Gardaí have confirmed pubs and restaurants are not legally permitted to serve alcohol in the temporary seating areas which have been established outside many premises recently.
Local councils across the country have granted licensed premises permission to set up seating areas on the streets or paths in front or their businesses until indoor drinking and dining is permitted again.
Fenced off seating areas where customers can order and consume drinks have appeared in front of many pubs.
However, according to the Garda, these areas are not covered by the alcohol licences originally issued by the District Court, meaning the sale of of alcohol for consumption within them is illegal.
“Outlets selling food or beverages are currently restricted to business on a takeaway basis or for consumption off the premises,” a Garda spokeswoman said, citing the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 which remains in effect.
Indoor drinking and dining remains banned under Covid restrictions until July 5th under the Government’s reopening plan.
"Where crowds gather An Garda Síochána responsibility is preserving public order and preventing and investigating any criminal offence which occurs," the spokeswoman said.
The Garda said licenses to sell alcohol are issued by the District Court. “The application for a licence to sell alcohol is accompanied by the lodgement of inter alia a site plan highlighting the specified area to which the licence will apply.
“The licensee is licensed to sell intoxicating liquor to a person to consume the alcohol within that highlighted area only, any other sales are on a take away basis only.”
In a statement on Sunday evening Garda reiterated this position but added: “the vast majority of licensed premises have acted responsibly and in line with public health guidelines”.
Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys in a tweet welcomed the statement and said Garda will "use their discretion, as they have done throughout Covid".
Chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland Adrian Cummins said the issue would affect restaurants, not just pubs.
“The Government initially came up with this idea for an outdoor summer when they decided to open hotels ahead of allowing restaurants to open for indoor dining. They encouraged everyone to go outdoors and to serve outdoors, but this licensing issue blows up the whole outdoor dining plan.”
While some businesses may already have outdoor licensed areas, most of the additional seating put in place, particularly in the streets newly pedestrianised in Dublin, including Capel Street and Parliament Street, which are car-free at weekend evenings only, would not be covered Mr Cummins said.
“On-street dining, where the street is not normally used for that, would not be licensed, but many people are now relying on it for their businesses,” he said.
“This is a problem of the Government’s making. It needs to urgently step up to the plate on this and tell the guards to stand down, at least until indoor dining reopens.”