New regulations on sale of alcohol come into force today


STRICT NEW regulations governing the sale and possession of alcohol, which aim to curb public disorder and eliminate underage drinking, come into force today.

Earlier closing times are to be applied to off-licences and nightclubs and gardaí will have stringent new powers to confiscate alcohol being consumed in public under the provisions of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.

The Act also includes restrictions on alcohol promotions, fines for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, as well as firmer penalties for those who sell alcohol to persons under 18.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said the new rules would help tackle the problem of alcohol abuse in the State. "The Act places restrictions on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse," he said.

The document, which came about following recommendations from the government-commissioned Alcohol Advisory Group, was signed into law last week.

Under the act, off-licences will now only be permitted to sell alcohol between 10.30am and 10pm on weekdays and 12.30pm to 10pm on Sundays.

Chairman of the National Off-Licence Association Jim McCabe said he was concerned that customers had not had adequate time to become aware of the new restrictions.

"Customers do not realise that the new earlier closing time comes into effect before the end of July and members are surprised that the new restrictions on opening hours are being introduced at such short notice."

In an attempt to curb underage drinking, the Act provides gardaí with new powers entitling them to seize containers they suspect are being used by individuals aged under 18 to hold or consume alcohol in public. Retailers who are found to be supplying drink to minors will face a minimum closure period of two days.

Michael McLoughlin of Youth Work Ireland said the new laws were "a good start" in attempting to discourage drinking among minors, but that "a lot more work" needed to be done in the area.

"The changes to opening hours and availability are positive but the Government has not reinvented the wheel with this Act," he said.

"More needs to be done, especially with alcohol advertising and we need to see a greater sense of unity among all Government departments, not just justice, if we're going to make a significant difference to our attitude to drinking."

As well as focusing on younger people, the Act will also aim to eliminate public drunkenness or disorderly conduct; publicans found guilty of permitting such behaviour will face a minimum closure period of two days.

Gardaí will be permitted to seize bottles or containers where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and fixed penalties will be introduced for the offence of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct.

Mr Ahern said the introduction of these penalty charges would "lead to more efficient use of public resources" and hopefully "support more responsible behaviour on the part of those concerned".

The Act also includes restrictions on the advertising of alcohol at reduced prices or for free, as well as banning the use of supermarket bonus points or loyalty cards for the purchase of liquor.

Mr Ahern said two further elements of the Act, addressing the separation of alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores and the test-purchasing of alcohol by persons under 18, would be introduced at a later date when guidelines had been finalised.