Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has issued an instruction for gardaí to use discretion in relation to outdoor drinking.

In a post on Twitter, gardaí said: "Earlier today, Commissioner Harris issued an instruction to regional Assistant Commissioners that gardaí should use discretion in relation to licenced premises while also continuing to respond to any public complaints received on matters such as public order, parking, noise etc."

It comes after the Minister for Justice said she spoke to Mr Harris about the legal issues around outdoor drinking and he had assured her that gardaí will apply discretion.

Speaking in Co Monaghan this afternoon, Heather Humphreys said there had been an issue in one part of the country and she urged those involved to "sit down and find a local solution".

Ms Humphreys said she had also spoken with the Attorney General today and he was looking at the situation.

"If there are issues we need to address, we will and he is currently looking at that for me," she added.

"Government will support the hospitality sector in providing outdoor dining to allow people to go out and enjoy themselves as we recover from this pandemic."

Ms Humphreys said she was confident outdoor dining and drinking can continue and that the gardaí have her full support.

"For most people, they’ve had a really good weekend and I’d like that to continue," she added.

The extra space for customers was facilitated by the Government under an outdoor seating scheme earlier this month.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

However, doubts about the legality of the service were raised by gardaí in Galway, as first reported last week by the Connacht Tribune.

Gardaí said that the consumption of alcohol in these spaces was not permitted, unless specifically provided for in a liquor licence obtained in court or where by-laws permitted the drinking of alcohol in public.

The Galway City Joint Policing Committee has called for greater clarity from the Government.

It is also looking to see the introduction of national emergency legislation to address the issue of on-street drinking.

A statement from gardaí set out that licenced premises could only sell alcohol as takeaway or to be consumed on a premises, and what constitutes a premises is set out in a business's liquor licence.

Anything falling outside of that, including an on-street drinking area, is not covered. After that it falls to whether or not a local authority permits the drinking of alcohol in public.

In a statement last night, the Department of Justice said that premises "who continue to behave responsibly in controlling their premises should have nothing to worry about".

It said there were different legal situations depending on whether by-laws are in place.

It noted that a small minority of pubs have been serving alcohol to those seated outside - what it described as "agreed areas" and said that these would be "the focus of any garda action in the first instance".

Outdoor summer

The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins told RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme that the Government has used the narrative of a summer outdoors and invested €17m in outdoor hospitality and dining through Fáilte Ireland grants.

He said that businesses need to open and trade viably, particularly those in counties on the west coast where businesses need a good summer in order to keep them afloat during the winter.

Mr Cummins said the Government should have known about this issue when they allowed outdoor hospitality to reopen.

He called on the ministers for health and justice to bring forward a statutory instrument to give guidance to gardaí that businesses have a legal right to sell alcohol within their designated area in an outdoor space.

Even when we reopen indoors, Mr Cummins said, the Government needs to fix this problem, otherwise it will have been pointless for businesses to invest so much capital expenditure for outdoor dining.

"We shouldn't be talking about this issue," he said.

The Chief Executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland has said it was clear to him ten days ago that there was some ambiguity and possibility for confusion in the guidelines for outdoor hospitality.

Speaking on the same programme, Padraig Cribben said that he wrote to the Department of Justice to say that garda discretion was not being administered evenly, and asking for clarity.

Mr Cribben called on the Minister for Justice to bring forward a statutory instrument to cover these grey areas over the coming three to four months.

Policy and direction need to come fast, he said.

Additional reporting Laura Fletcher