The Government has been busy addressing three topical matters involving the sale of alcohol in Ireland. The most prominent among them is the legislative change to repeal a 90 year old law banning the sale of alcohol on Good Friday. We examine the scope of these proposals and the likely impact on the drinks and tourism industries.

Removing the Good Friday prohibition

The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, introduced on 23 February 2017, is at the First Stage in the Seanad. If enacted this law will repeal the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol at licensed premises on Good Friday.

In 2010, an important Leinster v Munster rugby match took place on Good Friday. Publicans in Limerick, along with the vintners associations, successfully applied for an Area Exemption Order on economic grounds that the pubs in the vicinity of Thomond Park should be entitled to open on Good Friday. This was the first and last time since 1927 that a pub legally served alcohol in Ireland on Good Friday.

Campaigners for legislative change estimate that publicans and licence holders lose approximately €30m to €40m in sales revenue by closing on Good Friday.

Campaigners against legislative change say that there are only two days out of the year (Good Friday and Christmas Day) when the sale of alcohol is prohibited and that keeping the ban intact will not cause commercial hardship of such a gravity so as to justify allowing the sale of alcohol for a further 24 hours.

Consequences if the new Bill is enacted

Campaigners for the Bill believe the removal of the ban will produce positive economic results. The Licensed Trade sector is a key element of the tourism industry in Ireland, which contributes greatly to our economy. Easter weekend is a major holiday from a tourism perspective. Campaigners believe if the Bill is passed, licensed premises are likely to enjoy an estimated 30% increase in revenue during this week.

The removal of the ban would also allow licensed premises to trade during the full permitted hours, including late exemptions, on Holy Thursday night, essentially enabling late opening premises to profit from an increased time frame for sales of alcohol leading into the weekend.

On the other hand, pro-ban campaigners believe the removal may hinder attempts to tackle the serious health problems of alcohol abuse; and may encourage over-consumption of alcohol on public holidays. Also, this raises the question, will Christmas Day be next?

The legislation is unlikely to be in place ahead of 14 April 2017 but could be introduced for 2018.

Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016

This Bill is set to provide for the grant of a licence authorising the sale of intoxicating liquor to visitors at breweries and distilleries.

Distilleries and breweries, including micro-breweries, are tourist attractions in Ireland. Under existing licensing law, it is not permissible to sell the alcohol products made on these premises to visitors unless the owners acquire a publican’s licence or an off-licence.

The Bill, if enacted, will permit distilleries and breweries to sell their own alcohol products to visitors admitted on guided tours and in accordance with the appropriate licence. The criteria for this new distiller’s licence are currently unknown but are expected to be less onerous and less expensive than obtaining a full publican's licence in a Circuit Court. The Bill is currently at the Second Stage of progression through the Dáil, having recently been referred to Select Committee stage for review, on 23 February 2017.

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015

This highly anticipated Bill, if enacted, will introduce minimum unit pricing for the sale of units of alcohol in Ireland. A person or business that sells an alcohol product at a price that is below the minimum unit price; or advertises or promotes the sale of an alcohol product at a price that is below the minimum unit price for that product, will be guilty of an offence, with potentially severe penalties.

The purpose of this Bill is to tackle Ireland’s on-going problem with over-consumption and misuse of alcohol. This legislation, if commenced, will mostly impact the off-trade. Off-licence holders will need to re-evaluate the alcohol products they sell in light of the changes within the Bill. The Bill is at Committee Stage in the Seanad.

Conclusion

Overall, these three Bills highlight the Government’s proactive response to issues relating to alcohol sales in Ireland. The proposed changes are designed to modernise licensing law in Ireland with a view to creating a positive economic impact on the drinks industry and tourism. The proposed removal of the Good Friday prohibition is controversial but somewhat balanced by the proposed introduction of minimum unit pricing, which should increase awareness of the perils associated with alcohol consumption and young people.

It will be interesting to see which of the three legislative changes will be enacted over the next 12 months and their impact on drinks sales in the future.