Publicans say they're not surprised by the recent confusion over outdoor seating areas - suggesting it's a problem they could "foresee was going to happen".
Over the weekend, gardaí confirmed that licensed premises are not legally allowed to serve alcoholic drinks in temporary outdoor dining areas set up due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It means pubs and restaurants in many areas are technically restricted to offering takeaway drinks, unless specifically provided for in a liquor licence obtained in court or where local by-laws permit the drinking of alcohol in public.
The development despite councils across the country having made more outdoor spaces available to pubs and restaurants so they can set up outdoor seating.
In an update this morning, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys said gardaí will use "discretion" when dealing with pubs and restaurants serving alcohol in the temporary setups.
The Commissioner has reassured me, and did so again this morning, that discretion will continue to be applied by Gardaí in their engagements with licensed premises. The Commissioner will be sending a communication out across the Garda organisation this morning to that effect.
— Heather Humphreys (@HHumphreysFG) June 21, 2021
She added that she has spoken to the Garda Commissioner and Attorney General, and 'further action' will be taken by the Government around licencing laws if necessary.
The GRA says there is absolute confusion about the situation, and they want clearer guidelines so members cannot be held accountable for "impossible decisions".
On The Pat Kenny Show, Padraig Cribben - Chief Executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland - says the concerns around outdoor areas didn't just happen over the weekend.
He said: "We were told to prepare for an outdoor summer… [and] we were incentivised to do so as publicans.
“There were grants made available for the purchase of outdoor seating etc… for food-based pubs, but then that was extended to all pubs. Many councils also facilitated in some of the big areas pedestrianisng streets etc..
“12 days ago, we began to detect some straws in the wind. On Friday of the week before last, I wrote to the minister because I was concerned some gardaí in local areas were interpreting the situation very differently.
"I could foresee what was going to happen, and it did happen on Thursday of last week.”
Mr Cribben argued that emergency legislation is needed to "remove any ambiguity" around the licencing situation, but that hasn't happen.
As a result, Mr Cribben said he and other publicans weren't surprised that this has now become an issue.
He explained: “In fairness to the gardaí, they end up in a situation where they don’t want to be. I think clarity is what is required.
“I’m glad to hear that the Minister has said she has consulted with the Garda Commissioner and Attorney General, and that the Garda Commissioner has indicated that discretion will be used.
“[Discretion] has been used in a lot of places around the country. But there have been a couple of instances where indications were discretion might not be used - and they’re the ones we’re worried about."
He said special licences for outdoor seating areas are available, and there's been a "very significant" increase in publicans and restauranters applying for them.
However, he said there remains questions around insurance when it comes to these new setups.
He also explained that typical licences usually detail a 'red line' laying out exactly what area is covered by a liquor licence - meaning dedicated beer gardens are typically included, in contrast to the temporary dining spaces that have now popped up across the country.
Indoor dining is expected to be allowed again from early July, and Mr Cribben said currently only around half of premises are able to operate at all.