Bill to reform late opening for pubs


NEW LAWS will make it easier for pubs or nightclubs to stay open late at night instead of owners having to repeatedly apply to the courts for extensions to their opening hours.

However, there will be no change to restrictions on opening hours which came into force over the summer, according to a Minister for Justice spokeswoman.

Under the terms of a Sale of Alcohol Bill, which is expected to be published soon, a "nightclub permit" will replace the current system of exemption orders for venues seeking to stay open late.

This will allow pub or nightclub owners to secure a permit for a period of time - possibly three or six months - rather than having to seek an exemption order from the courts in order to stay open late at night. The move is likely to be welcomed by nightclub owners who have complained in recent weeks that recent changes to the law aimed at combating alcohol abuse are making it increasingly expensive to run their businesses.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act which came into force last July has forced nightclubs to stop serving alcohol by 2.30am instead of 3.30am and pubs to close by 11.30pm instead of 12.30pm.

The legislation also scrapped "theatre licences" which allowed nightclub owners to serve alcohol all year round until 3.30am, without having to secure exemption orders.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern yesterday rejected reports at the weekend that the overhaul of laws governing the sale of alcohol would reverse some of these new measures which came into force over the summer.

She said that when the Minister introduced the recent measures in the Dáil, he made it clear he would bring forward a Sale of Alcohol Bill later in the year which would bring all the licensing laws into a single comprehensive statute.

"While the new Bill will incorporate some additional reforms to licensing law, it will incorporate, not reverse, the changes already introduced in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008," the spokeswoman said.

"In particular, there is no question of a U-turn in relation to theatre licences. The closing-time rules introduced by this year's Act will continue to apply, ie nightclubs and theatres will be subject to the special exemption order conditions. The same applies to other reforms introduced in the 2008 Act."

She said a publication date for the new Bill would be available when the Government publishes its legislation programme in late September. Dr Joe Barry, a public health campaigner, said yesterday he was hopeful the Government would continue to take positive steps to help combat alcohol abuse in the new Bill.

"I think there will be fierce lobbying against the legislation from vested interests, but I think we should accept the bona fides of the Government which says it is trying to improve matters in this area," he said.

Nightclub owners have also been objecting to increases in the price of special exemption orders, which rose from €100 to €300 over the summer.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the fee increase was "appropriate in the context of concerns about the sale of alcohol, its easy availability across a multiplicity of outlets and public order issues arising from binge drinking".

She added: "Considerable costs arise on a regular basis for the State, not least the courts themselves, in dealing with the fallout from public order issues following late night drinking. Over 91,000 such orders were issued by the courts in 2007."