Plans to change laws on opening hours for pubs and nightclubs have been welcomed by the trade association representing Dublin pubs.
The CEO of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) Donall O’Keeffe said the move to extend late trading hours for pubs and nightclubs will be of “great benefit” to Dublin publicans when they are allowed to reopen.
The new proposals to reform licensing laws would see staggered and extended closing times for licenced venuespubs and nightclubs. Sunday trading hours would be brought in line with the rest of the week for pubs and off-licences. Currently during non-Covid periods, pubs are required to close at 11pm on Sundays, while off-licences can sell alcohol until 10pm.
The plans also include the possibility that a new annual nightclub permit will be created to allow nightclubs to open past 2.30am. New categories of alcohol licences for cultural venues like art galleries and theatres are also being mooted.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr O’Keeffe said his organisation has been calling for extended late trading hours “for years”, as other European cities have three more hours of a late scene.
Allowing clubs to open until 5am seven nights a week should be available subject to strict conditions to enable Dublin to have a late night scene, he added.
While welcoming the proposed changes, Mr O’Keeffe said the Government must also outline specific plans for the reopening of the hospitality sector.
But an extension of Sunday hours is unlikely to increase footfall in rural pubs and could do more harm than good, according to the owner of Gielty’s Bar & Restaurant on Achill Island in Co Mayo.
Speaking to the Irish Times, Alan Gielty, who is also the Mayo representative of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), said the proposals could potentially help traders in towns and cities but will not benefit rural Ireland in “any way, shape or form”.
Mr Gielty was highly sceptical that an extension of trading hours would result in more business for rural publicans: “Just because you are open for longer doesn’t mean you are increasing your sales… Down the country it is hard enough to get people into the pub. Operating until half two in the morning could mean people are just going to come down later,” he said.
The publican expressed concerns that opening up alcohol licences to other cultural venues could take business away from pubs by taking bookings for parties and other events traditionally celebrated in pubs: “Is it going to be like the GAA club licences all over again?” he wondered.
While Mr Gielty stressed that he did not know the full details of the proposals, he said he believes they are “not fully thought out”.
A reduction in excise tax on alcohol sales in pubs and other hospitality venues, while keeping tax higher in supermarkets and off-licences, would help drive profits for publicans, he added.
Alan Conroy, owner of Peadar’s Bar in Moate, Co Westmeath, said he is not sure the proposed changes will have much of an impact on pubs outside of the capital.
“It is probably fine and it will probably help, but Sunday trading has changed in recent years and people aren’t really out late,” he said. By 9pm on a Sunday most of his customers would have headed home and his bar would be quiet, he added.
Mr Conroy was struck by the timing of Minister McEntee’s announcement: “None of us even know when we are getting back open and they are announcing this?” he said.
Pubs in commuter towns like Moate need more than just extended Sunday opening hours to undo the damage done by Covid-19 restrictions, he said. Mr Conroy said he is still paying public liability insurance and bills, despite being largely closed for the guts of a year, he said.
“A lot of us are living in hope that we will get to open during the summer months, even if just outside,” he added.
Ireland’s licensing legislation dates back to 1935 and needs to be modernised, Minister Helen McEntee told the same programme on Monday.
Ms McEntee said the move is not just intended to give people an “extra hour in the pub”, but it will ensure a greater cultural offering when Covid-19 restrictions on the hospitality sector lifts. The extended hours would not only benefit Irish residents but also tourists when they eventually return to the country, she Morning Ireland.
The Minister said she wanted to assure people working in the nighttime sector, including publicans, nightclub owners, DJs, musicians and others, that the Government is “thinking beyond Covid”. The move acknowledges that people working in the nighttime sector have a variety of cultural offerings, she said. The changes also should stop the situation where thousands of people pile onto the streets at once because all of the night venues close at the same time, she added.
Ms McEntee warned the alterations will take time as they are part of a large piece of legislation. The proposed changes to pub and nightclub hours are part of more than 200 actions contained in the Justice Plan 2021.