Irish businesses were last evening coming to terms with the effects of strict new regulations governing the sale and possession of alcohol, which aim to curb public disorder and eliminate underage drinking.
Under the provisions of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which came into effect yesterday, off-licences must close at 10pm and gardaí can seize drink from minors.
The Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern says the new law aims to tackle the increased visibility and availability of alcohol in retail outlets while tightening the conditions under which pubs and clubs, and other licensed premises, can open beyond normal licensing hours.
Supermarkets will also be required to sell drink from an area separated from other produce.
Holders of theatre licences will also be restricted to the normal licensing hours, unless additional hours are sanctioned by special exemption.
The new laws also give gardaí tougher public order powers, including allowing officers to seize alcohol from minors and issue fixed penalties for public order offences.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said yesterday that the Act places restriction on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. The introduction of Fixed Penalty charges for offences of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct will not only lead to more efficient use of public resources, but hopefully will also support more responsible behaviour on the part of those concerned.
The public order provisions allow for a garda to seize alcohol from those under 18 years of age in a place other than a private residence, if the member suspects, with reasonable cause, that alcohol is being consumed, or intended to be consumed. An Garda Síochána will also be permitted to seize bottles or containers of alcohol where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner.
"The prosecution of a person under 18 years of age will only arise where there is a failure to cooperate. These new powers will therefore not only assist the Gardaí in responding to, and preventing, unacceptable behaviour but they have the potential to enable the Gardaí to achieve that end while reducing the time-consuming activities connected with prosecutions and court appearances."
Certain provisions regarding test purchasing of alcohol products have not yet commenced. The Act provides that guidelines are required on the practical operation of test purchasing and to safeguard the welfare of young people involved in this role. Work has begun on the drafting of the guidelines.
Chairman of the National Off-Licence Association Jim McCabe said he was concerned that customers had not had adequate time to become aware of the new restrictions.
"Customers did not realise that the new earlier closing time comes into effect before the end of July and members were surprised that the new restrictions on opening hours are being introduced at such short notice."
In an attempt to curb underage drinking, the Act provides gardaí with new powers entitling them to seize containers they suspect are being used by individuals aged under 18 to hold or consume alcohol in public. Retailers who are found to be supplying drink to minors will face a minimum closure period of two days.
Gardaí will be permitted to seize bottles or containers where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property, and fixed penalties will be introduced for the offence of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct.