When the government released their restrictions on outdoor dining early this month, it seems they didn’t take into account the existing licensing laws and how they might impact on the outdoor dining.
This whole area is made tricky due to the fact that licensing laws in this country are very technical in nature. They’re granted at the annual licensing court and the applicant must be able to show tax clearance. The license applies to the property itself and can’t be switched to another premises if, for example, the owner decides to buy another premises. A new licence must be obtained for this new premises.
The period of a licence runs from 1st October until 30th September when they automatically expire and must be renewed. It’s open to members of the public or the Gardai to object to the renewal of a licence if there’s been any public order offences or serious problems in the running of the property. So, given the technical nature of the licencing laws and the recent increase in outdoor tables and chairs, proprietors are understandably anxious to have this matter clarified as soon as possible.
The issue at the moment concerns the area that the licence covers. If a licence is granted for a pub or restaurant, does that licence cover food and drink served at an area outside the premises? In general this should be alright if the alcohol was actually sold in the premises, but there is also the question of the local authorities. Once you get past the issue of the license itself, you then need to consider whether the local authority has any specific directions – maybe they don’t want a large part of the street covered by tables and chairs?
This has already been an issue in recent months and has resulted in the creation of a Street Furniture Licence where proprietors can apply for a special licence to place tables outside their premises. But these licences come with their own requirements, one of which is the need to ensure that the area outside the premises is under the control of the premises itself. In general the ordinary licence held by the premises will already cover an outdoor area, but if a premises places tables in a larger area then a problem can arise.
So the question now being asked is whether the license of your typical pub extends to any area outside the property where alcohol is still being served, or just a small portion of the street or pavement.
It’s a tricky situation and, to say the least, it’s surprising that this wasn’t considered by government when they were starting to change the rules and loosen up restrictions for outdoor dining. But we are where we are and publicans now have to think about whether their license extends to any outdoor dining area that they’ve put in place.
In terms of solutions, a few ideas are on the table and some are definitely more helpful than others.
It’s been suggested that the Gardai would exercise “discretion” in terms of whether the licence given to particular pubs will be enforced. But there are a few problems with this. It means that the Gardai are given new powers in addition to those already provided. This isn’t ideal from the point of view of the country as a whole. Gardai are like every other arm of government – they should know how far their powers extend and it’s not fair on anyone to give them a wide “discretion” in any area, particularly given the fact that licensing is a technical area on its own.
A temporary statutory instrument would be a better option but this is a measure that’s only going to work for a certain period of time. The acting Minister for Justice, Heather Humphries, is said to be considering this and it’s likely that we’ll get an update in the next few days. Hopefully this will provide guidance on more than just the specific provisions of the license and will take into account the requirements of local authorities also. Some form of permanent solution will be needed for the future so publicans know exactly where they stand.
Ongoing restrictions seem to suggest that outdoor dining is going to be a feature of Irish life for the foreseeable future and if that’s the case then we’re going to have to think about how to deal with far more than the weather!
If you’d like more information on licensing laws or how to apply for the licence you new for your premises, get in touch and contact us by completing the form below.