The Department of Justice held a livestream discussion with some of the stakeholders on this today.
The Department itself is saying the legislation will be published by year-end, which is heartening. This has been in development hell for so many years it will be great to finally see what they want to do. They gave no hints as yet on what that might be, however.
The representative from Give Us The Night was mostly concerned with fixing the lack of a late option since theatre licences were abolished. They're looking for late licences to run beyond 5am.
Alcohol Action Ireland suggested that there should be allowances for late dancing, and licensing for cultural events, but that they shouldn't allow drink to be sold. They didn't really have any specific points to make, other than the usual "there is too much booze, don't create more opportunities for people to drink it".
The VFI thinks that the current laws have served us well. They say there are enough licences so there's no need to liberalise the issuing of them and the surrender principle should remain. They requested that wholesale licences should permit sales only to retail licence holders.
The National Competitiveness and Productivity Council were the ones fighting our side. They said the surrender pricniple has distorted the market and that licences should not be traded. They recognised that the surrender principle creates a barrier to entry and is weighted in favour of big business. They said smaller pubs would be a result of liberalised licensing and this would be a healthier drinking environment, and also mentioned that the overall quality of the offer should be a condition in the licensing process, that it's something which was missed in the liberalisation of taxi licences.
Lastly, the LVA said there should only be three types of on-licence: pub, hotel and restaurant. Anyone who wants to sell on-trade alcohol other than to hotel residents or diners should be required to have a pub licence, so that would scupper the producers' retail on-licence, for one. A big problem is licensed clubs, some of which get government grants, but don't need a pub licence -- they want that abolished. They kept using the phrase "level playing field" to describe the pub status quo, though the NCPC pointed out that having to pay market price for a licence is the opposite of a level playing field. The LVA managed to hold the opinion that, at 6800, the number of existing pubs is too high and needs to be reduced (therefore no need to liberalise) while also saying how sad it is that pub numbers are declining, having been 10,000 in the late '70s. They said there is no consumer demand for new pub licences. Oddly also, he said that drinking in public spaces ought to be banned, presumably not noticing that it pretty much already is, and that this is an enforcement issue, not a legislative one.
Overall, I thought it went well. I got the impression that the Department genuinely wants to change things, though it did in McDowell's day too. The AAI, LVA and VFI said nothing that you wouldn't expect them to, and their motives were as clear as always. And the NCPC did a brilliant job of presenting an objective, disinterested and rational case for liberalisation in which there was nothing for us consumers to disagree with. Let's hope that gets listened to.
The General Scheme of the new bill was published today, setting out the government's intentions. I think it looks good overall: a major tidying up of types of licence and licensing procedures, and we'll get the sort of opening hours that normal countries have.
Most importantly they seem to have reached an arrangement with the pub lobby about the extinguishment requirement. It will be phased out over three years. Not perfect, but way better than nothing. It doesn't sound like there's much political resistance to it; the biggest enemy is probably the Oireachtas business schedule.
Pre-legislative scrutiny on the bill is happening before the Justice committee today at 3pm:
Representatives from Licensed Vintners Association
Representatives from Give Us the Night
Representatives from Vintners' Federation of Ireland
Representatives from Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland
Representatives from the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland
Officials from Dept. of Justice
Regarding the extinguishment requirement, it sets out what the various objections were, and it also says what the flaws in the objections are, though I don't recall anyone actually arguing this. It doesn't come to any conclusion on the issue, however, recommending only that "further evaluation" be conducted into the proposal. What that means or who is supposed to do it, I don't know. I'm feeling broadly positive that after the pub lobby and neo-prohibitionists had things mostly their own way in the meetings, the resulting report has a bit more balance to it.
Things are starting to move on this again. Reports are that the bill will now be two separate bills for some reason, and they're issuing a revised General Scheme, or Schemes, this month. There wasn't much detail, but while it did mention extended hours, there was no mention of extinguishment. I guess we'll find out soon if abolishing the requirement is still government policy, or if the pub lobby got to them.