in practice, a special exemption order is required for each and every late night opening. A special exemption order expires at 2.30 a.m. (1.00 a.m. where it extends to a Monday that is not a public holiday) unless the District Court, for stated reasons, grants the order for a shorter period. The cost of a special exemption order is €410 (i.e. €300 court fee and €110 excise duty).
What are your thoughts on this system (i.e. Special Exemption Orders)?
It is anachronistic and completely at odds with modern life, especially in cities.
What changes, if any, would you like to see made in this regard?
If the State intends to continue to set opening hours, it should be applied to all premises equally, and reflect modern patterns of socialisation.
Under current licensing law, a licence permits the sale of alcohol during the following hours:
- Monday to Thursday: 10.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.
- Friday and Saturday: 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 a.m. on the following day
- Sunday: 12.30 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.
(Drinking-up time of up to 30 minutes after normal closing hours is permitted.)
Do you think the current permitted hours for licensed premises are appropriate?
What changes, if any, would you make? Please explain why.
The State should not have a role in controlling when citizens can buy alcohol. Opening hours are based on an outmoded view of society, and are intrinsically arbitrary. The many exemptions to the main rules, such as Special Exemption Orders, "early houses", residents' bars, airport bars etc show how inconsistent and arbitrary the rules are. There is room for enormous simplification here, beginning with the question of whether it is appropriate for the State to dictate which hours and on which days alcohol can be sold.
A notable aspect of the current licensing system is the requirement that an existing public house licence must be extinguished in order that a new public house licence or full off-licence may be granted
Do you think the current law regarding the extinguishment requirement is appropriate?
Would you like to see this mechanism retained?
Are there any changes you would like to see made to this requirement? Please explain why.
There are many international examples of how modern licensing can work. The fundamental principle should be that if a citizen wishes to sell alcohol in a particular premises, the licensing decision should be based on matters such as planning, their fitness to operate etc. It should not depend on whether they can obtain an existing licence from the market. It is completely inappropriate that a State-issued licence can be traded as a commodity. The surrender principle encourages large pubs, poor choice of products, and incentivises licence-holders to close their premises and sell the licence, eg for hotels and supermarkets. The net result is that we no longer have pubs where the community needs them, and we're limited in the types of premises we have, and the types of product they sell. The extinguishment requirement is the root cause of the problems in Irish licensing from the consumers' point of view. It serves no purpose other than to enrich current licence-holders.
There is no dedicated licence for online sales or the delivery of alcohol but licensees of licensed premises may engage in such sales subject to certain conditions.
Do you think this current legislative/licensing system is appropriate? What, if any, changes would you make?
We see no fundamental difference in whether off-sales are done online or in person. The retailer has the same responsibilities in either case. Therefore it makes sense for a standard off-licence to be necessary for online sales, and there is no need for a new class of online-only licence. One change we would make is to remove the arbitrary distinction between wholesale and retail trade based on the volume sold per transaction. Currently a producer may sell to the public, but only in quantities greater than c.20 litres. This distinction is anachronistic and serves no purpose: a general off-licence should be built in to a manufacturer's licence.
Is there anything else you would like to say, or which you feel is important to highlight? (If you are answering on behalf of an organisation, please indicate which one.)
We (Beoir) draw the Department's attention to the article by David McWilliams published in The Irish Times on December 18th 2021 which we regard as an excellent and succinct summary of the problems in the current licensing system and how they might be resolved: www.irishtimes.com/opinion/david-mcwilli...me-economy-1.4757117
My own submission was broadly in line with yours, although we're at polar opposites on the second question about the district court! They were obviously leading with the way the question was asked, but anyway I indicated that licensing should be taken totally out of the courts and be made the remit of local authorities.
It will be curious to see how watered down the reforms, or even if there are any meaningful ones. As McWilliams indicated the taxi licensing was totally reformed, but what he didn't mention is that an awful lot of TDs hold their "clinics" in pubs (Covid excepted), so lots of publicans have direct access to the ears of law makers. Something taxi drivers never had.