Time called on underage drinking

SENIOR gardaí are drawing up a hit list of pubs, shops and off-licences to be targeted for selling alcohol to underage drinkers.

Launching the new system, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said he was considering setting up a parallel scheme to combat the delivery of alcohol to minors at their homes. Mr Ahern said the test purchasing scheme did not seek “to trap an unwary licensee”, but target those suspected of “flouting the laws”.

Speaking at the launch, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said the operation of the scheme would be based on intelligence gardaí already had on licensed premises.

The scheme has taken two years to come into effect and is based on the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.

Mr Ahern and Commissioner Murphy said extensive efforts had been made to draw up a clear system, which was legally sound and protected the children involved.

The consultations involved other agencies, including the Department of Health, the Office for the Minister for Children and the Office of Tobacco Control.

Businesses targeted include pubs and off-licences, including supermarkets and convenience stores.

The scheme allows gardaí to send a person aged between 15 and 17 into a premises to purchase alcohol, observed by two undercover gardaí. If a sale takes place, the premises will be prosecuted. Gardaí can apply for a closure order on the premises for between two and four days and/or a fine of up to €3,000 for a first offence. Second and subsequent convictions can lead to closure orders of up to 30 days and fines of €5,000.

Under the guidelines for the scheme young people must not be made older than their age by means of their clothes, jewellery or make-up and must truthfully answer if questioned about their age.

Mr Ahern said he suspected the licensees would “put their hands up if caught” and not go down the expensive route of challenging the system in the courts. He noted that the High Court upheld the tobacco test purchasing system in 2006.

He said the majority of licensees abide by the law. “However, there are undoubtedly licensees who, regrettably, for whatever reason, appear to be less rigorous in their commitment to upholding the law.

“The primary objective of the test purchasing scheme is to enable the gardaí to target those premises which are suspected of engaging in illegal sales to young people.”

He said the imminent Sale of Alcohol Bill will tighten up the law on the delivery of alcohol through third parties — such as couriers or taxis — to minors at their home. He said he was considering introducing a test purchasing scheme for home delivery situations.

Commissioner Murphy said local superintendents would operate the scheme. and that any test purchases would be based on intelligence and genuine complaints made by the public.


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