Government to extend law on consumption of alcohol in outdoor areas

McEntee seeks extension to help support the hospitality sector recover from pandemic

The Government is to extend a temporary law to make sure the sale and consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas of pubs and restaurants can continue during the summer months.

The law was introduced last year when the Garda Síochána said temporary outdoor areas for eating and drinking, introduced during Covid-19 restrictions, were not covered by the licensing laws.

The new law is due to lapse on May 31st. However, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will bring a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday seeking a six-month extension until the end of November this year.

The legislation was first introduced to assist the hospitality sector during Covid but the extension is geared towards supporting the industry as it continues to recover from the pandemic.

The legislation applies where outdoor seating areas have been permitted by the relevant local authority on public land, such as a path, or where they are on private land abutting the licensed premises, such as an abutting yard.

During 2020 and 2021 when indoor dining and hospitality were not allowed, local authorities through the State gave permission to pubs and restaurants to install outdoor tables.

However, in June last year, the Garda raised doubts about these arrangements being in compliance with licensing laws, and said licensed premises could sell alcohol only as takeaway drinks or to be consumed within the boundaries covered by the licence. In most cases, this covered only the interior of the premises.

Ms McEntee then introduced the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 to allow designated outdoor areas of such premises to be considered as within the boundary. Those provisions are due to lapse on May 31st but the Minister will seek a six-month extension, which is permitted under the legislation, until the end of November.

The Irish Times understands it is the Minister’s intention to bring forward a longer term solution as part of a wider reform of licensing laws.

It comes less than a week after Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien announced that he would instruct local authorities to waive fees charged by local authorities during 2022 for the use of outdoor furniture such as tables and chairs.

Mr O’Brien told the Oireachtas Housing Committee last week that businesses would still need to apply for licences for street furniture – to ensure they were not blocking any emergency services, or obstructing the passage of people, including those with disabilities.

However, the fees (which can run into thousands of euro in some cases) will not be applied this year. The regulation giving effect to this decision will come before the Dáil this week.

Separately the Cabinet is also set to approve a €400 monthly payment to people hosting Ukrainian refugees. It is understood that legislation will be required to offer the payment and it may take a few months to have this drafted and passed through the Oireachtas.