Bill allows consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas

Legislation also gives Government power to appoint five extra High Court judges

Outdoor dining on Dublin’s Drury Street: The Government has invested €17 million to support publicans and restaurateurs in providing outdoor seating facilities as part of the proposed ‘outdoor summer’. Photograph: Alan Betson

Outdoor dining on Dublin’s Drury Street: The Government has invested €17 million to support publicans and restaurateurs in providing outdoor seating facilities as part of the proposed ‘outdoor summer’. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A “pragmatic and urgent” Bill to allow the consumption of alcohol in outdoor seating areas of pubs and restaurants has been passed by the Seanad 48 hours after the Dáil backed the legislation.

The Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill now goes to the President for consideration and signature.

It was rushed through the Dáil and Seanad after gardaí in Galway this month said such outdoor drinking was not covered by law, following the Government’s €17 million investment to support publicans and restaurateurs in providing outdoor seating facilities as part of the proposed “outdoor summer”.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys initially asked gardaí to use their discretion in addressing the issue but subsequently decided legislative amendment was necessary.

Commenting after the Seanad passed the Bill she said “in less than two weeks, we have identified the issues, proposed the solution and changed the legislation”.

“We have acted quickly to remove uncertainty on the legal position on the sale and consumption of alcohol in relevant outdoor seating areas.

“This legislation provides the clarity that has been sought and ensures that we can deliver on our commitments for an outdoor summer.”

The Bill allows the sale and consumption of alcohol outdoors where such seating areas have been permitted by the relevant local authority on public land, or where they are on private land adjoining the licensed premises.

Minister of State James Browne who steered the Bill through the Seanad said the Act provided certainty to publicans and restaurateurs while maintaining existing obligations on licence holders, “including to maintain good order on their licensed premises”.

A failure to maintain such order will be grounds for objection to the renewal of the licence, even if, at the time of renewal, the licensee has ceased to operate the outdoor seating area. Breaches of the legislation could result in fines of up to €2,500 and up to six months’ imprisonment.

High Court judges

The Minister had been criticised in the Dáil for “tacking on” to the Bill the power for Government to appoint an additional five judges to the High Court.

An additional judge may also be appointed “where necessary in the interests of the administration of justice”.

Ms Humphreys defended the move and said there were significant pressures on the courts because of the pandemic. “The situation is particularly acute in the High Court where it is anticipated that there will be significant demand for access to courts once public health restrictions are lifted.

“For this reason, we have expedited an increase in the number of ordinary judges of the High Court from 37 to 42.”

In the Seanad debate Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward said he “particularly” liked that gardaí on patrol would have the power to address a problem where they see one, “rather than having to go to a higher authority to get permission or authorisation to raise the issue with the occupier. It makes sense to me that a garda who spots a problem can address it there and then.”

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik commended Dublin City Council for some “creative use of outdoor space” and pedestrianisation of parts of the city.

But she highlighted problems in her local community in Portobello where residents faced “distressing incidences of anti-social behaviour and late-night drinking”.

Ms Bacik said “more needs to be done to create safe spaces that will not interfere with quality of life for local residents in residential areas but which will enable the facilitation of outdoor dining”.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said his party was broadly in support of the legislation and said it was particularly important to be clear about what constitutes an outdoor seating area.

He also welcomed that no drinks would be sold in the seating area which he said was “to ensure there is no so-called ‘takeaway pints’ facility”. The legislation also allows gardaí to object to a licence being renewed if this section is not adhered to.

But he expressed concern at the power given to gardaí to charge people with an offence including the licensee of the premises, the occupier, the manager or any other person for the time being in charge of the premises.

“It seems a sweeping and indiscriminate power that could result in an injustice, especially in respect of staff who are workers and not owners of the premises,” he said. “Its application must be judicious and prudent.”