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Private Members’ Business, Dail Eireann
Second Stage intervention by Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality,
Mr David Stanton, TD
23 March 2017
A Cheann Comhairle,
I would like to start by thanking Deputy Kelly for publishing this Bill. At the outset, and on behalf of the Tánaiste, let me state clearly that the Government will not be opposing the Bill. However, in order to address certain shortcomings, the Government will propose appropriate amendments to the Bill in due course at Committee Stage.
It goes without saying that this Government is fully committed to supporting regional and local development and, in that context, to fully exploiting the job-creation potential of artisan food production and local tourism initiatives.
Recently, we have seen an increase in the number of craft breweries and distilleries, and this trend is set to continue. This is a dynamic and entrepreneurial sector with real growth potential.
Some craft breweries and distilleries admit visitors for guided tours of their premises. These tend to attract tourists to the area and create local employment opportunities. They also contribute to local economic activity by generating demand for the provision of ancillary services such as accommodation, catering and transport.
Having completed a tour of premises – and having tasted products produced on site – it is only natural that visitors may wish to purchase some of the products.
Some of the larger breweries and distilleries have already obtained public house licenses which enable them to sell alcohol products, including those produced on the premises, to visitors. For smaller craft brewers or distillers, that may not be an option, not least because of the outlays required to extinguish an existing licence. The purpose of this short Bill is to cater for their needs.
However, while accepting the general principle that breweries and distilleries be permitted to sell their own products to participants in guided tours, and recognising that the provision of licences for indigenous producers can boost local enterprise and employment opportunities and lead to increased tourism activity, we must also remain alert to the risks of potential abuses. Experience shows that loopholes in licensing law tend to be fully exploited.
Deputy Kelly’s Bill proposes the creation of a retail licence which would authorise the sale of the licensee’s own alcohol products “for consumption on or off the premises”. This would permit licensees to establish a bar in the premises in which visitors could remain for an indefinite period between 10.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. to purchase and consume such products.
While the Bill proposes that the Revenue Commissioners would automatically grant this retail licence to holders of licences for the production of alcohol products, the grant of a retail licence under the Licensing Acts requires the presentation of an appropriate court certificate to the Revenue Commissioners. A District Court certificate is required in the case of an off-licence, a Circuit Court certificate in the case of an on-licence.
This requires the applicant to apply formally to the relevant Court, on notice to the Gardaí. The certificate is normally granted unless the Court refuses to do so on grounds such as:
– the character, misconduct or unfitness of the applicant;
– the unfitness of the premises concerned;
– the unsuitability of the premises for those residing in the neighbourhood.
The objectives of this court-based procedure are to ensure that licensed premises are suitable and safe for customers and that they will be operated by the licence holder in a responsible, peaceable and orderly manner in accordance with licensing law, including the prohibition on sales to underage persons. It also permits any potential adverse impact on local residents to be taken into account at the outset.
In order to obtain a retail licence for a craft brewery or distillery as proposed in the Bill, the applicant should, therefore, be required to obtain a court certificate from the District Court or Circuit Court, as the case may be. Having obtained the certificate, the Revenue Commissioners will issue the licence and it will be renewed automatically each year without any further court involvement unless there are grounds for objecting to renewal. Such objections – arising for example from disorderly conduct or drunkenness on the premises or nearby – can be dealt with by the District Court.
It should be noted that obtaining a retail licence could also require ‘change-of-use’ planning permission, but that is covered by the planning code rather than licensing law. In the case of an on-licence, compliance with relevant fire safety standards would also be essential. Under the Fire Services Act 1982, the fire authority is also a notice party to any application for an on-licence.
The Bill proposes that licences be made available to “premises to which visitors are admitted on guided tours.” However, while premises would be required to admit visitors on guided tours, there is no clear requirement that visitors must have participated in and completed such a tour prior to purchasing alcohol products. This could be interpreted to mean that any person entering the premises – whether participating in a tour or not – would qualify as a visitor for the purpose of the Bill and be permitted to purchase alcohol products produced on the premises.
I am sure that this is not Deputy Kelly’s intention and the matter can also be addressed by a Government amendment at Committee Stage.