Covid-19: Irish Government ban on takeway pints is shelved

Concerns raised after pictures show crowds gathering with drinks bought from pubs

Slainte No More – nearly but Irish government backs off plan to ban carry outs.

By Mark Hilliard, Vivienne Clarke and Pat Leahy in the Irish Times

Ireland’s Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has withdrawn a memo for the Cabinet seeking to curtail the circumstances in which people can gather to drink alcohol.

The proposals brought to Cabinet would have made it an offence, punishable by an €80 fine, for two or more people to gather outdoors where one of them is drinking alcohol.

However, there was resistance from the Greens and Fine Gael at the Cabinet table, and it was decided there was not sufficient support for the measure to proceed.

It is understood the memo was drawn up at instigation of the Department of the Taoiseach and in conjunction with the Attorney General.

The memo envisaged a ban on two or more people meeting outdoors to drink takeaway alcohol.

On Monday, it was initially reported that new regulations would prevent pubs from serving takeaway drinks. However, those reports met with resistance from within Government parties, sources said.

The move followed reports of extensive open-air drinking in Dublin and elsewhere at the weekend.

Mr Donnelly was expected to inform Ministers that he would introduce new regulations to ban the sale of takeaway pints and cocktails as long as the country has Level 5 restrictions in place.

The State has been under these curbs, the most severe in the Government’s Living with Covid-19 plan, since October and they are due to remain in place until December 1st at least.

Some pubs have been selling takeaway pints and cocktails, which have given rise to on-street drinking by groups of people. Under licensing regulations, these drinks cannot be consumed within 100m of the premises that sold them.

Footage of groups gathering with drinks in Dublin city centre at the weekend was circulated widely, though there were also instances in many other places. Mr Donnelly’s move was seen as a way to try to discourage further incidents of this sort from happening.

Out of hand

A Dublin publican earlier warned that socialising and public drinking will get increasingly out of hand if controlled hospitality environments are not permitted to open over the Christmas period.

Alan Campbell, owner of The Bankers Bar, was responding to the social media footage of a large gathering on South William Street in Dublin.

However, with the case numbers coming under control the Government is under pressure to clarify which businesses will be allowed to reopen when the curbs are lifted in the lead up to Christmas .

Mr Campbell told RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne show that scenes such as those recorded over the weekend are worse than allowing pubs to reopen. He said a limited takeaway service is being run by his pub but it has been closing early to dissuade people from congregating on the street outside.

‘Flash mobs’

Independent councillor Mannix Flynn said the issue was not so much the trade in takeaway drinks but rather a more pressing need for publicans to stamp out customers drinking right outside their premises, a situation that leads to “flash mobs”.

“Ninety-nine per cent of people who buy alcohol in Dunnes don’t come out and drink it in the street; they wouldn’t be allowed to do it,” Mr Flynn said, noting residents and businesses in the city were angered at the scenes of public drinking.

Publicans have been grappling with how to respond to the pandemic and now face the possible loss of their busiest annual trading season amid uncertainty over the coronavirus measures that will be in place for the Christmas period.

The pub sector has continued to press the message of sensible, restricted opening for their premises.

Earlier this year, they wrote to the Government saying on-street drinking should be banned and that it would not oppose any move to end takeaway sales.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), which represents publicans outside the capital, is also keen to promote the message of responsible trade, with a spokesman insisting owners of premises must comply with Covid rules.

“The figures from the guards show that the vast majority [of pubs] aren’t breaking the guidelines,” he added.

The VFI is also seeking to secure the choice of safe reopening for those businesses that want it.

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