The Irish Times view on helping Ireland’s night time economy: Government needs to get on with it

Legislation is going through the Oireachtas and while the right balance needs to be struck, it is clear that the sector is suffering

Getting more people to go out and spend money between the hours of 6pm and 6am has long been a goal of the Government. A task force to do just that was set up in 2020 on foot of a commitment made in the programme for government.

It reported back with 36 recommendations in September 2021. The meat of the report was about making it easier and cheaper for people to safely stay out longer, get a drink and then get home. No easy feat in a country where a night out in the capital city and a taxi home is likely to cost you €100 or more.

A modernisation of the current restrictions on serving alcohol was identified by the task force as a necessary component of any serious attempt to boost the nighttime economy. It proposed measures to reduce the fees and costs involved for venues that wanted to stay open later and serve alcohol. There was, of course, no guarantee they would be passed on to late-night customers.

The Sale of Alcohol Bill 2023, now making its way through the Dáil, is intended to make good on the recommendations. According to Minster for Justice Helen McEntee, the Government is trying to strike a balance between meeting its commitment under the programme for government to reduce the costs involved for venues that want to stay open later and serve alcohol whilst minimising the obvious downsides, in terms of public health and public order, of effectively encouraging the consumption of alcohol.

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It remains to be seen whether the Minster has got the balance right. She was correct, however, in pointing out to her Dáil colleagues recently that time is not on their side. She referred to a fall in the number of nightclubs across the country and referenced the decline in the vibrancy of Dublin’s nightlife since her own college days.

It may be that the decline to which she refers is to do with societal and behavioural changes that no amount of tweaking of licensing laws can reverse, not least the advent of dating apps and the culture of pre-drinking before going out. However, help for the nighttime economy is still needed.