There have been calls for clarity around whether or not bars and restaurants are legally permitted to sell alcohol to customers in on-street seating spaces set up to facilitate outdoor service.
Gardaí say that the consumption of alcohol in these spaces is not permitted, unless specifically provided for in a liquour licence obtained in Court or where bye-laws permit the drinking of alcohol in public.
This evening, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said on Twitter that gardaí "will engage with licensed premises and will use their discretion, as they have done throughout Covid".
Welcome statement from @gardainfo that it is working to ensure we can enjoy an outdoor summer and that the vast majority of licensed premises are acting responsibly. @gardainfo will engage with licensed premises and will use their discretion, as they have done throughout Covid— Heather Humphreys (@HHumphreysFG) June 20, 2021
As reported earlier by the Connacht Tribune, in recent days a number of pubs in Galway were informed by gardaí that they were in breach of the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 2) Regulations 2021, as amended.
Local Fianna Fáil Councillor John Connolly said that this came as a surprise to him and called for the issue to be rectified.
"We want [outdoor service] to continue, we see that it has been embraced by the public," Mr Connolly said.
"The Vintners and the restaurants have put a massive effort into it. They have received Government support to do this, so it surprises me greatly that there would be any further impediment to stop us doing this. I think we need to find a solution," Mr Connolly said.
Gardaí have said that people cannot drink alcohol in seating spaces recently set up on streets in front of bars and restaurants, which are not covered by their licences | https://t.co/PdAzKsxzWk pic.twitter.com/9DihcAcsSM— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 20, 2021
Chris Ó Fionnmhacáin works at Salt House in Galway and he described it as a massive blow.
"We have all put such a lot of effort into trying to create a safe space for people to have alcohol outside and now they are saying we can't serve alcohol inside, and we can't serve alcohol inside, so I don't know what they want us to do," Mr Ó Fionnmhacáin said.
Lisa Ní Chadhain from Seven Bar in the city is also very frustrated.
"With the rules that were given to us from the Government to serve outside ... we spent months preparing. For us now not to be able to serve the customers after a year and a half of being closed, we are trying to keep to the rules but if everything keeps changing how are we supposed to keep up with it?" Ms Ní Chadhain asked.
The matter will be raised at a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee on Monday.
However, his is an issue that extends beyond just Galway.
Local authorities have supported the setting up of seating areas on streets in towns and cities across the country to facilitate outdoor service as the economy re-opens.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland has called for the issue to be clarified.The Vintners Association of Ireland has said "that publicans across the country continue to work closely with local Gardai to ensure the smooth implementation of outdoor service."
Outdoor service commenced on 7 June and indoor service will not return until 5 July.
In March the Government put in place a €17m scheme to help businesses boost their outdoor dining capacity, with grants of up to €4,000 available via local authorities.
Premises also need to secure furniture permits from the local authorities to offer seating on the street in front of their premises.
A statement issued by Garda Headquarters said that outlets selling food or drink are restricted to doing so for "takeaway" or selling "for consumption off the premises".
The statement sets out that on applying for a licence to sell alcohol, a business submits a site plan of the area to which the licence applies.
"The licensee is licensed to sell intoxicating liquor to a person to consume the alcohol within that highlighted area only, any other sales are on a take away basis only."
Separate to this, local authority bye-laws deal with whether or not drinking in a public place is permitted.
On this issue Senior Council and author of a legal guide on licencing acts Constance Cassidy told RTÉ News that "if there is a bye-law in force prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a public place, this binds the licencee and the consumer, no drinks allowed".
"If on the other hand there is no such bye-law is in place of has been rescinded wither temporarily or permanently there is no concomitant piece of licensing legislation prohibiting the consumption of in a public place," Ms Cassidy said.
But even in this case Ms Cassidy said that serving alcohol in a public place was a "grey area".
In addition to highlighting a current legal anomaly around on street outdoor spaces used by pubs and restaurants, the garda statement said that the force "continues to engage with all stakeholders to devise and implement strategies to give effect to Government announcements to move ahead with the reopening the economy and society in line with Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead plan, with a continuing emphasis on outdoor activity."
In her tweet, Ms Humphreys "welcomed" this statement "that it is working to ensure we can enjoy an outdoor summer".