Plans to relax Ireland’s licensing laws will push rural pubs out of the market, the Licensed Vintners Association has claimed.
Under the Sale of Alcohol Bill, pubs will soon be allowed to stay open later with nightclubs permitted to run until 6am.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, LVA Chief Donal O’Keefe said he welcomes the change but warned that other parts of the legislation could threaten rural pubs.
“There’s one very fundamental flaw in it, in that the bill proposes a full liberalisation of the pub licence trade in three years’ time,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“Government are claiming that this is to promote rural pubs viability - we believe that’s a very flawed notion."
The LVA is concerned rural pubs will struggle to cope with the competition if too many new licences are granted in towns and cities.
“New licences that will be sought will go to areas of population, urban areas, large provincial towns and strong tourist towns,” Mr O'Keefe said.
“Licences will follow demand.
“So, in terms of satisfying the Government’s objective of promoting rural pub viability, this will actually have the opposite effect.
“It’ll encourage more pubs out of the market and will result in more pubs in urban areas.”
Last year, the number of pubs in England and Wales dropped to a record low, research from real estate advisers Altus Group found.
COVID, soaring energy costs and reduced demand were all described as factors and Mr O’Keefe says pubs are under similar pressures in Ireland.
“Our point is very few people will open pubs in rural Ireland because there’s a lot of pubs in rural Ireland there already and demand is in long-term decline,” he said.
“We have seen a 20% drop in the number of pubs in this country since 2005.
“That inexorable decline will continue because the market has changed, lifestyles have changed, how we consume alcohol has changed.
“So, it will actually make things worse for rural Ireland in the sense that there will be a rush to exit the trade; there will be very few new pub openings, values of pubs will decline, businesses will leak away from those locations.
“But there will be attempts to open more pubs in urban areas.”
Justice Minister Helen McEntee has described Ireland’s licensing laws as “restrictive” and promised that the reform will not change that.
“It is vitally important that the interests of public health, public order, the local community and the safety of those present on a licensed premises are prioritised,” she said.
An Oireachtas hearing to discuss the Sale of Alcohol Bill will be held today.
Main image: Pint of Guinness in a pub. Image: Stephen Barnes/Food and Drink / Alamy