Fears for future of rural pubs under proposed legislation
PROPOSED changes to the Republic's licensing laws have sparked fears for the future of rural pubs.
The Sale of Alcohol Bill proposes a major modernisation for the licensing laws, including ending the requirement in which a new operator cannot enter the pub trade without first acquiring an existing licence.
The Joint Committee of Justice has heard concerns around this from the industry, including warnings that the number of rural pubs will continue to fall as a result.
Donall O'Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Federation said they welcomed many sections of the Bill, including the extension of trading hours as "appropriate for a modern economy", but raised concerns over non-licenced premises being able to apply for late trading licences.
He also raised concerns about cultural amenity licences, describing a risk of them being used as a "backdoor entry into the licenced trade".
"Our concerns are based on previous negative experiences and abuse of theatre licences and the potential for an increase in the total number of licenced outlets in urban areas," he told the committee.
Mr O'Keeffe said their main concern is the proposed change to the extinguishing requirement, which currently means a new operator cannot enter the pub trade without first acquiring an existing licence.
He said Ireland is "severely overpubbed", and there are 6,800 pub licences, and 1,800 pubs have closed since 2005, "confirming a total oversupply".
"The combination of too many pubs, particularly in rural Ireland, together with falling demand means that overall pub numbers will continue to fall, irrespective of any changes in the extinguishing requirement," he said.
He added: "Removing the extinguishment requirement will not achieve the minister's objective of enhancing rural pub viability and will prove to be a failed political initiative.
"Full liberalisation of the pub trade would be a serious policy mistake."
Paul Clancy, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI), echoed concerns around ending the extinguishment requirement.
"Our members are greatly concerned about this section, if enacted as presented, new entrants to the pub market will no longer need to extinguish an existing licence to commence trading," he said.
"As a consequence the VFI argues that the number of pubs in rural Ireland will decrease - the exact opposite of what the minister for justice says is intended to happen."
He said pub numbers in rural areas are in decline, which he said is "not because of the lack of licences".
He urged government to protect this "valuable cultural asset" which attracts tourists.
"The typical pub is a community centre as much as a pub, and the publican plays a vital role in that local community," he said.
"In fact, the cultural value of our pubs is so important that the VFI is in the process of applying for pubs to join the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage which protects the world's living heritage.
"Our message is keep rural pubs alive, we hope this Bill will be amended to help secure that aim."