Government to bring in emergency legislation for serving alcohol in outdoor areas this week

Taoiseach rejects claims Government is ‘fiasco factory’ in row over hospitality sector

“Restaurants and pubs will in many parts of the country operate at the pleasure of local gardaí. Discretion could mean that one restaurant maybe treated differently than another,” Peadar Toibin said. Photograph: iStock

“Restaurants and pubs will in many parts of the country operate at the pleasure of local gardaí. Discretion could mean that one restaurant maybe treated differently than another,” Peadar Toibin said. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government is expected to introduce emergency legislation this week which will permit restaurants and pubs to serve alcohol in temporary areas outside their premises.

It follows a statement from the Garda last Sunday that the serving of alcohol in such outdoor areas is illegal, even when those areas have been approved by local authorities as part of the Government’s reopening roadmap.

On Monday, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris instructed officers to use “discretion” when enforcing the law in this area, which has been taken by gardaí as a signal that premises should not face penalties if they are found to be acting responsibly.

However, it is understood the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, has now advised interim Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys that the legislation should be amended. Amending legislation will be brought before cabinet in the coming days and could be brought before the Oireachtas as early as next week, a spokesman for the Minister said.

“The Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Housing and the Attorney General’s office, is working on how to provide clarity on the consumption of alcohol in designated areas outside licensed premises,” he said.

“It is anticipated that primary legislation will be required. Minister Humphreys has said the Government is determined to support pubs and restaurants as they re-open this summer.

“The Minister wants this issue to be dealt with as quickly as possible. She expects to bring proposals to Cabinet in the coming days, with required legislation potentially coming before the Oireachtas next week.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Dáil heard a “legal instrument” or statutory regulation is being planned to address the matter.

Insist

Taoiseach Micheál Martin insisted the Government’s measures on outdoor services had worked but said that any problems would be addressed.

His remarks follow controversy at the weekend when gardaí warned a number of Galway pubs that alcohol is not allowed to be served on-street outside their premises.

Mr Martin said that “any issues that need to be resolved will be resolved through a legal instrument, but look there can be no question but that the opening up in terms of outdoor dining and hospitality has worked and has been effective”.

In the Dáil, Mr Martin told Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín the issue was something to be dealt with quickly. “It will be dealt with quickly and the Minister of Justice will be introducing a measure that will rectify this and regulate it appropriately.”

Mr Tóibín asked “when will you legislate to end the fiasco factory that is hammering the hospitality sector”.

He accused Ms Humphreys of being the “Minister for making things up as you go along” and said her “concoction” of a solution was to “call on gardaí to close their eyes and say nothing”.

“Restaurants and pubs will in many parts of the country operate at the pleasure of local gardaí. Discretion could mean that one restaurant maybe treated differently than another,” he said.

‘Situation’

“We have the situation where the Minister for making things up as you go along has concocted a solution for the confusion where she is called on the guards to close their eyes and say nothing,” he said.

Mr Tóibín asked “when will you legislate to end the fiasco factory that is hammering the hospitality sector”.

He said that many pubs and restaurants have been closed for 420 days when “no other country in the rest of Europe closed hospitality for so long”.

Denmark and Finland, two countries with similar levels of vaccination and mortality to Ireland have had their pubs and restaurants open for indoor dining and drinking since April and May, he added.

The Meath West TD also said some businesses are waiting for licenses from local authorities and others have “put out tables and chairs in the hope to make a living” but are concerned they are not covered by insurance, because of the confusion on the issue.

Many pubs and restaurants have applied to their local authority and paid for extra public liability for the public areas that they are using. “But if insurance is tied to licence and An Garda say that the licence does not extend to an area where drink is prohibited where does that leave pubs and restaurants?”

‘Scapegoated’

He said gardaí are worried they will be “scapegoated for impossible decisions that have to be made”.

Mr Tóibín added that “I have never seen a government tie itself up in knots with such confusion before”.

The Taoiseach however described the comments as “hyperbole” and “not a fair assessment of where we are”.

He said: “I invite you to come to Cork and have walk down a few streets in Cork and you’ll see some great outdoor dining going on. I was in Dublin yesterday, I called to a number of venues, people were in a very happy mood, dining outdoors having a few drinks outdoors, engaging in a friendly way.”