Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Other questions – Alcohol sales [8368/24].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Other questions – Alcohol sales [8368/24]. (22 Feb 2024)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

5. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider a health impact assessment on the sale of alcohol Bill. [8368/24] 

This question is to ask the Minister if she has considered a health impact assessment on the sale of alcohol Bill and if she will make a statement on this matter. 

Deputy Helen McEntee - Public health is a key consideration for me and my Department in developing this legislation. The intention of this Bill is to try to modernise our existing licensing laws to bring them in line with the expectations and needs of today and a modern society, to bring us into line with other jurisdictions, and to encourage the development of a modern and diverse night-time economy. This legislation is an important commitment in our programme for Government. 

What I am trying to do is to strike the right balance. I think there is a perception that this Bill will suddenly see nightclubs and bars in every town and village open until 6 a.m., with alcohol being served. This is absolutely not the case. The intention of this proposed legislation is to have a yearly licence for such businesses that operate, for example, late licences and must regularly go to the courts to say they are having special events, when in reality these are late bars that operate every night they are open, to streamline the process to make it more cost efficient and to allow certain nightclubs that have to adhere to very strict criteria to open a little bit later. This is because we do not have this type of offering for people now. 

At the same time, the general scheme of this Bill will retain the approach we have always had, which is that we have a restrictive regime for licensing. There would be powers, in particular, for the Garda to address situations where people do not adhere to the guidelines, especially for the licences for later opening hours, where it is necessary to have CCTV and appropriate square footage for dancing. The whole point of this legislation is that we can have acts, music and entertainment. The conditions in this regard must be adhered to, as must the rules around the selling of alcohol. 

As part of the development of this Bill, I held consultations in November 2021. We had more than 5,000 responses, including responses from Alcohol Action Ireland, the Ballymun Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, the Health Service Executive alcohol programme, the Institute of Public Health, the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network and the National Suicide Research Foundation. In addition, I held a webinar and panel discussion. At every stage in developing this, the views and opinions of those working in the health space have been taken on board. At the same time, this Bill is not just about making sure that people can go out and have fun and do so in a healthy way, but also that we help businesses operate in a more efficient and effective way for what is already happening now. That is very important as well. 

Deputy Thomas Gould - I actually wrote to the Minister last week. We broadly support the Bill, but we have set our own clear policy on the night-time economy. The Minister mentioned the consultation that took place in 2021. Consultation is not a replacement for the health impact assessment. We are not looking to delay the Bill, which is moving slowly at the moment. There is an opportunity for the Minister to have this assessment done. An impact assessment goes much further than consultation and would be based on credible evidence-based interagency information. That is the approach we are looking for. I know there was a consultation but there seems to be a lack of consultation between the Department of Health, the Garda and other stakeholders who could contribute in a positive way to the Bill. 

Deputy Helen McEntee - I assure the Deputy and the organisations I have mentioned, some of which he may have spoken to. Many of them have put forward the facts from their research. All that information is being taken into account. There is a perception that this is legislation to allow every bar and club in the country to stay open late and serve alcohol late. That is not what this legislation is about. In fact, some of the restrictive measures mean that clubs and bars will need to adhere to certain conditions to protect their patrons and protect their staff, including from sexual assault. They will need to look at this as a general day-to-day running of the organisation. They could potentially lose their licence if they do not protect their patrons in that way. 

The night-time economy is falling away. When I was in college, parts of Dublin city centre would have been vibrant at night and would have had people there. People now say to me that those areas are not safe and they cannot go there because places are not open and there is no longer a cohort of people who are socialising at night-time. They do not have lit-up buildings, and people, such as bouncers on doors, are not there. That is contributing to some of the challenges we have seen. I want to ensure that vibrancy is brought back. It needs to be done in a safe way. I am also very conscious of the public health implications. 

Deputy Thomas Gould - We support what the Government is trying to do. We see this as positive for the night-time economy and businesses if it is done in an engaging way. We also need to take on board the views of Alcohol Action Ireland, which has been very vocal and has done Trojan work on this. It believes a health impact assessment would allow for service planning and migration to protect vulnerable people. It conducted research with UCC which suggests that four people a day die in Ireland from alcohol abuse. We need to put a plan in place to reduce these figures while also trying to encourage the night-time economy. We are not seeing it is one or the other. We are saying they can be done, but we need a health impact assessment to be done. It needs to be evidence-based and credible. With more people dying from alcohol abuse, we need to get the balance right. 

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú - Alcohol Action Ireland along with, I believe, 80 other social, health and community organisations, and academics, have been on to a considerable number of people, including the Minister. They have presented international evidence showing that extending opening times by one hour results in a 16% increase in alcohol-related crime, a 30% increase in traffic collisions in rural areas and a 34% increase in injuries that require hospitalisation. We need to look at that. I welcome what the Minister had to say and I accept we need to deal with the night-time economy. One of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee was to have a health impact assessment, which would deal with much of this. In Ireland we also have an issue with our ethos regarding alcohol. Unfortunately, that also relates to cocaine, which creates its own difficulties. 

Deputy Helen McEntee - All of the facts the Deputies have outlined occur in an environment where we have a restrictive regime, where pubs are closing every week. We have about 70 nightclubs left in the country. A couple of years ago there might have been that number in three or four counties. 

Alcohol is a problem for many people but we need to invest in education to change people's behaviours and attitudes. More people are drinking at home where there is absolutely no monitoring, where people can drink whatever they want for as long as they want. As far as I am concerned, people are more likely to get into a car after having a few drinks at a friend's house as opposed to being out at 2 a.m. and then deciding to get into the car. There is a perception that the provisions in this Bill will suddenly allow significantly more drinking. At the moment people are going to the off-licence, going home and drinking more at home. This would allow people to be in a more controlled environment, which I believe would help reduce some of the impacts both Deputies have outlined. 

I hope to bring forward a scheme of this Bill in the coming weeks. All the concerns that have been raised are being taken into consideration. As it goes through the House, I will engage with all sides, not just those who represent the industry but also those who are concerned about the potential implications for people's health. I fully accept the concerns.

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