Charity to publicans has got to end

I’M NOT one to pity publicans but I’ll make an exception for one Eugene Bellew who wanted to start up a pub on Baggot Street.

He bought a premises next door to his newsagents shop and he dickied it up to prepare for a capacity of 124 drinkers. You wouldn’t imagine that such a crowd would make any inroads into the great Dublin drinking public.

What happened next is a perversion of the word justice.

The local competition got together, hired a lawyer and objected to Eugene’s plans for a pub.(It might have suited Eugene better if he had sought the licence before he did up the pub but no matter.)

The lawyer argued that Eugene’s pub was ‘unnecessary’. The judge agreed and ruled that the premises was ‘not fit and convenient’. So now Eugene is a publican without a pub.

I wouldn’t mind if this pathetic outcome was the product of legislation a hundred years old but the relevant law is the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000.

The Act allows six pubs to block a new pub on the grounds that they are ‘adequate’.

Adequate for who? Surely it is up to the drinker to decide whether a pub is adequate or not?

This law is a blatant defence of vested interests, a licence to print money for people who already own pubs and a rip-off of the drinking public.

There is still a ceiling on the number of licences although the provision to obtain two rural licences in order to open an urban pub was scrapped. Another improvement is the end of the urban/rural designation which allowed pubs in Lucan to object to new pubs on the grounds that it was (incredibly) a rural area.

The act is supposed to be a stop-gap until the Liquor Licensing Commission reports next year. In the meantime hysteria about alcohol has broken out and I heard Michael Martin say that he was opposed to any new outlets.

Music to the publicans’ ears.

The idea that limiting the number of pubs will reduce anti-social behaviour is nonsense. For a start it doesn’t even cap the amount of alcohol sold. Instead of new pubs coming along, existing pubs have just got bigger. Over the past 30 years the consumption of alcohol has doubled even though the number of pubs has remained the same.

I hope Eugene Bellew brings his case to a higher court. I can’t believe that allowing those with a vested interest to object can be legal within the framework of a single European market.

The Competition Authority estimates that the artificial cost of licences is costing drinkers up to e2 billion as they have to actually pay for the licence.

In my view deregulation of the pub trade makes far more sense that the deregulation of the taxi industry ever did.

So why are we waiting?