Dáil Éireann - Volume 531 - 01 March, 2001

Written Answers. - Intoxicating Liquor Act.

29. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date in the implementation of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, particularly in regard to the provisions relating to underage drinking; if he plans any new initiatives to deal with this problem; if all sections of the Act have been implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6147/01]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): All provisions in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, except sections 15 and 17, are in operation since July 2000. The Act provides for considerable strengthening of those provisions which already existed in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, in relation to the supply or sale of intoxicating liquor to underage persons. As a result of these changes, the defence of “reasonable belief” in relation to the age of a person is no longer available in proceedings against the licensee, fines for breaches of the law on underage drinking have been increased and where a conviction for the sale of alcohol to an underage person is upheld, the licensed premises can be closed for a specified period.

I have had discussions with the Garda Commissioner recently about the enforcement of the laws on underage drinking. I have been assured by him that the Garda Síochána is resolutely enforcing those laws. There has been misleading comment to the effect that there has been only [1336] one conviction under the 2000 Act since it came into operation. This is simply not the case. Since July 2000 six licensed premises have had, as a result of convictions under the Act, temporary closure orders made against them and the Garda is pursuing cases in respect of another 80 premises nationwide. Three premises have been closed for seven days, two for five days, and one for three days. While it takes time for any new law to begin to have effect, it is clear from the figures to date that the law is working and that it is beginning to have the desired deterrent effect. The commissioner's view is that the new law provides the Garda with all the necessary powers. I have assured him that if further strengthening of the law is required the Government will not be found wanting.

Work is in progress on preparation of the regulations necessary to give effect to section 15 of the Act. These will prescribe the form of the notice to be displayed in licensed premises containing a statement of the offences in relation to underage drinking. Practical difficulties, adverted to during debates on the Bill in the House, concerning the operation of section 17 of the Act are still under consideration in my Department. That section places an onus on licensees to identify themselves on any container in which intoxicating liquor is sold for consumption off the premises.

Reform of our liquor licensing system has not ended with the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, and the House will be aware that on 1 November last I established the Commission on Liquor Licensing under the chairmanship of Mr. Gordon Holmes. Its terms of reference include all aspects of the operation of the licensing laws including an examination of the problems associated with under-age drinking.

With regard to further initiatives, I officially launched the age card scheme awareness campaign in Dublin Castle on 6 September 2000 in conjunction with the Garda authorities who have taken the following steps to promote the use of the age card. All Garda stations have been notified of the age card scheme and issued with application forms and posters. Non-Garda outlets have also been issued with application forms and posters. A poster campaign has been initiated to target all pubs, stand alone off-licences and grocery based off-licences, night-clubs and dance halls, etc. Youth information centres and youth groups nation wide have been issued with information, posters and contact numbers for further support. Garda juvenile liaison officers-community gardaí are visiting post-primary schools, youth clubs, special projects, etc. highlighting the age card scheme. There is ongoing liaison between the drinks industry and the Garda Síochána and new avenues of ensuring young people get the age card message are being explored.

I am happy to say that to date 23,300 age cards have been issued. However, while legislative measures, together with initiatives such as the voluntary age card scheme can help to curtail the problem of underage drinking, it cannot, of [1337] course, be viewed as the total solution. Dealing with the underage drinking problem should not be seen as a matter for State agencies only – parents, teachers, politicians, the drinks industry and the media must also play their part in helping to address the problem.