Bill aims to curb binge drinking and public disorder


NEW LAWS aimed at curbing binge drinking and tackling alcohol-related public disorder are due to come into force by this summer, the Government said yesterday. CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent, reports.

The laws will include restrictions on the display of alcohol in shops, a reduction in the opening hours of off-licences and new powers for the Garda to tackle public disorder.

At a press conference yesterday, Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan said Irish society needed to address the problems arising from excessive consumption of alcohol.

"This draft proposal is not some killjoy measure conjured up by a nanny-state Government. Far from it. It is a response to a very significant problem of alcohol abuse which is leading to public disorder and exacerbating our crime problem," he said.

A new Intoxicating Liquor/ Public Order Bill (2008) is being drafted and is due to be enacted by the Oireachtas before the summer recess, Mr Lenihan said.

The Bill draws on the recommendations contained in the report of the Government-appointed Alcohol Advisory Group chaired by Dr Gordon Holmes.

Under the new proposed legislation, the sale of alcohol in off-licences will be allowed only between 10.30am and 10pm, instead of 7.30am and 12.30am. It proposes that alcohol sold in supermarkets and convenience stores must be displayed and sold either behind a counter or in an area separate from the rest of the premises.

Under-18s may also be used as part of Garda "sting" operations in premises which sell alcohol to under-age drinkers, as long as parental consent is obtained.

Existing licensing laws, which permit the Revenue Commissioners to issue wine licences to convenience stores and petrol stations, are also due to be reformed.

Under the measures, applicants will require a District Court certificate. The grounds on which an objection to such a certificate can be made will include the consideration of the needs of the neighbourhood and the adequacy of the existing number of local off-licences. A loophole which has allowed nightclubs or pubs to open beyond normal licensing hours without having to obtain special exemption will be closed.

The draft Bill also proposes to restrict alcohol promotions and reduced price sales and discounts, although it does not go into any detail on how this will be enforced.

Mr Lenihan said on-the-spot fines would also be introduced for those found drunk or disorderly in a public place. Legislation passed in recent years - but never implemented - provides for fines of up to €200 for those involved in disorderly conduct or intoxication in a public place. Mr Lenihan said this law will be implemented over the coming months. The Garda will receive new powers to seize bottles or containers of alcohol from anybody who appears to be under 18 years. They will also be allowed to seize alcohol "where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder".

On the proposal to take alcohol from under-18s, Mr Lenihan said: "Communities all over Ireland are tired of young people - and those in their 20s and 30s - openly consuming alcohol in public places.

"The gardaí have to have power to deal with this . . . The normal process of arrest, charge and caution would put an impossible burden on our judicial and police system."

Speaking at the press conference yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the Government was committed to combating alcohol misuse. "We need to examine our acceptance of heavy drinking and the signal that this is sending, particularly to our young people," Mr Ahern said. "We're not attempting to stop drinking, do away with drinking or adopt a do-good attitude," he added. "We're concerned about problems relating to people drinking to get drunk, which seems to be more of an Irish phenomenon."

Knocking it back: main points

• Off-sales of alcohol will be permitted only between the hours of 10.30am and 10pm (12.30pm to 10pm on Sundays)

• Wine off-licences, which may be obtained at present directly from the Revenue Commissioners, will in future require a District Court certificate

• Alcohol products on sale in supermarkets, petrol stations, etc, must either be behind a counter or in a specified area that is structurally separate from the rest of the premises

• Test purchasing of alcohol products by under-18s will be introduced

• The loophole which allows nightclubs and pubs with theatre licences to serve beyond normal closing hours will be closed