Off-licence sales are booming. Between the smoking ban, the clampdown on drink driving and the downturn in the economy, more and more people are choosing to drink at home. And this means that more off-licenses are opening all the time. Jennifer Clarke explains what's involved in obtaining an off-licence to sell liquor to the public.

Last year it was revealed that in Dublin 15 the number of off-licensed premises alone had doubled in three years from 17 to 33. During the same period, the number of premises selling beer, spirits and wine almost trebled from seven to 19.

The increase in the number of off-licence applications can to some extent be explained by the introduction of section 18 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000. This section abolished the requirement that an applicant for an off-licence had to 'extinguish' a licence in the same town or city or in the immediate vicinity of the proposed premises or in the same parish. As a result, a retailer applying for a new licence can now tender for extinguishment of a licence attaching to premises situated anywhere in the state. You will no doubt have noticed the increased number of off-licenses and convenience stores operating in your neighbourhood, for example, Spar, Centra, Londis and Mace. These stores, along with discount retailers Lidl and Aldi and traditional supermarkets such as Dunnes Stores and Superquinn, all sell alcohol. They are entitled to do so under three types of licence:

  • A wine retailer's off licence,
  • A spirit retailer's off licence, and
  • A beer retailer's off licence.

A retailer who wishes to obtain any of these off-licences must apply to the District Court. Prior to the introduction in July 2008 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, there was no requirement to apply to the District Court for a wine off-licence as this type of licence was granted by the Revenue Commissioners. The position now, however, is that a wine retailer's off-licence will not be granted by the Revenue Commissioners unless a District Court certificate has been obtained.

An important change for off-licence retailers introduced by the 2008 Act was the change to the times for the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises. Off-sales of alcohol can now only be made between 12.30pm and 10pm on Sundays (and St Patrick's Day) and between 10.30am and 10pm on all other days.

Another important provision of the 2008 Act is section 9, which provides for the structural separation of alcohol products in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations and any other 'mixed trading' premises. In such stores, alcohol must be displayed and sold in a specified area which is physically separated from the rest of the premises. Where this is not feasible (for instance, in smaller premises) alcohol products - other than wine - must be displayed and sold from a part of the premises to which the public do not have access, such as from behind a counter.

It should be noted that this section has not yet come into operation and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has introduced a voluntary code of practice as an alternative to implementing it. The cornerstone of the code of practice is the manner in which alcohol/licensed products are displayed. Retailers of licensed products are required to ensure that such products are displayed separately to non-licensed products in a part of the premises through which customers do not have to pass in order to gain access to other non-licensed products. It is preferable that this area would be at the rear of the premises.

Licence holders are required to comply with this part of the code in so far as they can. Unlike section 9 of the 2008 Act, the code does not require structural separation of products by a physical barrier. It is important to note that compliance with the code will be subject to independent audit and the department has made it clear that if it is of the view that the code is not being adhered to on a voluntary basis, section 9 of the 2008 Act will be brought into force.