The National Transport Authority has warned it may have to revamp public transport times if the Government goes ahead with plans for later closing hours for pubs.
The NTA has warned, though, that a shortage of drivers will make these changes a challenge.
NTA chief executive Anne Graham will today tell the Oireachtas Justice Committee that last buses in many urban areas have been aligned with pub closing times of 11.30pm.
If this is extended to 12.30am, as planned under the revamped licencing laws, the NTA may have to rethink its current approach, Ms Graham will tell the committee.
“If the extension of the general opening hours of licensed premises to 12.30am is enacted, the Authority will have to re-examine the timetables of bus and other public transport services to see whether it is possible to extend a proportion of these services to later operating hours in our cities, what the impact of those extensions would be on the transport operators and their staff and what the cost to the Exchequer would be to provide any additional operating hours beyond the current schedules."
She is one of several stakeholders that will address the committee which has been holding meetings hearing from stakeholders over the general scheme of the Government’s new Sale of Alcohol Bill, which would modernise Ireland’s “archaic” regulations in this area.
The legislation aims to revamp the country's patchwork of laws governing alcohol sales in pubs, restaurants and off-licences, some of which date back more than 200 years.
Alcohol licences will be allowed for museums and galleries, while pubs will be permitted to stay open for longer and nightclubs allowed to stay open until 6am.
The bill also includes the removal, over a three-year period, of the extinguishment provision, whereby a new operator cannot enter the pub trade without first acquiring an existing licence. At the committee last week, publican representatives said that this particular provision could have an extremely damaging effect to the pub trade and hasten closures in rural areas.
Addressing the committee on Tuesday will be a number of stakeholders, including lobby groups, unions and the National Transport Authority.
The Institute of Public Health is to warn that the reform of laws could have “significant unintended consequences” such as increasing the demand on emergency services and reinforcing alcohol consumption as central to our social lives.
Paula Leonard, of Alcohol Forum Ireland, said they were asking for the Government to reconsider a number of proposed measures in the bill.
“We welcomed the announcement by Government that it was finally proposing to consolidate alcohol licensing and we welcomed the Department’s indication that one of the objectives of the Sale of Alcohol Bill was to ‘reduce alcohol–related harm, especially among young people’,” she said.
“However, we fundamentally do not believe the Bill, in its current form, will achieve that objective.”
According to a recent Red C poll it commissioned with the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network, it suggested that half (51%) of people agreed that extending the hours at which alcohol can be sold will have a negative impact on public health, public safety and public order.
In its opening statement, Alcohol Action Ireland will tell the committee that it should put “public interest above vested interest” when considering the Bill and that international research suggested that the measures could lead to increased levels of crime and health-related harms.
The committee will also be addressed by Mandate trade union, and it has said that the safety and wellbeing of bar staff should be one of the key priorities in the legislation.
General Secretary, Gerry Light, will tell the committee that the Bill should provide for the revocation of licences where breaches of employment law occur and that workers’ representatives should have a say in the issuing or renewal of licences.