Teenagers as young as 15 will be recruited by gardaí to target pubs, shops and off licences selling alcohol to underage drinkers, it emerged today.
Senior gardaí nationwide are expected to make a hit list of premises known to flout licensing laws.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy launched the test purchasing of alcohol scheme, which will come into effect from October 1.
Mr Ahern said the aim of the scheme was not to trap an unwary licensee into committing an offence but to ascertain whether a licensee is complying with the law.
“There are undoubtedly licensees who, regrettably, for whatever reasons, appear to be less rigorous in their commitment to upholding the law,” said Mr Ahern.
“The primary objective of the test purchasing scheme is, therefore, to enable the gardaí, whose task is to enforce licensing laws, to target those premises which are suspected of engaging in illegal sales to young people.”
Undercover gardaí will watch as the young volunteers – aged between 15 and 17 years and recruited by community officers in youth clubs schools – attempt to purchase alcohol.
The Minister maintained the customer will not be made to look older than their age by their clothes, make-up or jewellery, and trained not to coax or persuade the staff member to make the sale or lie about their age.
“The whole idea is to ensure the young person does not have to give evidence in court,” added Mr Ahern.
A licensee convicted before the courts for the sale and supply of alcohol to an underage person will have a closure order imposed on his or her premises for between two and seven days and/or a fine of up to €3,000. Second and subsequent convictions can lead to closure orders of up to 30 days and fines of €5,000.
The Minister said he plans to deal with a rise in alcohol being delivered to private homes, in particular to under 18s, in the forthcoming Sale of Alcohol Bill.
Commissioner Murphy said regional Superintendents will target premises that members of the public make complaints about.
He said too often alcohol forms a backdrop to many of the incidents gardaí are called to deal with, including accidents, crimes or anti-social behaviour.
“Consumption of alcohol by young people underage is not only potentially damaging to themselves, and their health, but can also impact on the quality of life of other people in the community who are faced with intimidating or unruly behaviour in public places,” added the Commissioner.