‘Give Us The Night’. Is the planned extension of closing times for bars and nightclubs in Dublin a student’s dream or a nightmare to general society?

The Long Wait

Under Planned Legislation brought forward by the government last year, pub closing times are to be extended to 12:30 and Night Clubs to 6:00 a.m. This legislation was set to be implemented by summer just gone. This week it has been announced by the government that it will be ready by 2024. Those who have traveled the continent and elsewhere will know that such closing times are the norm.

This legislation is thus intended to modernise Ireland’s alcohol licensing laws and bring our nighttime economy onto a level playing field. However, the bill has faced delays due to the scale of the changes it would implement and the legal complexities entailed with its passage. Questions have been raised on how viable these hours would be when financially and logistically most pubs and nightclubs are already hard-pushed to stay open, with their numbers dwindling year on year.

Why the legislation is desperately needed

The ‘Give Us the Night’ campaign has been pushing for these changes to the nighttime economy for more than 10 years. Robbie Kitt, DJ and Spokesperson for the campaign wants to see a new license type created called the “Cultural Amenities License” which would extend the Theatre License, significantly expanding the number of cultural spaces available to young people and artists.

“If we want to divest our behaviour away from the consumption of alcohol we need to create social environments where the selling of alcohol isn’t the main function of the business. If you are an event organiser in Ireland you have to use pub infrastructure. Under the current reform, the extension of nightclub hours is exclusive to pub license holders; other types of businesses that aren’t explicitly set up to sell alcohol should have the capacity to sell alcohol.”

When asked whether these hours could increase alcohol consumption Robbie said “The point that increased alcohol availability means increased consumption disregards and simplifies the environment in which alcohol at the moment is consumed. At the moment our social and cultural venues revolve around the consumption of alcohol. By not concentrating all the activity around certain hours we see a completely different trend in the style of behaviour, which usually leads to safer streets, fewer incidents and more regulated behaviour.”

In response to the delay in legislation, Robbie expressed his frustration “Students need to know that the government are dragging their heels on this. There is a very good chance this legislation won’t come in before the government’s end of term. If that happens we are back to the drawing board. I’m losing any capacity to believe what the government is promising.” On the importance of this legislation to students’ mental health and social life Robbie said “The experiences you have are foundational, the connections you build, the mistakes you make, the lessons you learn, these are formative experiences in young adults’ lives. If we don’t have these experiences we can’t expect people to become socialised in a normal way.”

The Backlash to Give Us The Night

In response to the proposed legislation, there has been a huge backlash from alcohol awareness groups. When asked whether these changes would increase alcohol consumption by students, Shelia Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, said “When you increase alcohol licensing hours you increase alcohol consumption and the level of harm that comes with that.

In Amsterdam, for every hour of additional licensing, there was a 33% increase in alcohol-related injuries. The extension of nightclub hours coupled with the late opening hours of off-licenses in Ireland is a fatal combination.” Gilheany said that “in the younger age cohort of 15–24-year-olds, 37% of them have an alcohol usage disorder. We know that there is a very strong link between alcohol usage and mental health implications. We focus a lot on young people’s mental health but rarely have a conversation on how alcohol affects this.”

Norway has a complete ban on alcohol advertising, state-operated off-licenses, restricted licensing hours, and relatively expensive alcohol prices. And a drinking culture where Saturday is the only acceptable time to drink with mid-week pints being an absolute outlier. Shelia explained, “When you take those things together Norwegians are drinking 40% less than us.”

Hugh Keenan – Politics Writer