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Publicans and gardaí put in a ‘precarious position’over laws

June 30th, 2021 7:10 AM

By Jackie Keogh

A busy outdoor dining area in Bantry last week. It is expected that changes to legislation will ensure no confusion about the legal status of serving alcohol outdoors. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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THE majority of publicans are applying for licences to serve alcohol outdoors in order to be compliant with legislation.

Michael O’Donovan, the Cork chairman of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, told The Southern Star that most of the 52% of publicans who are eligible to serve food or drink outdoors – the other 48% having no outdoor space – have already applied to their local authorities for a licence to put tables and chairs outside in a public area.

He said a lot of these licences have been granted, but in some places – including Cork city and county – there is a six-week backlog.

However, the fact that the publicans have been given a reference number means their application is considered to be ‘pending.’

A spokesperson for Cork County Council confirmed that it has bye-laws in place which generally prohibit the consumption of intoxicating liquor in streets and public areas.

‘There are,’ the spokesperson added, ‘exemptions provided for in the byelaws, including specific cases where intoxicating liquor is being consumed in outdoor public seated areas adjacent to a hotel, a restaurant, or a café, and where such public seated areas have been approved by way of licence from Cork County Council.’

Mr O’Donovan said the organisation’s chief executive, Padraig Cribben, wrote to the Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys, two weeks ago, when it became clear to them that the consumption of alcohol outdoors might become a garda issue.

After talks with the Garda Commissioner and the Attorney General on Monday, Ms Humphreys said she would bring proposals to Cabinet in the coming days on changes to the law.

The chairman welcomed the instruction by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to regional assistant commissioners that gardaí should ‘utilise discretion in relation to licensed premises while also continuing to respond to any public complaints received on matters such as public order, parking, noise etc.’

The chairman confirmed that there haven’t been any cases of gardaí visiting premises, like they have in other parts of the country.

In West Cork, Chief Supt Con Cadogan said the gardaí would be following the commissioner’s direction regarding the use of discretion but ‘if a complaint is received, it will have to be fully investigated.

‘There could, for example, be complaints in relation to public order, parking, noise and we will be obliged to investigate them because we are governed by primary legislation,’ he said.

‘This has put An Garda Siochana and the publicans in a very precarious position because under the licensing laws, you cannot license a public area.

‘What that means is that a legislative change is needed to safeguard the public, the publicans and An Garda Siochana, and the sooner that legislative change comes, the better for everybody involved.’

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