Race against the clock for the night-time economy

Archaic licensing laws create bottlenecks of people getting drunk when laws should trust people to behave like adults which may lead to safer cities and towns
Race against the clock for the night-time economy

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton; Sunil Sharpe, of the 'Give Us the Night' campaign and the Night-Time Economy Taskforce; Liz Meaney of the Arts Council; and Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin at the launch of the Night-Time Economy Taskforce in the Button Factory, Temple Bar, Dublin. Minister Martin welcomed the report, which contained 36 recommendations to help revive and sustain Ireland’s night-time economy and culture. Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Everything in Ireland seems to encourage binge drinking. It’s all a race against the clock. As the bars and pubs have returned we see similar scenes at midnight in any large city or town, as the masses congregate for sing-songs as they flood to the same places every Saturday night.

Young people, who almost all still live at home, are letting off steam, and mostly not harming anyone. Can you really blame them? 

A generation who have already lost nearly two years of their youth to Covid are unlikely to want to go straight home to bed on a Saturday night, and even if they did, it’s taking place in the golden hour where taxis and buses are already stretched to capacity. 

The pressure on all of these services is palpable. Those working the few fast food outlets brave enough to open are subjected to an intense hour or so.

The morning after the night before. A littered Washington Street. Letting thousands onto the street at the same time after pubs close is a recipe for disorder. File Pic
The morning after the night before. A littered Washington Street. Letting thousands onto the street at the same time after pubs close is a recipe for disorder. File Pic

Pre-pandemic this particular hour was slightly later, between about 2am and 3am, and the likes of the Grand Parade and Washington St in Cork city became packed with thousands of people filtering onto the streets at the same time. It happened when I was a youngster and it will still be the same when my own kids are going out in 10 years' time. 

For decades many have argued that letting thousands onto the street at the same time is a recipe for disorder, and that this hour or two post shutdown has been a big mess that suits no one. But we still shut down at the same time and we still take part in the race against the clock.

Ireland is one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to Nanny state regulations, but it could easily be argued that many of the restrictive laws encourage binge drinking and other social problems. Our off-licences close at 10pm, and it’s often a rush to grab drink that is to be consumed quickly before people hit the pubs and clubs. The race against the clock means that alcohol with a higher impact is often chosen by those who drink quickly before the cab or bus brings them out. The pattern continues in both pubs and clubs and shots are commonplace as the race continues before another closing time looms.


When both late bars and clubs close at the same time it is little wonder that the streets are packed with intoxicated thousands who have got drunk very quickly. Add drugs to the mix, which are also obviously more difficult to police or control outside licensed venues, and the cocktail brewing becomes potentially disastrous. The door staff who work venues are off the clock by the time the crowds hit the streets, and the already stretched gardaí don’t have the numbers to control everything. By the time the house parties get going, inhibitions are often gone, and the race to get wasted can have terrible consequences. It doesn’t make any sense.

 DJ Stevie G. File pic: Larry Cummins
DJ Stevie G. File pic: Larry Cummins

As a DJ, my minutes after 2am are usually spent explaining to visitors or tourists, that no we can’t play music for longer and no, there are no other late night venues open. It’s embarrassing explaining to the young vibrant workforce who come here from Europe and elsewhere, that Cork and other cities shut down early. 

A country quick to laugh at Brexit Britain remains the victim of archaic licensing laws, often made centuries ago, which will surely be overhauled soon, and which will keep us more in line with our EU neighbours. 

The group Give Us The Night has been campaigning for positive changes for many years, and they have done amazing work highlighting the contribution of the night-time industry to culture, community, and the economy of Ireland.

Safe space

Clubbing and nightlife should also be a safe space for everyone. Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015, and it’s amazing to think that homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993. The underground club scene played a big role in breaking down barriers, and in cities like Cork, our LGBT history was greatly enriched by influential bars such as Loafers, which had opened a full 10 years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

I’ve been lucky enough to help promote Safe Gigs Ireland at some events recently too. This is a new initiative aiming to make gigs and nightlife safer by creating a zero-tolerance environment for sexual harassment and violence. They are actively working with venues, artists, staff, crew, security, promoters, and gig-goers to eliminate sexual violence, while also recognising that those working in nightlife are also subjected to it. 

I’ve similarly been involved in promoting a Consent campaign with the Cork Sexual Violence Centre targeting third-level students, and it’s imperative that these messages are delivered as widely as possible. Again, it’s much easier to do this in a licensed premises than at a house party.

Later closing times won’t be for everyone. It’s not gonna suit those working early the next day and many venues won’t be interested in staying open later either. This is fine. There will be lots of extra costs for the venues that do want to stay open. We need supports for the late-night music industry.

Give Us The Night recently published an impressive manifesto, and urged the removal of the “special exemption order fees” for venues currently in possession of a dance licence. It’s another unfair fee with huge legal costs that makes it hard for our cultural venues to continue. 

Let’s trust people to behave like adults and let’s make our cities and towns safer.  At the moment everything in Ireland points towards turning 18 and rushing to the pubs and clubs and to get wasted as quickly as possible. 

Ireland needs to make some changes.

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