HEALTH PRESSURE | 

Health Minister did not share warning from his own officials on risks posed by late-night opening laws

Department of Health memo claimed leaving nightclubs open all night will pile pressure on health services

Justice Minister Helen McEntee. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Stephen Donnelly

Philip Ryan and Hugh O'ConnellIndependent.ie

New laws to allow pubs and nightclubs to stay open later will increase alcohol-related disease and pile pressure on our already strained health services, the Department of Health has warned.

However, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly chose not to share the stark memo with his colleagues during a Cabinet debate on the topic this week.

Officials believe there is “no public health justification” for Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s relaxing licensing laws.

Her legislative proposals, which now have the full backing of Government, will allow pubs to serve until 12.30am every night of the week and let nightclubs open until 6am.

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Donnelly praised the Sale of Alcohol Bill and said “it should have been introduced 20 years ago”.

However, the Irish Independent has learned his own department issued a significant warning about the legislation. A senior Government source said it was removed from the final memo on the new alcohol laws.

The submission showed his department is strongly opposed to extending opening hours in pubs and nightclubs.

“The Department of Health is of the view the proposals in the Sale of Alcohol Bill, particularly those relating to extending opening hours and providing for the sale of alcohol as an amenity, will increase alcohol consumption, increase alcohol health harms and increase the pressure on our health services from illness and disease,” it stated.

The department also noted comments by the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy and to public health in relation to the legislation. “The department wishes to make it clear that increasing the availability of alcohol leads to increases in consumption of alcohol, and there is and can be no public health justification for such measures,” it added.

Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson said: “The department does not bring observations to Cabinet. The minister does.”

A spokesman for Ms McEntee said she is “clear that the sale of alcohol cannot be treated as if it is the sale of any other good, and that it is vitally important that the interests of public health... are prioritised”.

The spokesman added that under the proposed new laws, anyone who wants to apply for a licence must still go to the courts and applicants will be required to notify the HSE and the gardaí, who can object to the granting of a licence.

The first major reform of licensing laws will also mean supermarkets and off-licences will be permitted to sell alcohol from 10.30am on Sundays rather than 12.30pm, as is the case under current legislation.

Opening hours for pubs will be standardised across the week, with bars allowed to open from 10.30am to 12.30pm every night of the week when the laws are likely to be enacted next summer.

Nightclubs will be able stay open until 6am but last orders will be no later than 5am.

Meanwhile, it has emerged local residents and councillors will be able to object to late opening hours for pubs, bars and nightclubs in their area under the plans to overhaul Ireland’s licensing laws.

Major changes to laws around the serving of alcohol will also expand the grounds under which the renewal of a licence can be objected to include if a premises has not operated in a manner that protects staff, patrons and performers from harassment and sexual harassment, including the “spiking” of drinks.

Under the reforms, the list of those who can oppose a licence being issued or renewed will now include local authority representatives and any person who has a “substantial or bona fide interest” in the matter and is resident in the neighbourhood as well as the local fire authority and gardaí.

Ministers signed off on plans to allow clubs to open as late as 6am after they were told this week that the number of nightclubs in Ireland has significantly reduced over the last two decades citing reports that there are around 80 at present, down from 300 in 2009 and over 500 in 2000.

Restrictions on nightclub opening hours and the lack of tailored provision for the sector mean that many existing nightclubs in Ireland are unable to offer the same type or quality of live entertainment that is common in the UK and across Europe, the Cabinet was told.


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