Justice Minister 'confident' outdoor dining can continue despite licensing law issue

Justice Minister 'confident' outdoor dining can continue despite licensing law issue

Members of the public dining outside on Capel Street in Dublin. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

The Minister of Justice says she is "confident" outdoor dining can continue despite a statement from the Gardai that some pubs may not be licensed to serve outdoors.

Representatives of the hospitality industry and the Garda Representative Association have called for new legislation to be drafted to give clarity to restaurants and pubs serving alcohol in outdoor seating areas.

"I spoke with the Garda commissioner this morning, he has assured me that the gardaí will apply discretion and will be issuing a communique to his organisation today to confirm that," Heather Humphreys said in Monaghan this morning.

"I'm confident that it can continue and it has been taking place right across the country and has worked very successfully," she said.

The gardaí have my full support and as I said, the commissioner confirmed, as he has done on a number of cases, that discretion will be applied.

There have been calls for the government needs to bring forward a statutory instrument today which legally allows for businesses to provide alcohol within their designated area and outdoor spaces. Ms Humprheys said that the government will do whatever is necessary to support the sector.

"I have spoken with the Attorney General and if we do need to make changes, we will do because the government will support the hospitality sector in providing outdoor dining to allow people to go out and enjoy themselves," she added.

"There has been an issue in one part of the country, a local issue, and I would say those people that they should sit down and try and find a local solution "Most people have had a good weekend and I would like that to continue."

'Complex area'

Earlier, Ms Humphreys said licensing law is a “complex area” but action will be taken to facilitate outdoor hospitality if necessary.

In a series of tweets this morning, Minister Humphreys said she has been in regular contact with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the issue of outdoor dining and spoke with him again this morning.

“The Commissioner has reassured me, and did so again this morning, that discretion will continue to be applied by Gardaí in their engagements with licensed premises. 

Minister Humphreys said she has been in regular contact with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the issue of outdoor dining
Minister Humphreys said she has been in regular contact with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the issue of outdoor dining

"The Commissioner will be sending a communication out across the Garda organisation this morning to that effect.” 

The Minister for Justice said the “overwhelming majority” of licensed premises are operating safely, and the Government is “determined to continue to support them.” 

“If local issues arise, I would urge local authorities, Gardai and businesses to engage.” 

The comments came after representatives of the hospitality industry appeared on national radio this morning calling for new legislation to be drafted to give clarity to restaurants and pubs serving alcohol in outdoor seating areas.

The issue was highlighted after gardaí said the consumption of alcohol in these spaces is not allowed unless specifically provided for in a liquor licence obtained in court or where by-laws permit the drinking of alcohol in public.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said the Government must bring forward a statutory instrument immediately giving clarity for the businesses.

Adrian Cummins, the RAI chief executive, said the Government, when it allowed hospitality to reopen outdoors, "should have known" there were issues with drinking alcohol in newly added seating areas outside bars and restaurants which are not covered by licencing laws.

Adrian Cummins, CEO of The Restaurants Association of Ireland.Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Adrian Cummins, CEO of The Restaurants Association of Ireland.Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"We need to fix this problem," he said, pointing out that €17million has been granted to the hospitality sector to provide outdoor dining facilities.

There is "deep frustration and disappointment" across the industry today, he told RTÉ radio.

"We cannot operate indoors, until July 5. As part of the roadmap to reopening, businesses need to open and trade viably now, especially in west coast counties that need a good summer to create enough income to keep their businesses afloat in the wintertime."

Mr Cummins said the government needs to bring forward a statutory instrument today which legally allows for businesses to provide alcohol within their designated area and outdoor spaces.

"We want to make sure when businesses open their doors today, they understand very clearly that they're allowed to operate their business."

Yesterday, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys said gardaí will act with "discretion” when dealing with pubs and restaurants serving alcohol to customers availing of on-street dining facilities. 

Responding, Mr Cummins said discretion was the keyword and called for clarity to be provided to gardaí.

Speaking on the same programme, The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) and the Garda Representative Association (GRA) echoed the RAI’s call for greater clarity regarding legislation surrounding outdoor dining and the consumption of alcohol outside licensed premises.

The chief executive of the VFI, Padraig Cribben told Morning Ireland that he had written to the Minister for Justice on June 10 seeking clarity on the issue and expressing concern that garda discretion would not be imposed evenly across the country.

Chief executive of the VFI, Padraig Cribben wrote to the Minister for Justice on June 10 seeking clarity on the issue
Chief executive of the VFI, Padraig Cribben wrote to the Minister for Justice on June 10 seeking clarity on the issue

The hospitality sector had been told to prepare for an outdoor summer, grants were given for outdoor seating and streets were closed off but there is still ambiguity about Section 254 areas, he said.

Mr Cribben explained that under emergency legislation a Section 254 area was an area where a local authority had granted permission for outdoor hospitality services.

He said that he believed under Section 254 publicans were legally entitled to serve outdoors, but that there was confusion under the 2003 Act and some gardaí were taking a different interpretation.

Brendan O’Connor, vice president of the GRA said there was “absolute confusion” about the legislation and individual gardaí were being expected to police the issue using discretion and common sense while at the same time being advised that in any breach of the law, there has to be “someone made amenable.” 

Mr O’Connor said the GRA is seeking clear guidelines for its members so they will not be held accountable for discretionary decisions.

“All we're looking for is clear guidelines so our members won't be scapegoated and held accountable for impossible decisions that have to be made.”

Legal action

The Restaurants Association of Ireland is to appear before the High Court today challenging what it deems “discriminatory” rules allowing hotels to serve guests indoors while restaurants, bars and cafés cannot resume indoor dining until July 5.

The RAI say the distinction drawn between hotels and other hospitality venues should be quashed on the basis of “irrationality, lack of proportionality and unjustifiable interference with restaurateur’s property and economic rights”.

A spokesperson for the association said the regulations are required to be challenged in order to ensure the continued viability of members’ livelihoods and in order to ensure “these unjustifiable distinctions do not continue.” 

 The application for a judicial review in the High Court has been made against the Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly.

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