Less tolerance for busy pubs who sell alcohol to minors

Judge Seamus Hughes said he has less tolerance for publicans in busy pubs who sell alcohol to minors.

He made the comments as two publicans from Westmeath appeared before him at a recent sitting of Mullingar District Court - prosecuted for selling a pint of Heineken to a 16-year-old boy.

It follows what Inspector Jarlath Folan said is a policy decision by gardaí in this area to reduce the amount of underage drinking and ensure that publicans check for identification.

John Vahey of Willowbrook, Mullingar, pleaded guilty to the offence at his pub, the Milltown Tavern, Milltownpass on June 22 last at 7.20pm.

The court heard the teenager test-purchaser entered the pub with a garda, ordered the pint, was served and then left.

Sergeant Yvette McCormack then went into the pub with the garda and questioned the bar man about his failure to ask for identification.

Solicitor Louis Kiernan said his client was accepting responsibility for the offence. However, it was his son who actually sold the alcohol. Mr Vahey said he was in hospital at the time and his son, who is a mechanic, was working in the pub and had only just opened when the test-purchaser arrived.

Business for the pub is “on the floor”, Mr Kiernan said, and ordinarily his client is the only person who works there.

“If he’s not there, the pub doesn’t open,” Mr Kiernan said.

Judge Hughes advised the publican that he has to be very careful.

Having viewed a photograph of the test-purchaser, he said: “If I was a barman, I’d have questions”.

He said it is a serious matter that publicans aren’t taking enough care in their dealings with minors.

By law the judge must close the pub for at least two days within 30 days of conviction and it was agreed this will happen on April 6 and 7. Judge Hughes also imposed a €400 fine.

The case against a second publican was dismissed because gardaí prosecuted a director of the company that owns the pub, rather than the company itself.

Damien McHugh, who appeared in court, is a director of Clondam Developments Ltd, which is the actual licensee.

His mother, Breda, sold a pint of Heineken to the test-purchaser at 8.25pm at the Greyhound Pub, Delvin on June 22 last, the court heard.

Judge Hughes advised him he was getting away on a technicality but told him to clean up his act.

“In future you must operate in conjunction with the licensing code,” he said. “And if you’re in doubt, don’t serve.”

He warned Mr McHugh not to come before the court again, and struck out the case.

He said the burden of proof in the case was on gardaí, and they can’t be expected to be right 100 per cent of the time.


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