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500 sting operations carried out in two years at licensed premises to see if they'd sell to under-18s

Gardaí carried out 295 Test Purchases in 2018, 164 in 2019 and 84 so far this year.

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OVER 500 STING operations on licensed premises have been carried out by Gardaí using people under 18 years of age over the past two years. 

The practice, known as Test Purchasing, involves a person who is at least 15 years old, acting on instruction by Gardaí, entering an licensed premises to purchase alcohol. 

The aim is to ensure a premises is acting in accordance with the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988. If not, Gardaí can then obtain evidence for possible legal proceedings. 

Gardaí carried out 295 Test Purchases in 2018, 164 in 2019 and 84 so far this year. 

Independent TD for Donegal Thomas Pringle has questioned Gardaí using Test Purchasing as part of its operations, however. 

“It seems a bit dodgy,” said Pringle. “You’d wonder if the use of underage people is correct or not.”

Test Purchasing, which was introduced in 2010, requires Gardaí to have parental consent to carry out these operations. 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan this week said that the practice “is intended to form only one part of the overall An Garda Síochána programme for enforcing licensing law provisions relating to persons under the age of 18 years of age.

“I am further informed by Garda management that decisions concerning specific enforcement policies and actions will [not] necessarily reflect local needs and priorities,” he said. 

Senior Counsel Constance Cassidy, who previously questioned the justification for using people under 18 by Gardaí, told TheJournal.ie that Test Purchasing has proven effective. 

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Despite previous concerns regarding the practice, Cassidy says “there is no doubt that Gardaí nationwide are being extremely vigilant and that it’s producing good results. It’s producing compliance.”

Courts in Ireland, she added, “take a serious view” of breaking licensing laws. 

Licensed premises, too, are “extremely aware” of compliance when it comes to selling alcohol, said Cassidy. “There are very few that have not put in place very strict, rigorous enforcement. But then, to err is human, to forgive is divine and some do fall through the cracks.”

“The licensed industry is extraordinarily highly regulated,” she added. “Everyone has their part to play. The Gardaí, obviously, the licensee, the courts. It seems to be working and working very well.”

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