A pub will be able to operate a loyalty card service for its customers, despite strong opposition from gardaí and calls from other vintners to block such schemes.
Michael Cambridge, who runs O’Dwyer’s pub in Kanturk, in north Cork, applied for a three-year lease for Molly’s bar, at no 53, McCurtain Hill, in Clonakilty.
He said he would operate a loyalty card scheme there and that it was no different from similar promotions by supermarkets.
The application was strongly opposed by gardaí, and the local vintners’ association said it was arranging a meeting with local Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, as to urge the Government to close what it deemed a loophole.
Insp Fergal Foley told Clonakilty District Court he was concerned about the loyalty cards and and felt they were contrary to Section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2008.
However, he told the court that while that section of the act — which provides for Garda objections to the granting of licences — had been enacted, the relevant regulations in this instance had not been put in place by ministerial order.
“What the legislation clearly states is what is being proposed is illegal, but, unfortunately, the minister has not brought in the regulations that will give cause or effect to Section 16 [of the act],” he said.
Mr Cambridge’s solicitor, Eamonn Fleming, said there was no legal prohibition to prevent the granting of the licence.
He also said that Mr Cambridge would be able to track the amount of alcohol consumed by any customer using the loyalty card, and that this could be of help to gardaí.
“Loyalty cards are available in supermarkets,” Mr Fleming said. “Why should there be a prohibition on a publican doing the same thing?”
He added that to deny the application would be “anti-competitive”.
Insp Foley said the primary trade in supermarkets was in groceries and he said he was worried a loyalty card scheme could lead to excessive drinking and “gardaí are then the ones that have to pick up the tab on the street”.
The court heard publicans in Clonakilty worked together to monitor stag and hen parties, and to ensure there was responsible trading. Insp Foley said garda objections were not against Mr Cambridge but “in the public interest”.
Giving evidence, Mr Cambridge said he intended to be personally involved in the running of the bar, which will change its name from Molly’s Bar, and would observe all laws and regulations.
Indicating that a similar scheme was operating in his pub in Kanturk, he said: “It has not affected me in the other pub.”
In granting the licence, Judge James McNulty said Clonakilty was “a ‘Premier League’ tourist town. You could really say it is a top- four club, it is that good,” and that Mr Cambridge needed to be aware of that.
Judge McNulty said he had his doubts over whether Mr Cambridge’s business model would do much for his trade, but granted him the licence and wished him good luck.
Afterwards, a representative of local vintners said they had no issue with anyone taking on a new licence, but wanted fairness and a continuing of co-operation between publicans to ensure responsible trade.
The Department of Justice confirmed that the sections in the 2008 Act would be repealed and replaced in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
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