Cllr Sarah O'Reilly.

Cllrs at odds over impact of proposed alcohol reforms

Two local councillors took opposing viewpoints on the proposed reform of alcohol licensing laws but still arrived at the same conclusion- that change might not suit every town or village in the country.

Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly asked that the council write to Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, asking her to share with the public the “information or research” on the impact the legislative change will have on crime, anti-social behaviour, health, health services, alcohol abuse and families.

The present system, the government says, is based on a patchwork of 100 laws - some of which are over 200 years old and two thirds of which pre-date the foundation of the State 100 years ago.

Reforms to take effect include alcohol being sold earlier on a Sunday and nightclub opening hours until 6am.

“The housing crisis is at its worst point in over a decade,” complained Cllr O’Reilly. “We are encouraging families to move back into towns to help revitalise rural towns and also mitigate this crisis. Loud music, windows being smashed, fights, drugs, puke on the streets, chipper litter strewn all over the streets will make it harder to entice families to live in our towns.”

Cllr O’Reilly’s told the December council meeting that the hospitality sector needs support “but not in this way”.

She added: “Helen McEntee is introducing this change in the middle of a spiralling crime crisis. Gardaí are already understaffed and under-resourced.”

Cllr O’Reilly further claimed, but did not disclose the source of the figures, that the number of rapes reported in Ireland have doubled since 2011, and that attempts and threats of murder, assaults, harassment, and related offences also increased by 20%.

She also said garda recruitment targets were not being met.

“The Minister must provide the research behind her decision rather than recklessly making plans at the behest of lobby groups that can negatively impact communities.”

Cllr O’Reilly sits on the regions Drug and Alcohol Forum alongside Sinn Féin’s Paddy McDonald and Fine Gael TP O’Reilly, saying that those on the committee “see up close the massive issues that alcohol can cause”.

“I would just wonder what evidence Minister McEntee has that suggests longer opening times is a good idea,” she concluded.

Fine Gael’s TP O’Reilly noted that it was impossible for the government to apply “bespoke” legislation to suit every town or county, and warned that there was “enough wedges” already created between rural and urban areas without this being an issue also.

It was Independent Brendan Fay however who stated that few publicans, like himself, who operate in a rural area had any interest in remaining open until 6am.

He suggested that the legislation was a kneejerk reaction to solving a “Dublin problem” and instead recommended the Seven Day Licence be changed to allow pubs open until 2am on Saturday nights without having to apply to the courts for an extension and keep the “status quo” the rest of the week.

Cllr McDonald (SF) said that the night-time infrastructure had been decimated post-Covid, and if pubs were to open until 6am there would be “no taxis and no one to enforce the law”.

Cathaoirleach John Paul Feeley, who admitted no one could accuse him of being a “party animal”, suggested that the change “looks like an attempt to be popular”.

“It needs to be teased out more before it is introduced.”