Night-time economy could open until 6am under report proposals

Minister says Irish cities ‘way behind’ Europe as taskforce calls for reform of licensing laws

Late-night activities could go on until 6am under plans to be considered by the Government, which on Wednesday launched the report of the night-time economy taskforce.

The report, which also calls for an extensive reform of the licensing laws, says the night-time economy should be defined by a 12-hour period of activities between 6pm and 6am.

Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said at the launch that she saw no reason why the opportunity could not be there to run events and permit serving of alcohol until that hour in certain circumstances.

“Why not, that opportunity should be there,” she said, adding that Irish cities were “way behind” some other European areas. “It can be done, and it can be done in a safe way, and that option should definitely be there.”

However, she said such steps had to be taken in tandem with reform of the licensing laws. The Government on Wednesday approved plans to draft a new sale of alcohol Bill, which would repeal and replace much of the existing legislation covering the trade.

The initial return of the nightclub sector will be marked by a 60 per cent capacity pilot event, which will feature antigen testing, at Dublin's Button Factory venue in Temple Bar. Sunil Sharpe, of the Give Us The Night advocacy group, said there was still, however, uncertainty among nightclub operators over the next steps.

He said the industry had been advocating for a gradual reopening and more pilot events, but welcomed that one was going ahead. “For a lot of operators I’ve spoken to, there is a nervousness or an anxiety, and obviously just around Covid itself, if it does come into the venue and it spreads, will they be scapegoated. Just a little bit more guidance from public health officials, and from scientists as well,” he said.

“And I’d love to feel we have the reassurance of the Government on some of these very tricky issues at the moment. I think we do, but I think what the industry don’t want is to just be told: ‘get on with it’, and a week or two later to be shut again. We need some assurance, and just a little bit more support to feel the experts and public health officials who are employed by the Government will work with us just that little bit more.”

The report of the night-time economy taskforce calls for the appointment of six night-time economy advisers – formerly called night mayors – and the modernisation of the licensing regime. It argues for the extension of opening hours in national cultural institutions, and launched a number of initiatives, including a new scheme working with vintners to give spaces for artists to perform in. It calls for a number of reforms around the use of empty or underused buildings, reform of noise regulations, better planning and co-ordination to ensure public safety in the night-time economy, and improved transport options including new 24 hour routes.

Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, said her intention was to publish the Bill by next year. She said she wanted to see the legislation which enables outdoor dining extended, as it expires on November 30th, but would be working on more medium- and long-term reforms associated with the hospitality and licensed premises sector.

She said much of the work would build on work that was done in the early 2000s as part of an effort to reform licensing laws there, but the general scheme of the Bill would not be published until next year because of the engagement involved.

However, Ms Martin said the launch of the taskforce report was “not just about alcohol”.

“It’s about having those cultural events, having gallery spaces, not only in our cities, in our towns and villages, to be able to have more diversity of choice and activity for people.

“I’m currently looking at with my officials further supports for this sector, as part of the budget negotiations as well. I have my eyes on that,” she said. The sector had been name checked as one that may need further supports as part of budget negotiations, she said.

Asked if there would be further financial supports for the sector, Ms Martin said she was already working on some schemes and would continue to do so as part of the budgetary process.

“I believe my Cabinet colleagues are fully aware of that, and I won’t be shy in asking for those supports.”