The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned that the extension of alcohol licensing laws is a “regressive and harmful” move that runs contrary to the Government’s stated goal of reducing alcohol intake by 20 per cent.
The organisation accused the Government of not having a coherent policy on alcohol.
The Cabinet approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow pubs to open from 10.30am to 12.30am, seven days a week, while nightclubs can remain open until 6am.
Venues will be prohibited from serving alcohol after 5am, but dancing can continue for another hour.
Opening hours for late bars will remain at 2.30am, while a new later bar permit will be required.
If the legislation is passed by the Oireachtas, the changes are likely to be enacted next year.
Dr Anne Dee, chair of the Public Health Committee of the IMO, said that the move was “inexplicable” in the current climate.
“This Government does not have a coherent policy on alcohol,” she said. “It makes no sense that, on one hand, it is looking to extend alcohol licensing laws while on the other, it is also looking to reduce alcohol consumption by 20 per cent.
“This move is, at best, not thought through and, at worst, regressive and ultimately harmful.
“Alcohol is an extremely dangerous drug which causes huge amounts of direct and indirect harm every day.
“There is no justification for extending licensing laws given its harmful impact on people’s health. The last thing we need is to increase people’s exposure to it.”
The IMO added that the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 is not being implemented quickly enough, and as a result alcohol consumption had not reduced in line with Government goals.
The publication of the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill, which is set to reform and streamline licensing laws, is aimed at supporting and stimulating the night-time economy.
As part of the overhaul of the current laws, venues will be expected to comply with regulations when applying for a new licence or renewing a current one.
Late bars and nightclubs will have to apply to the district courts to approve a permit, while they will also need CCTV on the premises.
Objections to new and renewed licences can be raised by fire services, authorities, gardai and local communities.