Happy hour banned in new crackdown on drunkards

Brian DowlingPolitical Correspondent

PUB 'happy hours' will be banned from Monday. The practice of selling cut-price drink at selected times is being outlawed under tough new measures brought in yesterday.

PUB 'happy hours' will be banned from Monday.

The practice of selling cut-price drink at selected times is being outlawed under tough new measures brought in yesterday by Justice Minister Michael McDowell.

He signed an order which will allow for fines of up to ?1,500 for first offences and temporary closure orders.

It gives undercover gardai the same enforcement powers as their uniformed colleagues.

And it will place a new onus on publicans not to supply drink to people under 18, to ensure that drink is not given to people already drunk and to prevent disorderly conduct.

New powers will allow gardai to seek the wider use of temporary closure orders where pubs permit drunkenness, disorderly conduct or when they supply alcohol to someone who is drunk or under age.

Although temporary closure of a pub will be mandatory in the event of conviction, the District Court will have some discretion about how long a pub will be closed.

Previously, the use of temporary closure orders had been confined to convictions for underage drinking.

Mr McDowell insisted that it was time to send "a strong message that drunkenness and disorderly conduct on licensed premises are not acceptable".

The new measures coming into force next week will also prohibit the provision of any entertainment during the 30 minutes of 'drinking-up time' before a licensed premises closes.

Publicans will be allowed to set a minimum age for the sale and consumption of alcohol at a level above the statutory minimum of 18 years provided this policy is publicly displayed and operated in good faith.

The minister will also be empowered to introduce regulations to ban or restrict publicans from engaging in any promotional activity that is likely to encourage people to drink excessively.

The new laws will also allow the Sports Minister to approve certain national sporting arenas for a licence to permit the limited and controlled sale of alcohol.

A number of other provisions, including one of the more controversial measures in the new laws - a ban on any person under 18 years on a licensed premises after 9pm - will come into force on September 29.

Initially, Mr McDowell proposed the watershed for 8pm, but after intense lobbying he agreed to 9pm. Publicans will be obliged to exclude any person under 18 from their premises after 9pm, except on the occasion of a private function at which a meal is served.

Mr McDowell has defended the measure, insisting that it was not "anti-family" and argued that most people would agree it was a reasonable provision.

He rejected charges that it would convey an image of Ireland as not welcoming to families are considering holidaying here.

The laws also insist that persons aged 18 to 20 years must carry an 'age document', such as a Garda age card, driver's licence or passport, in order to enter and remain in the bar of licensed premises after 9pm.

The minister introduced this new measure to help publicans to comply with provisions relating to underage consumption of alcohol and to assist gardai in enforcing the law.

The provisions to allow cases of alleged discrimination or sexual harassment to be transfered from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court will also come into force at the end of September.

The minister believes that as the District Court is already extensively involved in licensing matters it should deal with any cases taken under the Equal Status Act.

Closing time on Thursdays will also revert back to 11.30pm instead of 12.30pm from the end of next month.