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News - 31 May 2003

Irish experience sounds warning bells for UK Licensing Reform

In the last week the Irish Government set itself a six-week target for introducing sweeping reforms of their licensing laws in an attempt to address an explosion of alcohol consumption and its attendant problems of anti social behaviour.

In direct contrast to the proposed liberalisation of drinking hours in the Licensing Reform Bill passing through parliament the Irish government is enforcing earlier closing times and anyone under 21 will be required to show ID before they are served. No one under 18 will be allowed into a bar after 8.00 p.m. and it will become an offence to serve anyone who is already drunk.

The Irish experience of liberalisation of licensing laws has fuelled binge drinking on an extraordinary scale particularly among the young including many under age drinkers. One in five 12-14 years olds are now regular drinkers and two thirds of 15-16 year old boys and half of all girls in the same age range.

Many observers have condemned the Licensing Bill as ill-thought out legislation that has already been the subject of endless clarifications and the actions of the Irish government attempting to salvage a situation that has clearly gone wrong does little to bolster confidence in the Government's proposals. Although one could argue that alcohol plays a much more important part in everyday culture in Ireland, there are genuine concerns that the UK is rapidly developing a similar culture amongst the young and the relaxation of licensing laws will lead to a similar situation unless rigorous safeguards are put in place as a part of the legislation.

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