Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 79 - Liquour licencing laws.[22646/12]

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 79 - Liquour licencing laws.[22646/12]. (08 May 2012)

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79. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the outcome of the consultation process on the sale of alcohol from retail outlets undertaken by his Department; if he has made any decision on this issue

Deputy Alan Shatter: I presume this question was not tabled from a European perspective. The public consultation process elicited a broad range of views on the display and sale of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores and similar mixed trading outlets. Looking to the future, there appear to be three main options. 

The first option is continuation of the existing voluntary code of practice. The current voluntary code of practice was agreed by the previous Government. A new body, Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland Limited or RRAI, was established by the mixed trading sector to oversee its implementation and Mr. Padraic White was appointed as its independent chairperson. Mr. White’s compliance report for 2011 shows levels of compliance which are broadly similar to those in previous years, with 95% for supermarkets and 79% for convenience stores. While the RRAI code has improved conditions for the display and sale of alcohol products in many mixed trading outlets, public health bodies and other licensed trade bodies have called in their submissions for commencement of section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.
The second option is to commence section 9 of the 2008 Act. Section 9 requires that the display and sale of alcohol is confined to an area that is separated from the rest of the premises by a wall or similar barrier; access to this part can only be gained from the rest of the premises through a door, gate, turnstile or similar means of access; and the only place that customers can pay for alcohol is at a counter or point of sale within this separated part of the premises. The only permitted alternative is to confine the display and sale of alcohol other than wine to a part of the premises to which the public does not have access, such as an area behind a counter. Implementation of section 9 would require alterations in the design and layout of premises. While large supermarkets could undoubtedly accommodate themselves to the new requirements without undue difficulty, small and medium sized outlets would inevitably encounter practical difficulties and face higher adaptation costs.
The third alternative is a statutory code of practice under section 17 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous) Provisions Act 2011, which we enacted last summer. Section 17 of the 2011 Act provides for statutory codes of practice. A breach of such a code will not of itself render a licensee liable to any civil or criminal proceedings but it provides a ground on which an objection may be lodged in the District Court to renewal of the licensee’s licence. Where an objection is lodged, the licensee will be faced with the inconvenience and cost of District Court proceedings prior to renewal of the licence.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
In conclusion, I can state that I am not in favour of retaining the current RRAI voluntary Code. The choice therefore lies between section 9 of the 2008 Act or a statutory code under section 17 of the 2011 Act. I expect to be in a position to seek Government approval for proposals regarding future arrangements in the coming weeks.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I commend Mr. White on the detailed report he has produced for RRAI. I agree with the Minister regarding section 9 of the 2008 Act and its impact on small and medium enterprises. However, certain companies can afford the changes required under the section and these companies are probably the cause of problems in this area. Has consideration been given to the segregation of section 9 according to size of retail premises?
Has the Minister entered discussions with the Minister for Health or the Chair of the Joint Committee on Health and Children in regard to the work that the committee and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, have been doing in the area of alcohol?
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, and I have held discussions on how we should proceed with regard to this area. While I join the Deputy in praising Mr. White for the work he is doing, I am not in favour of retaining the current voluntary code. We need to do better than that. The choice therefore lies between section 9 or some variant of it, as the Deputy is suggesting, or the statutory code under section 17 of the 2011 Act. I expect to be in a position to seek Government approval for proposals regarding future arrangements in the coming weeks. They are the subject of internal discussions as to how best to proceed.
I am aware of two particular issues we must address. We must try to ensure that we do what is necessary to “de-normalise”, if I could put it that way, the purchase of alcohol by young people. We must bring to an end some of the commercial inducements in place that encourage people to purchase and perhaps drink more alcohol than is wise. For example, there are offers to pay for six cans of beer and get another six for free and other inducements. On the other side of the coin, I am also aware that in what is currently a difficult business environment for SMEs, some mixed stores are dependent on alcohol sales and other sales to maintain a reasonable livelihood. Alcohol is purchased as a normal item by many individuals in the community. Many of those stores would not have the financial capacity to restructure in a manner that section 9 envisages. If they had to obtain loans for such restructuring, it would put them under some difficulty. There are balances we need to maintain and we are giving consideration to that in the current deliberations.
Deputy Dara Calleary: Is there any timeframe on the considerations? We are approaching the summer and also a sporting event which tends to inspire many of the so-called offers to which the Minister referred. Will those proposals be in place for that event? I hardly think so.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Many different sporting events seem to inspire many of us to drink alcohol, but not everyone does it excessively. The sporting event to which the Deputy refers may be the European Football Championship, which is taking place in June. I wish the Irish team and its manager Mr. Trapattoni well. I hope we will be able to open a bottle of something - be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic - to celebrate a very successful adventure in Poland and Ukraine. I congratulate the members of the squad, which was announced yesterday.
Other Questions – Liquor Licensing Laws
Vol. 764 No. 3
Tuesday, 8 May 2012

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