Night-time economy ‘falling away’ with just 70 nightclubs operating across State, McEntee says

Minister for Justice hopes Bill aiming to modernise licensing laws makes matters more straightforward for entertainment businesses

Ireland’s night-time economy is “falling away” with just 70 nightclubs operating across the State at present, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

She told the Dáil on Thursday that she intends to bring forward the general scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill, which aims to modernise existing licensing laws, in the coming weeks.

The Fine Gael TD said she hoped the legislation would “strike the right balance” and bring the Irish system in line with those in other jurisdictions and the expectations of a modern society.

The Minister said there was a “perception” that the legislation would “suddenly see nightclubs and bars in every town and in every village open till six o’clock in the morning with alcohol being served”.


However, she added that this was “absolutely not the case” and the goal was to try to make things more straightforward for businesses such as those with late licences.

“Where they have to go to the courts on a regular basis to say that they are having special events, where in fact they are obviously late bars and open late every night that they do open, this is to streamline that to have a yearly licence for them to make it more cost efficient,” she said.

Ms McEntee said the new laws would allow “certain nightclubs” an opportunity to open a bit later, but with “very strict criteria” governing this. She said Ireland at present does not “have that type of offering for people”.

“The general scheme [of the Bill] will retain the approach that we’ve always had, and that is that we have a restrictive regime for licensing,” she said.

She said there would be powers for gardaí to act where operators don’t adhere to the guidelines. For those with “the more later licences”, she said, there will have to be CCTV and “appropriate square footage for dancing because this is the whole point of it, that we can have acts, we can have music, entertainment”.

Ms McEntee was responding to Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould, who asked if she had considered carrying out a health impact assessment in relation to the Bill. She said, as part of the development of the Bill, consultations were run in November 2021 with more than 5,000 responses received including from Alcohol Action Ireland and others.

The Minister said pubs were closing down every week and only about 70 nightclubs were left in the country, a number that might have been seen across just “three or four counties a couple of years ago”.

“Alcohol is a problem for many people, but it’s education that we need to be investing in, it’s changing people’s behaviours and attitudes,” she said.

Ms McEntee said there was a perception that the Bill would create a situation where “suddenly” there would be more drinking.

“At the moment people are going to the off-licence or going home and drinking more at home,” she said. “This [Bill] would allow people to be out in a more controlled environment, which actually for me, would help reduce some of the [negative health] impacts that we’re seeing.”

She added: “People are more likely, as far as I’m concerned, to get into a car after having a few drinks in a friend’s house, as opposed to being out at two in the morning and then deciding to get into the car.”

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times