Following the relaxation of Covid regulations for outside service in hospitality establishments, there has been a considerable degree of confusion around the consumption of alcohol in areas where local authorities have granted licences for street furniture to existing hospitality establishments under Section 254 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
This Section allows the local authority to grant such a licence to public areas which are under the control of a local authority. The request by Garda Commissioner Harris to the Garda is use discretion in the management of outdoor dining areas was to be welcomed but it is clearly not a solution to a form of hospitality which may become permanent.
The announcement that new short-term legislation would be enacted to allow for the sale and consumption of alcohol in seated outdoor areas, including those authorised by local authorities or those privately owned adjacent to the licensed premises but not currently subject to a licence is welcome.
One of the significant differences between the law relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol in Ireland and in Europe and the UK is that the administration of the law in Ireland rests largely with the Courts and the Revenue Commissioners rather than local authorities.
Commercial hospitality premises wishing to avail of the service of alcohol to outdoor dining areas now requires compliance with 3 different regulatory regimes, namely:
- Covid-19 Regulations
- Local Authority byelaws
- Alcohol Licensing Laws
Licences for the service and consumption of alcohol such as public and 7 day on licences, hotel licences and special restaurant licences grant permission for the sale and consumption of alcohol within strictly defined areas based on site maps, floor plans and elevations defining the licenced area. The reason for this is that the Licensee must have physical control of the licenced area to ensure compliance with all aspects of the law relating to the service and consumption of alcohol. This must be established as a matter of fact to the Gardai and the Courts when applying for such a licence.
The hospitality industry has been incentivised to open for outside drinking and in areas where local authorities have granted licences for outdoor dining and invariably these are outside of the area which is licenced for the sale of alcohol. Ironically, local authority bylaws in many areas such as Dublin City of Galway City prohibit the consumption of alcohol in public places. However, there is nothing specific other than local authority bylaws which prevents the consumption of alcohol in a public place outside a public bar.
It is open to local authorities to make bylaws permitting the consumption of food and alcohol while utilising street furniture which has also been licenced. The request by Garda Commissioner Harris to the Garda is use discretion in the management of outdoor dining areas is to be welcomed but it is clearly not a solution to a form of hospitality which may become permanent.
Given that the foundation act for alcohol licensing law is the Licensing (Ireland) Act 1833 and the fact that there are currently over 80 pieces of legislation relating to alcohol licensing, there is an urgent need for a full review and codification of alcohol law to ensure clarity regarding who and in what manner alcohol may be served for outside consumption in permanent or temporary dining areas in public places.
The current position is merely a temporary arrangement and legislation regulating the consumption of alcohol as part of outdoor dining this together with a more long term project to codify the law on the sale of alcohol is urgently needed.