Pubs on every Corner?
What you need to know about the Sale of Alcohol Bill
In late 2022, the Government announced the details of the forthcoming Sale of Alcohol Bill. This legislation has been introduced to update the licensing system and to make it fit and relevant for the needs of the Irish hospitality sector of today.
There are many measures in the proposed legislation which will be very positive for Irish pubs and which the LVA has been seeking to help improve the industry.
- Modernisation of Irish licensing law.
- Updating of trading hours, with pubs being legally permitted to open from 10.30am to 12.30am seven days a week.
- Late bars will be able to trade to 2.30am.
- Nightclubs can stay open until 6am.
- Introduction of annual late bar and nightclub permits.
- Abolition of the SEO system.
- “Levelling up” of licence grant and licence renewal across the different licence types.
These measures, once introduced will effect positive change for the industry and bring the nighttime economy in line with the operating times and processes of other modern, European cities and countries.
The current trading hours are out of sync with public expectations and behaviours. For many years now there has been a demand for late night socialising in Dublin and other parts of the country and for nightclubs to be able to stay open longer.
Despite Irish pubs and hospitality being internationally renowned, our relatively early closing times at night have been out of step with the what domestic socialisers are seeking and what foreign socialisers expect from a modern, night time economy.
Thankfully these timings are set to be addressed in the new legislation. Also of significant importance is that the general opening hours of pubs will be standardised and not dictated by the specific day of the week (eg. Sunday opening hours).
The reforms around these aspects of licensing will be warmly welcomed by pubs all across Dublin and the rest of the country.
There are however some areas of the proposed legislation which we remain gravely concerned about.
Arguably the major point of contention with the new legislation is the Government’s effort to liberalise the pub sector. The LVA believes this measure will lead to a surge in pubs in major towns and cities, while also driving more of the smaller, rural pubs out of business.
At the moment, if someone wishes to open a new pub or off-licence they must first purchase the licence from an existing outlet. Those licences can then be transferred to another location in any part of the country.
This licence has been a valuable asset for some publicans, particularly those small, rural pubs. For some it has been priced into the calculations they have made for their pension planning or it forms significant part of the inheritance they wish to leave to their families.
Under the Government’s proposals, the value of those licences will evaporate overnight as new entrants to the market will no longer need an existing licence, they can just get a new one.
The liberalisation of pubs isn’t needed in this country as we already have a very high proportion of pubs per capita.
There are approximately 6,800 pub licences in the Republic of Ireland, meaning there is 1 pub for every 738 people. Compare this to the 1 pub for every 1,415 people in the UK which already has a liberalised market.
On top of this, in this country there are another 2,250 wine on-licences (restaurants), 514 special restaurant licences, over 1,000 hotel licences and 3,450 off – licences.
1 in 5 pubs in this country have vanished since 2005. This shows that the market is already struggling to maintain the existing levels of pubs in this country. We are already “overpubbed” and any move to liberalise the market will make that situation worse.
It should be noted that the licensing regime exists to provide regulatory control on the sale of alcohol, another measure which will become more difficult for the authorities to regulate if liberalisation proceeds.
The Government believes this measure will protect the future of rural pubs. The LVA believes it will have the opposite effect, while also negatively impacting the rest of the sector.
Cultural Amenity Licence
The new proposals also include measures to introduce a new ‘Cultural Amenity Licence’. We strongly support greater diversity in the night-time economy and recognise the role of appropriately defined cultural licences in supporting that principle.
However are concerned about the potential use of these licenses as a possible ‘back-door’ entry into the licensed trade without the same level of regulation that applies to pubs, nightclubs and other hospitality venues where alcohol is currently served.
The criteria for the designation and definition of cultural premises and events will need to be very carefully structured to prevent these issues arising. This will also help avoid the kind of problems seen in the industry in the past when aspects of the theatre licensing system were subject to abuse.
The LVA will continue to press the Government and other stakeholders about the need to improve the Sale of Alcohol legislation as it advances and to ensure the positive steps are not overshadowed by the potential issues currently built into the proposals.
We will keep our members updated on the progress of the Bill and any additional news as things evolve.