22 May 2008 Edition
TD acts to curb 'dial-a-drink' abuse
BY MIRIAM MURPHY
THE total number of off-licences issued in the 26 Counties last year was 4,261, 320 more than the previous year. That’s almost one additional premises selling alcohol every day. This sharp increase, and the resulting high number of licensed premises, makes policing the sale of alcohol nigh on impossible.
Policing and enforcement difficulties are exacerbated by the now widespread availability of dial-a-drink services with payment on delivery. These enable young people to purchase alcohol without even entering the licensed premises itself. The fact that the transactions take place at countless private residences severely undermines the ability of the authorities to ensure that sales are not made to persons under 18.
The role played by alcohol in the St Patrick’s Day riots in Finglas, Dublin, was undeniably significant. Both the day that was in it, along with the scale and concentration of public order incidents involved, ensured much media attention. But Finglas should not be singled out unduly. Each weekend, and throughout the summer months, alcohol-related public disorder and under-age binge drinking pose problems for many estates and town centres across the country. Dial-a-drink services undoubtedly contribute to this.
Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh believes that loopholes which allow licence holders to sell alcohol to under-age teenagers with impunity must be closed. To this end, during the course of a Joint Policing Committee consultation last month, he proposed to Dublin City Council a by-law prohibiting these dial-a-drink services. The effect would be to focus action on the problem and to afford an enforcement role not only to the gardaí but also to persons designated by the council.
Talking about his proposal, Ó Snodaigh said:
“The ability of young people to obtain alcohol by ordering online or over the phone without actually having to enter a licensed premises is contributing hugely to under-age drinking and the associated problems for local communities.
“Alcohol is the single biggest factor contributing to the high number of public order offences and anti-social behaviour in this state.
“And the youth drinking culture in Ireland is also having severe negative consequences for the health of the nation. The number of young people, particularly women, experiencing liver problems is increasing at a rate never seen before.”
Unfortunately neither Justice Minister Brian Lenihan nor the Government’s Alcohol Advisory Group, whose report was published in April, fully recognise the deficiencies in the existing laws.
Both are adamant that existing legislation sufficiently prohibits dial-a-drink services. Ó Snodaigh strongly contests this. Responding to the publication and to a parliamentary response from the minister to him, he said:
“If that was the case then why are so many businesses freely advertising dial-a-drink with payment on delivery services? If that was the case then why are these businesses not being prosecuted?
“It is impossible for the Garda to police the sale of alcohol where that sale occurs at a multiplicity of private residences. The promised Intoxicating Liquor (Public Order) Bill will be incomplete in the absence of an express provision criminalising dial-a-drink services with payment on delivery and without appropriately heavy penalties.”
In the absence of robust government action, Ó Snodaigh has written to the vintners’ representatives, supermarket and small business representatives to alert them to the official view that dial-a-drink services are already an offence and to see what steps they will take to end the illegal activities of their members.
This Tuesday morning, Aengus Ó Snodaigh met with RGDATA, the association representing independent grocers, some of whom are engaged in the sale of alcohol.
They met to discuss some of their concerns in relation to the heads of the Intoxicating Liquor (Public Order) Bill and to consider what businesses can do to help address problems of binge drinking.
Afterwards, Ó Snodaigh said:
“The harm caused by alcohol in terms of individual health and the cost to the community of public disorder and violence must be of concern to us all and in particular to those engaged in its sale.
“I urged RGDATA to ensure that its members do not offer dial-a-drink with payment on delivery services given the contribution this makes to under-age drinking and related public order problems.”