Off-licence owners have expressed alarm at suggestions from the Government that it might row back on laws compelling retailers to separate alcohol from other products.
The National Off-Licence Association said indications the Government might back a beefed-up code of practice regarding the sale of alcohol was like “Groundhog Day”.
Chairwoman Evelyn Jones said that in 2008, then justice minister Dermot Ahern deferred enactment of a law forcing compliance to allow the industry to implement a voluntary code of practice.
She said despite the view by the Government that the code had not worked, Justice Minister Alan Shatter was again considering not enacting section nine of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 and was instead considering a new, albeit stronger, code of practice.
While the 2008 act would make shops breaching the law liable to prosecution, the new statutory code would not.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said Ms Jones. “We are back where we were the day before Mr Ahern accepted the voluntary code and deferred section nine. That code should never have been accepted at the time and four years later we are back where we were.”
The national substance misuse strategy report, published in February, highlighted the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets and small grocery shops as one of the main issues.
It said members were in favour of only allowing specialist off-licences sell alcohol, but to achieve a short-term reduction in availability, the enactment of section nine was advised.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, Mr Shatter said this was just one of two options he was considering. He said the second option, covered in section 17 of the Civil Law Provisions Act 2011, provided for a statutory code of conduct.
“A breach of such a code will not of itself render a licensee liable to any civil or criminal proceedings.”
Instead, a breach could provide grounds for objecting to the renewal of the licensee’s licence in the courts. He pointed out that many smaller outlets could not afford the structural changes required under section nine.
Ms Jones said the cost excuse was a “red herring” and claimed the majority of outlets could afford the changes. She said an inspection system for the new code would be a “nightmare” to operate.
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