Drew Harris tells senior gardaí to apply ‘discretion’ in policing pubs and restaurants

Licenced premises which are acting responsibly will not be penalised or shut down

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is to issue a direction to all gardaí today that pubs and restaurants serving customers in temporary outdoor seating areas should not be penalised.  Photograph: iStock

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is to issue a direction to all gardaí today that pubs and restaurants serving customers in temporary outdoor seating areas should not be penalised. Photograph: iStock

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has instructed senior officers that “discretion” should be used to police pubs and restaurants serving customers in temporary outdoor seating areas.

Senior sources said the message is a signal to officers that premises which act responsibly should not be penalised or shut down for serving alcohol in areas where they have been permitted by local authorities to set up extra seating outside.

On Sunday the Garda said the serving of alcohol in temporary outdoor areas is in breach of the law, despite local authorities giving permission for such areas to be set up.

It followed from incidents last Thursday when gardaí visited several pubs and restaurants and informed them they were in breach of the law for serving alcohol in these areas. The issue has caused widespread confusion for both business owners and gardaí responsible for enforcing the law.

A Garda spokesman said it did not comment on internal correspondence but in a Tweet the Garda said Mr Harris had “issued an instruction to regional Assistant Commissioners that gardaí should use discretion in relation to licensed premises while also continuing to respond to any public complaints received on matters such as public order, parking, noise etc.”

Speaking in Monaghan on Monday morning, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said she has spoken to Mr Harris about the matter and “he has assured me the guards will apply discretion”, and he will be issuing a communique to his organisation today to confirm that.

She also said she has spoken with the Attorney General on the matter and “if we have to make changes, we will do”.

The Attorney General is currently examining the matter, Ms Humphreys said.

She said the system has worked extremely well across the country but that there were “difficulties” in one area. This was understood to be a reference to Galway city. “As I said, I’d like them to sit down and try and work that out.”

The Minister said the Government will support the hospitality sector to allow outdoor dining to “allow people to go out [and] enjoy themselves as we recover from this pandemic”.

Tough questioning

On Monday morning, Galway city chief superintendent Tom Curley faced tough questioning from local councillors on the issue during a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee. He said he first raised this issue at the start of May.

He said the bylaws in Galway city prevent drinking in public and that pubs’ licences only cover the area of the pub out to the edge of the footpath.

Chief Supt Curley said he has sought clarification on the matter and that “clear direction” is awaited in relation to the “anomaly that’s there in the moment”.

He said he had raised the issue as far back as May 7th and had discussed it with the city manager and the regional Assistant Garda Commissioner.

“From where I’m sitting, the actual section of the bylaw, with the seating outside, does not cover the consumption of alcohol.

“I’m not, and I never have been, a killjoy in relation to Galway city and promoting Galway city. But I have a duty to uphold the law,” Chief Supt Curley said.

Meanwhile, one of the State’s pre-eminent licensing law experts has said there is nothing in Irish legislation prohibiting people from consuming alcohol outside pubs and restaurants.

Barrister Constance Cassidy SC told The Irish Times that as long as the alcohol is paid for in a pub or restaurant and there are no local bylaws restricting the consumption of alcohol outdoors, then no breaches of any law take place.

She said that confusion may have arisen because authorities were operating under three different regulatory regimes covering Covid-19, licensing and local authority law.

She said that if there was a breach of Covid-19 regulations such as a failure to wear a face mask in a designated place then it would be an issue which gardaí had to police.

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