With many nightclubs permanently closing their doors, Daniel Forde, looks at the reasons for this depression in Irish nightlife.
The nightclub scene in Ireland has been experiencing some difficulty in the past few years. A range of different factors has made it harder for nightclubs to appeal to the masses and maintain success. As early as 2008, 37% of nightclubs had reportedly closed in the country. In 2011 it was also reported that 25% of clubs had closed across the nation, cutting over 600 jobs.
This decline has continued to the present day, as seen in the recent closure of many once prominent nightclubs. In Dublin alone, venues that were once staples of the nightlife scene such as Hangar, the Twisted Pepper, and Palace have either shut down completely or moved to a different location. There is still the traditional mix of Copper’s, Diceys and all the other venues centred around Harcourt Street, but the number of alternatives is steadily shrinking.
One reason attributed to this decrease is the Irish licensing laws. At the moment the Intoxicating Liquor Acts of 2003 and 2008 regulate the hours by which both pubs and nightclubs can operate. Pubs can now stay open until 2:30 am in most cases. This, however, means that a nightclub is competing with pubs for its customers for most of the night. Dublin seems to have this easier than most other cities in Ireland with numerous clubs managing to stay open until 4 am or even 5 am in some instances. In places like Cork however, where most clubs close their doors around 2 am this puts them in competition with pubs.
With the introduction of the 2008 Act, the government abolished the theatre licence and the rules became stricter and much more expensive.
The 2008 Act has also made conditions for Sunday very difficult also. Clubs have to close at 1 am on a Sunday, again severely confining their possible service hours. As a result of this, many nightclubs have little actual incentive to open on a Sunday, and few do. This change further impacts their profitability as Sunday is traditionally a time when those in the service industry finish their working week, and by closing around this period, a whole potential source of demand is left unsupplied.
The new licensing laws have also notably raised costs for nightclubs. The introduction of new Special Exemption Order (SEO) fees has strained the potential to keep costs down. Under old legislation, venues could apply for Theatre Licenses at the expense of €270 per night. Clubs could stay open until 3:30 am for seven nights a week. With the introduction of the 2008 Act, the government abolished the theatre licence and the rules became stricter and much more expensive.
Now clubs, like late night bars, have to apply for each exemption which only lets them stay open until 2:30 am. Coupled with this is the new cost of SEOs at €410, meaning that the total cost for a club merely being allowed to open its doors could be up to €148,000 for the year. That great expense must also be considered along with any overhead costs associated with running a nightclub. A notable outcome of this is the loss of innovation. Clubs have little room to reinvent their offerings due to the steep costs, and venues that are offering something different, such as Hangar, have had to close.
Now that technology allows people to meet other singles nearby, it is easy to see why it would be harder for nightclubs to attract customers.
Finally, one more factor that has adversely affected nightclubs appeal is the change in attitudes amongst the younger generation. In regards to dating for example, with the rise of apps like Tinder. Nightclubs and bars are no longer the sole venues in which to find a romantic hook up. Now that technology allows people to meet other singles nearby, it is easy to see why it would be harder for nightclubs to attract customers. Furthermore, nightclubs have also lost the reputation as a source for new music. With streaming services now widely available and host of other options on the internet, young people stay in to find new music rather than go out. DJs are no longer the vanguards of emerging taste. Nightclubs no longer have the same hold on young people’s attention that they used to.
All of these factors mean that the nightclub scene in Ireland is underwhelming especially when compared with its European counterparts. Other cities, such as London and Berlin, do not have the same problems with licensing laws and have a greater variety of venues on offer. Nevertheless, the problem is not insurmountable. As Craig Connolly, owner of The Building Society, recently noted: “Irish nightlife will continue to slump until laws change.” A greater nightclub scene would be of benefit to Irish tourism and would increase jobs. However, until all this changes the future appears uncertain. With such adverse conditions for success, the nightclub industry is now a case of survival of the fittest.