For the first time in the State’s history people will be able to drink legally in pubs on Good Friday after legislation was passed in the Dáil today to permit the holy day opening.
The sale of alcohol on Good Friday will also be allowed in hotels, off-licences, restaurants, registered clubs, holiday camps and other licensed premises. Hotels will be permitted to sell alcohol to guests at any time on Good Friday and no longer only when it is served with a meal, which is currently the law.
Minister of State for Justice David Stanton, introducing the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill, said the restrictions on the sale of alcohol have remained largely untouched since 1922.
But “economic and social life has changed dramatically over last two decades, and tourism, changing demographics and increasing diversity has led to reduction in traditional religious practice”.
Mr Stanton said the restrictions “are no longer in tune with today’s Ireland”.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan described the ban on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday as “an anti-republican measure”.
He said the reason prohibition was originally introduced was as a sign of religious respect. “There is nothing mandatory about this, but people who may not be religious or who are religious but don’t feel they should be banned,” from drinking on Good Friday, he said.
Mr O Callaghan noted that Holy Thursday was the busiest day of the year for off-licences.
He said Ireland had a significant minority of people who struggle with alcohol and alcoholism. “We need to promote other legislation which deals with the problems caused” and he cited the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill before the Seanad.
“It’s very important that the Government prioritises that,” he said. “We have to recognise that many people in this country are badly damaged by alcohol and we need to do something about that.”
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said removal of the ban would impinge in no way on people’s religious practice if they chose not to drink. He said the Constitution was strong on “freedom of expression”.
But he shared the concerns of trade unions about the working conditions of those in the hospitality sector and said there was a need to look at legislation which protects workers in the sector and pub trade too.
“Increasingly, more and more licensed premises are opening either on or close to Christmas Day, and I would encourage publicans and people involved in hospitality trade to, at the very least, respect their workers and allow them that day off and that time with their family,” he said.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan described the moves to push the Bill as “somewhat strange when there are so many aspects relating to alcohol that we should be talking about”. She questioned claims that the Bill was aimed at tourists.
“How many tourists have been put off coming to Ireland because there is a day when public houses are not open?” she asked. “How many tourists arriving here to discover public houses are closed for 24 hours get the first boat or plane out of Ireland, and how many have complained that they can’t access a public house on Good Friday? I really have to ask for whose benefit is this Bill? Are we saying that the only tourists we want are those who can’t last 24 hours without buying a drink in a public house or going into an off-licence?”
The Dublin Central TD added: “I think we could do with a few Good Fridays throughout the year. We have to denormalise drinking of alcohol. We’re in a society where it’s normal to drink on all and every occasion, if you’re sad or if you’re happy, if you’re celebrating a victory or if you’re coping with a loss – First Communion, Confirmation, weddings, divorces, funerals, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, sports events, holidays. Your grocery shopping includes alcohol as well.”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath also opposed the Bill and said publicans told him Good Friday was a day when they took a day’s rest or did renovations on their premises. “Good Friday is the only day when publicans can take a breather,” he said, adding that “tourists won’t run away because they can’t get a drink” that day.