We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Alamy Stock Photo

Nightlife campaign points to 'new opportunities' as backbench TDs push Harris to scrap late hours

The licensing legislation is one of the many bills that Simon Harris is inheriting as he takes over the Fine Gael leadership.

A NIGHTLIFE INDUSTRY campaign group has said the legislation underway to allow nightclubs to open until later hours will bring “new opportunities” to the sector as some Fine Gael TDs try to pressure new leader Simon Harris to abandon the plan.

Backbench TDs Michael Ring and Charlie Flanagan have called on the new leader of their party to pull its policies back towards what they call its “core values”, including by discarding the proposed late-night licensing laws that have been in development over the last few years.

Such a move would be in opposition to calls from the sector to allow venues to open later to bring rules closer in line with other European countries.

The General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill was published in 2022 following a public consultation. It was scrutinised by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, which said the legislation would help to revitalise the night-time economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government had previously promised the reform would come into effect by last summer.

However, the summer came and went without the new law – and it now appears to be up in the air whether it will move through the Dáil in time for this summer either. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme on Sunday, Ring said: “Fine Gael has to go back to its core values. Fine Gael has, in my opinion, been too left for too long. We’re not a left party, we’re a centre party, and I think that Fine Gael has to move back into the centre again and more to the right.”

He identified several areas that he said the party should focus on, including “supporting small businesses”.

However, he also said that he wants to get rid of “this daft idea of opening pubs all night” and said the party should “forget about a lot of these social issues that we’ve been raising over the last number of years, annoying people and upsetting people”.

Similarly, on Saturday, former Fine Gael Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan tweeted that the party’s values do not include “all-night drinking”.

Sunil Sharpe of Give Us The Night, a volunteer group of professionals campaigning for changes in Irish nightlife, has said that allowing later opening times will bring new opportunities for performers.

He also challenged commentary about pubs opening all night, saying that the legislation means nightclubs would be allowed to serve alcohol until 5am but pubs would continue to close much earlier than that.

For pubs, the legislation means they would be allowed to open until 12.30am seven nights a week. Currently, they can ordinarily open until 11.30pm Monday to Thursday, 12.30am Friday and Saturday, and 11pm on Sundays.

A late bar permit under the new legislation would give permission for opening hours to extend to 2.30am, the same time currently allowed under the existing rules.

“Pubs will not be serving all night,” Sharpe said, adding that Ireland’s 89 nightclubs will be permitted to serve until 5am, with dancing allowed up to 6am.

“This isn’t even in line with the European average, but it’s an improvement at least,” Sharpe said, speaking to The Journal.

“The majority won’t open this late or have the business or staff needed to open late, but operators would like the option and to see where the future brings them. Over time, they will find their sweet spot,” he said.

“If you’re a performer or promoter especially, you naturally want and expect later times too.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the amount of new opportunities this can bring to those trying to forge a career in the sector, as well as the new experiences that those in Ireland haven’t been legally allowed to have up to now but which they have access to on a plane every weekend”.

‘We need some flexibility’

The piece of legislation is one of many that Simon Harris is inheriting as he takes over the leadership of Fine Gael following Leo Varadkar’s resignation.

Harris, the only person to stand forward for the role, was officially announced as the party’s new leader on Sunday.

He previously expressed in early 2020 that Ireland’s licensing laws are “very restrictive”, particularly when comparing the situation in Dublin to that of other European capitals, but added that he thought any changes would “need to be considered very, very carefully”.

Speaking to The Journal, Sharpe said that the night-time economy is still working through a challenging post-pandemic period with fewer customers than in previous years. “Certain big nights of the year will do well, but it’s super tough the rest of time, and that’s where we especially need some flexibility.”

He said that given that Cabinet ministers, including Simon Harris, have already approved the draft licensing bill, “any suggestion or notion of Fine Gael dropping the bill now is mad talk”.

He pointed to the Programme for Government, which references modernising licensing laws, and said that cannot be binned now simply because a few TDs would like it to be.

Sharpe cautioned that “misleading our industry, community and the wider public who bought into pre-election promises of reform would be a huge mistake for Fine Gael”.

“You can’t seriously say that you care about the night-time economy and then do that. All things said, I feel that they can get it right and quell the dissenting voices if they simply assure the public that they have resources in place, particularly with policing,” he said.

Sharpe said that extended opening hours should help to alleviate the demand on transport services that currently occurs when venues close around the same time as each other.

“I’d like to think that Simon Harris can unify everyone on this, and that we’ll see these laws enacted by the summer and in time for annual licensing renewals in September.”

In a statement to The Journal, the Department of Justice said that Minister Helen McEntee hopes to bring the relevant legislation to the Dáil “in the coming months”.

“Whilst scheduling is a matter for the Oireachtas, it is hoped that the Bill will be enacted this year,” the department said.

It said the proposed legislation “endeavours to strike a balance between maintaining strict controls and safeguards in relation to the sale of alcohol, while providing support to those involved in our night time economy”.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel