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Longer drinking hours could harm public health, committee warned

An Oireachtas committee heard from public health organisations that deal with alcohol-related harm.

AN EXTENSION OF drinking hours later into the night could be harmful to public health and safety, stakeholders have told TDs.

An Oireachtas committee was warned today that the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill 2022 would not fulfil its purpose of reducing alcohol-related harm.

The Joint Committee on Justice is examining the bill, released by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee last year, which proposes a major modernisation for the licencing laws in Ireland.

One of the elements of the bill is to support the night-time economy by enabling bars to stay open an hour later until 12.30am seven nights a week.

The legislation also proposes creating new annual permits for late bars and nightclubs, which would replace special exemption orders.

The committee heard from public health organisations that deal with alcohol-related harm.

Dr Helen McAvoy, director of policy at the Institute of Public Health, said the bill included useful provisions to regularise alcohol licensing.

She added: “Ultimately, it provides for extended drinking hours in both indoor and outdoor venues.

“It provides for extended drinking hours in holiday camps, sporting clubs, trains and airports, public venues where children are likely to be present.

“The government’s commitment to modernise alcohol licensing and enhance our culture, nightlife and the night-time economy is welcome but we are concerned by international evidence that suggests that measures in this bill could have some significant unintended consequences, including increasing the overall availability of alcohol and reinforcing alcohol consumption as central to the experience of social, cultural, leisure and sporting activity in Ireland.”

Marie Lawless, policy and research officer at Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network, noted that one objective of the Bill was to reduce alcohol-related harm, particularly among young people.

She added: “We fundamentally do not believe the bill, in its current form, will achieve that objective.

“At the end of last year, we commissioned a Red C poll on alcohol licensing which highlighted significant concerns that people have in relation to the proposals contained in this bill; 51% agreed that extending the hours at which alcohol can be sold will have a negative impact on public health, public safety and public order.

“The evidence is clear, deregulation and extending hours will increase harm.”

Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “We are concerned that in a bill which was ostensibly about the streamlining of legislation, there has also been a sudden move to increase both licensing hours and density of outlets.

“The evidence from multiple jurisdictions is clear. Increasing alcohol availability whether through longer licensing hours or increased density of outlets leads to a range of harms.”

Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority told the committee that an extension of opening hours would have an impact on public transport provision.

She said: “If the extension of the general opening hours of licensed premises to 12:30am is enacted, the authority will have to re-examine the timetables of bus and other public transport services to see whether it is possible to extend a proportion of these services to later operating hours in our cities.”

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said she was not sure the evidence was clear of a link between longer opening hours and an impact on public health.

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