By Emma Hickey 

Pubs will now have the option to remain open until 12:30am and nightclubs until 6am after an overhaul of the ‘outdated’ licensing laws approved by Cabinet. 

The new reforms will allow pubs to serve alcohol from 10:30am to 12:30am seven days a week, extending on the current 10:30am to 11:30pm opening hours from Monday to Thursday. Nightclubs will be able to serve alcohol up until 5am, and will not have to close until 6am, in a move expected to come in the summer of next year. There is to be no change to late bars’ closing times of 2:30am, though a new licence will be required.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee brought forward the proposals initially in 2021, stating that she wanted to modernise alcohol licensing laws in Ireland to “reflect the changing expectations and lifestyles of 21st century Ireland.”

“They [current licensing laws] are not fit for what I want, and I think what most people want, and that is a modern, vibrant growing cultural night time economy,” she said on RTE’s Drivetime.

The new opening hours for nightclubs in particular have been described as an attempt to attract tourism and bring Ireland’s alcohol laws more in line with those of other European countries. It is also seen as a way of helping a large part of the Irish economy which has suffered heavily throughout the pandemic.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar voiced his support for the new bill and said he does not “see why the nightlife that we offer people in Ireland shouldn’t be as good as anywhere in the world”.

“There are always trade-offs involved in this, I know people will raise public health concerns,” Varadkar acknowledged, speaking to RTE, “but I think there is good evidence that people drinking at home, and they’re doing that in increasing numbers, is not better than drinking in a regulated setting.”

It is hoped that the extended opening hours in nightclubs will result in a staggered exit onto the streets, limiting public disorder and making taxis more easily available for home-bound clubgoers.

The new reforms are to be introduced at nine pilot locations across the country before being extended elsewhere: Dublin City, Cork City, Limerick City, Galway City, Kilkenny, Drogeheda, Sligo, Buncrana, and Longford Town. 

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, announced government support for areas in which pubs and nightclubs are to extend their opening hours. This will be done in the form of appointing Night-Time Economy Advisors and providing funding for the soundproofing of venues. 

Licences to avail of the new opening hours will have to be granted by the courts, with objections allowed from fire services, local authorities, the HSE, local communities, as well as gardaí. Ireland’s other sale of alcohol laws will remain in place. 

Despite overwhelming government and public support of these reforms, many remain sceptical of the new proposals. 

CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, Sheila Gilheany, said she has serious concerns about reforms, mainly an increase in harm from alcohol, violence, public disorder and increased hospital admissions. 

“€1.9bn, 11% of public health care budget, is spent annually on alcohol related health costs. This can only increase with the proposed increase in licensing hours,” Gilheany said on Twitter. 

Ireland ranks eighth in the world for monthly binge drinking, and reportedly four people die from alcohol abuse daily nationwide. 

There are also concerns that the new laws may add a further strain on various resources in communities to try and maintain order, and that many establishments that avail of the new hours may face serious staffing issues. 

Many in the government insist that these reforms will only bring Ireland forward Despite these concerns. McEntee added that the pub played a central part in the cultural life of Ireland.

“I believe it is an institution worth protecting and that we should support our publicans – so many of whom have built up local businesses over decades, through generations of the same family,” she said. 

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