The amount of harm from alcohol will increase if the hours of availability are increased, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Professor Frank Murray, chair of Alcohol Action Ireland, said the public health harms from alcohol are “directly related to the number of outlets” and the “hours of opening”.
“I’ve seen the catastrophic effects of alcohol,” he said, outlining his experience as a liver specialist, and said that reducing the availability of alcohol is a “constructive way” of reducing harms.
Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield said that the measures contained in the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill don’t simply come down to “industry vs public health”, and there are other stakeholders involved.
“We’ve lost 85% of nightclubs in the last 20 years,” he said. “Hundreds of people are calling for change on this issue. Without extended hours, we’re going to lose those spaces for good.”
The Government's 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 until 12.30am, along with extended hours for nightclubs.
The legislation has been welcomed in many quarters, including the pub and nightclub trade, and the Justice Minister has said it would help sectors “decimated” during the pandemic, and aim to diversify the night-time offerings in our towns and cities.
However, there are facets to which they have taken exception or have sought clarity on. Publicans have said the removal of the extinguishment provision, whereby a new operator cannot enter the pub trade without first acquiring an existing licence, would have a damaging effect on rural pubs in particular.
However, advocacy groups as well as doctors and psychiatrists have warned of the health risks of extending access to alcohol and the impact it could have on the health service and on crime.
Speaking before the committee on Tuesday was the National Transport Authority, the Institute of Public Health, Mandate trade union, Alcohol Action Ireland and the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network.
The Institute of Public Health’s Ciara Reynolds said that systematic reviews of licensing hours internationally had found that “extending opening hours by even one hour increased injuries, assaults, drink-driving, car crashes and driving injuries”.