For years, there’s been talk about reforming Ireland’s licensing laws, which force late-night venues to go to court every month and apply for special exemption orders.
Venues also have to make separate dance licence and drink licence applications, increasing the expense and bureaucracy involved in running a night venue.
That squeezes smaller clubs and late-night venues and sometimes puts them out of business, says DJ Sunil Sharpe, of the Give Us The Night campaign, which has long pushed for reform of Ireland’s licensing laws.
“Licensing costs plus escalating insurance premiums have killed nightlife as we knew it,” Sharpe says.
During the election campaign, several political parties responded to Give Us The Night’s queries, promising reform of licensing laws if they made it into government.
That’s made Sharpe hopeful that these changes might make it into any programme for government that is negotiated, along with a timeline for making that happen.
“I think it’s now time for our next government to grab this issue by the scruff of the neck,” he says.
What They Promised
In their campaign manifestos, Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party outlined commitments to review or reform licensing laws. Fine Gael said that consideration would be given to licensing regulations as part of pilot programmes under way in Cork and Dublin.
Sinn Féin would introduce a designated “night venue” classification in planning and licensing law, said Sinn Féin TD for Galway West, Mairéad Farrell, by email also to Give Us The Night. “I would call for a reform in licensing laws firstly.”
Other changes needed include combating rising insurance costs and providing night-time transport and Garda resources, Farrell said.
Irish closing times are among the earliest in western Europe, and the Social Democrats have committed to change that.
“We’re committed to revitalising our night-time cultural economy by supporting the establishment of Night Mayors,” Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD told Give Us The Night. As well as “legislating for later opening hours”.
Fine Gael, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Green Party and the Labour Party all committed to carrying out a review of the licensing laws if they get into government.
Several TDs said they favoured appointing a night mayor. Some had spotted preferable regimes in other European cities, and others pointed to the need to protect cultural and artistic spaces in cities.
“The Green Party believes that art and culture is of critical importance for the flourishing of society and that this is not just limited to daytime activities,” says Green Party TD Brian Leddin. “We believe that night-time culture and economy has a huge part to play.”
Labour Leader Brendan Howlin TD says the Labour Party pushed for the introduction of a night mayor to be included in the Dublin Agreement among the group of political parties that took over leadership of Dublin City Council after last May’s election.
Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee, who Sharpe says has been instrumental in supporting the campaign, said: “As someone who had worked in the night-time industry I want to see reform and modernisation of laws for the industry.”
On Tuesday, Dublin City Council’s economic development committee agreed to set up a working group to look at issues regarding tourism, markets and the night-time economy in the city.
That group will organise a forum on the night-time economy on 26 March, says a report presented to councillors. They’ll do a survey in the first quarter of this year, too, to inform next steps, the report says.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond directly to questions about that survey. But Sharpe says he hopes the council forum could lead to a pilot programme.
The Department of Culture had asked Dublin City Council and Cork City Council to pilot changes, Sharpe says. He hopes that under the next government, the Department of Culture will commit itself fully to the process of reform.
Dublin City Council’s arts committee has also set up an advisory group on the issue, he says.
Just-elected Green Party TD Patrick Costello had tabled motions on the issue at Dublin City Council when he was a councillor, especially calling for a night mayor to be appointed and for creative spaces to be protected, he says.
He will now push for changes at the national level, he says – which is where the licensing laws can ultimately be reformed.
It would make more sense to stagger closing times, to reduce pressure on taxis and takeaways, too, Costello says.
Sharpe says that for licensing to work effectively, and to engage more investors and potential business owners, the city needs to offer more freedom.
“Provided they are running a solid operation, and acting responsibly with neighbours, patrons, staff and so on,” says Sharpe.
Reform could boost creativity and so it should be flexible too, he says. “This should be a creative industry, so let the industry be more creative and bring character back to our city, spaces and events.”
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 24 February 2020 at 15:47 to include links and more details from the parties’ manifestos.]