New Changes to Clubs & Pubs Licensing Laws Welcomed by Students and Many Others

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has announced that a reform around the licensing of pubs and clubs in Ireland is said to take place over the coming weeks.

The new laws will see clubs allowed to open up until 6am, whilst bars can stay open until 2.30am. The new regulations will replace ‘antiquated’ alcohol and nightlife laws, which have not been modernised in over 200 years.

The move is one that is warmly welcomed, and has been highly anticipated by the hospitality sector, which was severely impacted by the pandemic, as well as those who engage in nightlife culture. In a statement, Tánaiste Leo Varkadkar, who had previously criticised the licensing laws for being “really archaic”, said that the new legislation was “Good news for hospitality businesses, and will boost the experience economy, and create jobs and that [they] will also improve cultural and entertainment offerings in our towns, cities and rural areas”.

Give Us The Night (GUTN) is an independent group and member of Dublin City Council’s Arts Strategic Policy Committee dedicated to promoting Ireland’s nightlife economy and advocates for change in the industry in order to raise the quality of nightlife to international standards. The pandemic sparked a major revival of their campaign and mission.

Sunil Sharpe, a representative from GUTN stated “This particular reform is almost 20 years in the making, roughly the same length of time that our campaign has been in existence, so to say that it's overdue is an understatement. Overall we feel that the contents of the bill are progressive for Ireland, but on an international level are moderate. Later opening will apply to only a small number of venues too, especially in the first few years after the laws are enacted. Other important issues within the bill still need to be brought over the line, including licensing costs and the provision of fit-for-purpose licences, including the cultural amenity licence, which looks interesting, but which we need more detail on. Unless complementary planning rules by local authorities are also in place, to include flexible changes of use for night-time venues, this will be a messy process for operators and will render some of the new licensing laws useless”.

Ireland’s clubbing and nightlife culture in general has been long debated for being outdated and unable to match other European cities’ standards. Trends in the billion euro industry across Europe over the years have sparked similar changes to legislation, such as the Glasgow Licensing Board (GLB) in 2018; which saw bars in Glasgow allowed to stay open until 4am upon respecting implemented regulations. Cultural institutions such as Fáilte Ireland have welcomed the new legislation, which is set to have a major impact on rural business, national tourism and the strength of nightlife culture as a whole in Ireland.

The news has also warranted calls for new night buses, along with other increased transportation means to be implemented in or to meet the change to closing hours. Dublin Bus has introduced several new 24 hour night-time services, such as the 15 towards Ballycullen and the 39a towards UCD/Ongar. Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority said that she was “delighted that the TFI network is growing to support Dublin’s late-night economy”. The recently established Night-Time Economy Taskforce has prepared a series of reports and recommendations for the new legislation and has reminded the committee of focusing on merely Cork and Dublin based services.

The new legislation has however sparked backlash and rising concerns from the HSE and the greater public regarding the potential for incivilities, drink-driving accidents and assaults. Representatives from the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland said that economic and cultural gains “should be secondary” to any potential public health and social harms associated with the changes whilst the HSE has warned of “hidden harms” linked to addiction, attacks and other dangers.

When asked about this potential issue, GUTN commented “We don't believe that extended times will lead to a rise in lawlessness, in fact we think that with a more flexible system in place, that it will help to ease the tension that develops when you dump too many people onto the street at one blanket closing time. When we had a staggered closing time in place in Dublin, through the use of the theatre licence for late-night venues in 2005-08, public order offences steadily dropped. This is not to say that there won't be challenges or initial teething problems when changing closing times, and we're not underestimating the sustained pressure it could put A&E units under, if some people are out later at night. There will be a range of considerations, mostly around noise and safety, that have to be planned for. These discussions have already been central to our work on the Night-Time Economy Taskforce, and we're hopeful that with all stakeholders committed to getting this right, that Ireland's general nightlife strategy will be in a very strong place by the time the new reform comes in.”

McEntee also addressed these concerns, and has reassured publicans that “[the new laws] do not involve the sale of alcohol or is not centred on the sale of alcohol” and that she was “Committed to enacting alcohol licensing laws that reflect the changing expectations and lifestyles of 21st century Ireland.”

Manon Jourdan, a graduate of Economics from UCD and current apprentice at Universal Music France says “As someone from Paris who spent my college years in Dublin and who now works in the music industry, I think this is amazing news for Ireland. Artists will finally have more opportunities to perform, which brings us two major outcomes: diversity and employment.”

“Thanks to all of this, artists from a wide variety of genres will have plenty of opportunities to perform and this increases our ‘supply’ of artists. With this, they’ll receive more visibility and revenue giving them the opportunity to develop their career faster. On top of this, more publishing revenue will be generated, which is great news for the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) and many other likewise national institutions. Despite this positive progress, large parts of the Irish music business remain centred in the UK, so I really hope that the Irish music industry will take advantage of this new decision and try to change this.”