Alcohol Action Ireland, the independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, notes the publication of the Report of the Night Time Economy Taskforce, published (16th September) by Catherine Martin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

As outlined in our presentation to the Taskforce, Alcohol Action remain supportive of the development of the night time public realm. While the Taskforce’s Report does outline that there remains much consideration on how, as a society, we will view our cultural and social night time lives, post COVID-19, AAI regret that the ‘Vision for a Night Time Economy in Ireland’ has not been taken an opportunity to reimagine, as we had proposed, our collective cultural and entertainment experience free from alcohol commercialisation.

We note the ambition to modernise the liquor licensing laws and application processes, and share the view that the current regime, with its foundation in the 19th century, is clearly not fit for purpose as it facilitates naked opportunism in the 21st century.

We look forward to engaging with the Minister for Justice, and the Oireachtas, as the details of the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill become clearer, and the General Scheme of the Bill is published, and subjected to a regulatory impact assessment and pre-legislative scrutiny.

It must be noted that Ireland’s previous endeavours at liberalising the availability of alcohol licenses, both in the on-trade and off-trade, have contributed significantly to a notable rise in alcohol use and related harms in the last four decades.

In the 1970s, when Special Exemption Orders became more widely available and their issue grew four fold, Ireland’s alcohol use rose from 7.1 to 9 litres per capita. While the loosing of restrictions on securing an off-trade licence in the 1990s and beyond, has seen retail off-licences availability rise from under 1,000 to over 5,000.

This widespread accessibility and availability of alcohol is central to sustaining Ireland’s difficulty with alcohol.

The challenges to public order and safety which will arise if trading hours are further extended will be significant and will undoubtedly place further pressure on under resourced public services such as our hardworking Emergency Services, the Gardai and our A&Es.

Public fear of harassment, being unsafe or annoyance from others’ drinking, remain key factors in preventing people from experiencing our existing night time economy.

Public health alcohol policy, as enacted within the objectives of Public Health Alcohol Act and committed to within the Programme for Government, seeks a 20% reduction in alcohol use across the whole of population.

AAI would urge government to ensure that all the measures within the existing legislative framework would be implemented, in full, before any ‘radical reform’ of liquor licensing is finalised.