Judge tells nightclub owners to get ready for a silent night
A JUDGE has called time on a Donegal tradition of nightclubs opening on Christmas night.
Five clubs in the county had been granted exemption licences "going back years" to open at midnight, a court heard.
But garda objections to this continuing were aired during a 90-minute hearing at Letterkenny District Court yesterday.
Lawyers representing Jackson's Hotel, Ballybofey; Patsy Dan's club, Dunfanaghy; the Fleet's Inn, Downings; Simpson's Club, Carndonagh; and The Bailey, Redcastle, sought special exemption licences.
Each club wanted to open at one minute past midnight on St Stephen's Day and to serve alcohol until 3am.
However, Gda Supt Eugene McGovern lodged objections to two licence applications in his Milford District – in Dunfanaghy and Downings – and gave evidence in the cases of the other three.
He told Judge Paul Kelly: "This doesn't relate to any of these premises, but last Christmas two of my officers were assaulted, one of whom still hasn't been back to work."
Supt McGovern said he had not objected to the licence applications last year because Christmas was on a weekend.
He said he had learned that fast food outlets had planned to open until 4am to serve the crowds expected at the clubs.
"Our experience is that the patrons drink in the queues before opening," he said. "And then there is an ongoing issue with local people due to noise."
Solicitor Frank Dorrian, representing The Bailey, said clubs have traditionally opened on Christmas night "going back as far as I can remember".
He argued that his client's club was in a rural location and "there has been no history of people roaming the countryside after the club closed".
Lawyers for all of the clubs argued that special arrangements had been made with bus and taxi companies to ferry patrons home after closing.
Sgt Kevin Lynch told the court that Jackson's Hotel nightclub is a well-run establishment.
"But last year the patrons congregated on the street which is the main thoroughfare between north and south Donegal," he said. "There were a number of public order arrests. We didn't have problems the year before thanks to the snow."
Supt McGovern denied his objections were based on a lack of resources.
He said he did not want to "apportion blame", but people who had emigrated have returned home for Christmas "and we are seeing large crowds out and about already".
Judge Kelly commented on what he called the "unreality" of clubs opening at midnight.
"On a daily basis we deal with public order offences and possibly 95pc of them arise out of excessive alcohol," he said.
"The cases are sadly always the same: a crowd spills on to the street, rows start and public order offences take place and often injuries arise."
He refused the licence applications in all cases.