Publicans toast court ruling on historic Good Friday opening
PUBLICANS were last night making preparations to open their doors on Good Friday after their landmark application in a district court was successful.
Up to 100 vintners in Limerick city contended in the district court that next week's Magners League clash between Munster and Leinster was a 'special event' granting them exception to open -- and the presiding judge agreed yesterday.
Granting the application for an exemption in Limerick, Judge Tom O'Donnell said it seemed "absurd" that pubs in the locality had to be closed on the day, while the 26,000 people attending Thomond Park for the fixture could buy alcohol in the stadium.
Despite state objections to the application, the judge said gardai would not be keen to have 26,000 spectators hanging around the ground after the game. Citing health and safety and traffic management reasons, the judge said authorities would be keener to have the match crowd dispersed.
In his historic ruling yesterday, the judge said he was "satisfied having considered all submissions that the match has all the attributes of a special event". He said this was not just for those attending the game, but for the huge volume of people who would be in Limerick seeking hospitality.
As a result, for the first time in the history of the State, pubs will be allowed to open on Good Friday from 6pm to 11.30pm.
Judge O'Donnell said an "extremely important feature" in the case was that Thomond Park stadium has a national sporting arena licence -- along with Croke Park.
He said there was "no necessity for them (Thomond Park) to apply (for an exemption) at all".
"In these circumstances, it seems to me to be somewhat absurd that while pubs in the locality could be closed, there will be available to 26,000 people the possibility to buy alcohol if they so wish," he said.
Judge O'Donnell accepted that his decision "may cause controversy in several quarters" but added that the "district court is a court of record and not a court of precedent".
The 100 pubs allowed to open on the night of Good Friday include premises in the Limerick suburbs of Raheen, Castletroy, Annacotty, Corbally and Dooradoyle.
Limerick vintners made their application for an area exemption under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1962 through their solicitor, Gearoid McGann. Garda authorities objected to the request through Limerick state solicitor Michael Murray.
Judge O'Donnell said the arguments by both sides were clear, cogent, concise and persuasive -- which made his decision all the harder.
The court heard that there is no statutory definition of what constitutes a special event and no statutory prohibition to an exemption on Good Friday.
Limerick Vintners' Association chairman Jerry O'Dea said the application was brought as a last resort when the match was set for Good Friday. Judge O'Donnell noted the efforts the publicans had previously made to have the fixture moved.
It is estimated that next week's game will be worth up to €7.3m for the Limerick region.
Manager of the Strand Hotel in Limerick Sean Lally said he expected all 2,000 hotel rooms in the city would be booked out.
The publican's solicitor, Gearoid McGann said that the ruling was "a groundbreaking decision".