Nightclub overcrowding warning

ANOTHER Stardust disaster could happen because of overcrowding in nightclubs, Liquor Licensing Commission chairman Gordon Holmes warned yesterday.

There is no enforcement of the law limiting the numbers in nightclubs and owners are escaping scrutiny on overcrowding, he said. "I believe another Stardust disaster could happen, because there is no control over the numbers going into night clubs. The owners must be forced to implement the law by issuing tickets so that inspectors can tell exactly how many are inside."

The Liquor Licensing Commission, which issued its final report on the drinks industry just over a year ago, did not take on board any of Mr Holmes's recommendations on nightclubs because he said the trade were against it.

"Justice Minister Michael McDowell should look at bringing in these recommendations now," said Mr Holmes.

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) said the main problem was that there was a dispute over who should enforce the legislation on nightclub numbers, the fire officers or the gardaí. CFOA spokesman Michael Fitzsimons said the licence for dance halls and nightclubs were issued by the District Court and this would imply that it was up to the gardaí to enforce it.

"Fire officers have a specific remit for fire safety and also overcrowding, but our officers are only employed to carry out inspections of these premises after working hours in Dublin but not outside the capital."

Environment Minister Martin Cullen brought in the Indoor Event Licensing Act in 2003 but has so far failed to issue specific regulations on how many can attend major events like concerts in the Point Depot, said Mr Fitzsimons. This means that fire officers have no clear direction on how many people should be allowed into these events and cannot implement the law.

A Justice Department spokesman said the regulations of nightclub numbers was a matter for the Department of the Environment and fire officers.

An Environment Department spokeswoman said that the nightclub owners were legally responsible for safety and overcrowding on their premises. Asked if Minister Cullen would provide the resources for fire officers outside Dublin to carry out these "during performance inspections," his spokeswoman said: "The minister has outlined his plans to set up a fire authority and modernise the service."

She would not say when the regulations for the Indoor Event Licensing Act 2003 would be introduced.

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