Legal loophole means Good Friday alcohol reform bill doesn’t cover restaurants

Plans to scrap the Good Friday alcohol ban will not end the block on sales in restaurants and other areas because of legal loopholes in the proposed legislation, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Government officials confirmed the situation last night despite saying the Coalition will not block the attempt by Independent senators to remove the law.

Under plans put forward by Independent senators Billy Lawless, Michael McDowell, Gerard Craughwell, and Victor Boylan, this Easter is set to mark the last Good Friday when all alcohol sales are banned.

As part of the senators’ Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, from next year the sale of alcohol in all licensed premises will be allowed on Good Friday across the country.

This is because the senators are seeking to alter the 1927 Act of the same name, which introduced the religious-based ban in the first years of the Irish State.

Mr Lawless and a number of the other senators believed this move, to be debated and voted on in the coming days, would end the ban completely for all licensed premises from next year.

However, at a post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, a Government spokesperson clarified that while the Coalition will not oppose the bill — effectively allowing it to pass — the law change will fail to remove the ban on certain sites such as restaurants.

The Department of Justice later said that this is because the sale of alcohol at restaurants is covered by a 1988 licensing Act and as such any change to the 1927 law would not affect the ban for these businesses.

While the legal loophole is likely to be addressed at a later committee stage debate, on the senators’ bill, it will mean any decision on whether to remove the ban in full will have to go back to Cabinet again for another Government decision.

The alcohol ban debate was discussed during a Cabinet meeting which also heard Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirm that the State commission of investigation into the Project Eagle Nama deal will directly interview Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

The investigation, which will include an interim report after three months and whose draft terms were shared with opposition parties last night, will specifically examine if Mr Noonan’s “decisions and actions were appropriate”.

Potential Nama conflicts of interests and success fees to former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan will also be examined.

The same Cabinet meeting also heard that a planned privatisation of the TV licence inspection system will be delayed due to tendering issues, and plans for a new independent parole board would take responsibility for releasing prisoners away from the Department of Justice.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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