Time to dump our antiquated Licensing Laws

Time to dump our antiquated Licensing Laws and give choice to the consumers – by Ciarán Cuffe,  Evening Herald 2 November 2001

What’s happening to your ‘Local’? if it hasn’t changed beyond recognition in the last few years, its days may well be numbered. All around Dublin pubs are changing hands. Often they are closed and the license is sold on for millions of pounds. It seems like nowhere is safe from the hands of developers anymore. Even the family bar that has remained unchanged for generations is coming under pressure to expand or face extinction. The Dockers on City Quay closed its doors recently. It’s likely that it will be knocked down and replaced by a new pub that bears little resemblance to the old. That’s what happened to Sinnots on South King Street when the Stephen’s Green Centre was built. They promised to rebuild it but the new Sinnots doesn’t bear comparison with the old pub that had witnessed generations of Dubliners perched at its mirrored Bar.

Call me nostalgic, but at the age of thirty-eight it seems like half the pubs that I have got to know and love have disappeared in the space of less than a generation. The new Temple Bar Pub has more in common with an airport departure lounge than the local pub it used to be. I remember when the darts team came down from Oliver Bond and the bar came to a halt while darts were thrown. What happened? The pub was sold, the developers held on to the front walls and re-built a drinking hall behind. Sure there’s a place for the super-pub. But does every second bar in Dublin have to be ripped apart and put back together again? It seems as though the current antiquated Licensing laws are leading to fine Victorian pub interiors being ripped out to fit in more customers. It’s happened to Slattery’s on Capel Street, The Foggy Dew on Fownes Street, even the venerable Morrisey’s in Abbeyleix is under threat. The small-scale character of Ireland’s traditional pubs is under threat as they expand and are redeveloped to pull in more drinkers.

If the Licenses change hand for millions, then the publicans has to get more bums on seats. That means more alcohol being sold, more drunkenness and more vomit on our streets. It would be better if pubs were under a bit less pressure to sell so much alcohol. It’s the limited amount of licenses that is at the core of the problem. This means that the licenses are changing hands for ever-increasing sums of money. You have to be a millionaire these days to break into the cartel that controls the licensing trade, and it’s the customers that are losing out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Paris or Rome there isn’t the same red tape when it comes to opening a neighbourhood bar. As long as you comply with the local planning laws you’re free to open a pub wherever and whenever you want. A young entrepreneur can open up a pub there for a fraction of the costs in Ireland. That’s the way it should be here. The Green Party feels that the Liquor Licensing Laws are outdated and should be thrown out. As far as we’re concerned the existing planning laws are strong enough to protect us from nuisance, and if they don’t work, well there’s always the Guards. It’s time to dump our antiquated Licensing Laws and give choice to the consumers.

Imagine if new housing areas were provided with a greater choice of places to drink. Tallaght should have fifty small bars instead of ten huge ones. If you had the choice would you really want to drink somewhere the size of the Point Depot? If there’s only a few large bars then often the only way to get to the nearest pub is to drive there. If we had more smaller neighbourhood bars within walking distance there’d be less drink driving and less deaths on the roads. Getting rid of the outdated licensing laws would allow pubs to choose their own opening hours. That would mean less queues for taxis as the publicans could call last drinks at different times. We might also see more restaurants offering alcohol with meals, and better night-time food menus in the pubs themselves. Pubs could even become more family friendly, instead of banning children at evening-time. A holiday with my family in Italy last Summer showed how the Italians combine the fine art of drinking and eating in the same location. When’s the last time you were able to enjoy a glass of beer with a pizza?

It’s important that the traditional Irish Pub does not become an extinct species. Your voice counts. The Commission on Liquor licensing is currently seeking submission on the future of the licensing trade. What kind of a future do you want for your Local? Answers on a postcard to the CLL, Clifton Mews, Lower Fitzwilliam Street Dublin 2 or to CLL@ireland.com . And if the demolition teams arrives at the Gravediggers in Glasnevin or the Palace in Poolbeg Street perhaps you’ll join me at an occupation that could last far longer than Wood Quay. ENDS