Alcohol and the law
The sale of alcoholic drinks is controlled by law, and only licensed businesses can serve or sell alcohol. It is an offence to serve alcohol to a person under 18, and pubs, hotels and restaurants that serve alcohol can do so only during specified hours.
This document describes the law in Ireland as it relates to alcohol, the penalties for breaking those laws and the powers the Gardaí have to enforce them.
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COVID-19 and licenced premises
'Wet' pubs can open from 21 September 2020 in all locations apart from Dublin.
In Dublin while level 3 restrictions are in place, pubs that serve food and restaurants can remain open for take-away, delivery and outdoor dining for a maximum of 15 people. Only pubs that serve a substantial meal are allowed to open at present. A substantial meal costs at least €9, and customers may only buy alcohol if they buy a substantial meal. All licenced premises must close by 11.30pm.
The Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020 gives the Gardaí the power to issue an ‘immediate closure order’ to pubs and other licenced premises for failing to follow a direction of a Garda. You can read more about Public health measures in place now.
Pubs should follow Fáilte Ireland’s operational guidelines for re-opening pubs (pdf). Measure include:
- Seating times should be restricted to 105 minutes with an extra 15 minutes between bookings for cleaning (2 hours in total). Customers can stay for longer if physical distancing of 2 metres can be maintained.
- Contact information of a lead guest should be collected for the purposes of contract tracing.
- 1 metre physical distancing can be implemented where 2 metre physical distancing is not possible. However, businesses should implement extra measures, including additional signage to ask customers not to enter if they have symptoms.
- Procedures to manage restroom usage, entry points, function rooms, smoking areas, kitchen cleaning and disinfection and deliveries.
Licenses and opening hours
Alcohol can only be sold on a licensed premises during set hours. For pubs serving alcohol on the premises, these hours are:
- Monday to Thursday from 10:30am to 11:30pm
- Friday and Saturday from 10:30am to 12:30am
- Sunday from 12:30pm to 11:00pm
For off-licences (including supermarkets), alcohol can be sold at these hours:
- Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 10:00pm
- Sunday and St Patrick’s Day from 12:30pm to 10:00 pm
Under current COVID-19 restrictions, pubs and other licenced premises must stop selling alcohol at 11.30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Types of alcohol licences
There are a number of types of licences with different conditions attached.
An Ordinary Publicans On Licence allows the licence holder to sell alcoholic drinks on the premises during regular opening hours. A new application for this licence must be lodged with the Circuit Court.
A Special Exemption Order allows the licence holder to serve alcoholic drinks outside of ordinary opening hours. The latest time that alcohol can be served for drinking on the premises is 2:30am. Applications for this exemption must be lodged at the local District Court.
A Public Music and Singing License and/or Public Dancing Licence is required if live music or the venue is operating as a nightclub or disco. This licence is granted by the local District Court.
A Restaurant Certificate entitles pubs that serve a substantial meal (one that costs more than €9) to serve alcohol one hour after normal opening hours if it accompanies that meal. A Limited Restaurant Certificate allows a limited part of pub to have the same exemption.
A Wine Retailer’s On Licence is for ‘refreshment houses’ and allows for the sale of wine, sherry and other liquors containing less than 23% alcohol.
An Occasional Licence is used for events that take place in a venue or premises that normally does not serve alcohol. It can only be granted to the holder of an existing licence. This licence is applied for at the local District Court.
Young people and alcohol
You must be 18 or over to buy alcohol in Ireland. It is an offence to:
- Serve alcohol to a person who is under 18
- Pretend to be 18 or over in order to buy alcohol
- Buy alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18
It is also an offence to give alcohol to a person who is under 18, unless it is in someone’s home, and the child has the consent of their parents.
Garda Age Card
If you are 18 or over, you can apply for a Garda Age Card as proof of your age. This is not an ID card and is only for the purpose of proving your age so that you can buy alcohol. The Garda Age Card is voluntary and costs €10. You can apply for the card online.
Children in pubs
You can bring your child (under 18) to a pub with you with some restrictions:
- Children under 15 must be supervised at all times
- Children under 15 can only be on the premises between the hours of 10:30 am and 9:00 pm (10:00 pm from May to September)
- Children aged 15 and over, who are accompanied by their parent or guardian, can stay on the premises after 9:00 (10:00 pm from May to September) if they are attending a private function where a substantial meal is being served
The licence holder (normally the pub owner) can also refuse to allow a child or children on the premises if they believe that doing so would be harmful to the child’s health, safety or welfare.
Drinks promotions and ‘happy hours’
It is against the law to reduce the price of alcohol at specific times of the day. This means that ‘happy hours’ are against the law in Ireland.
Other drinks promotions and special offers will be illegal from January 2021 including:
- Loyalty card programmes that reward customers for buying alcohol
- Promotions that allow for alcoholic drinks to be sold at a reduced price or given away for free when bought alongside other products
- Short term price promotions where the price of an alcoholic drink is reduced for a period of less than 3 days
Drinking outdoors is not prohibited in general. However, many city and county councils have bye-laws that forbid drinking in some or all public places.
The Gardaí can confiscate alcohol if you are drinking in public and behaving in a way that could cause worry for safety. They can also confiscate alcohol if it is being drunk by a person under 18, or where they have cause to believe that it will be consumed by a person under 18.
It is an offence to consume alcohol bought in a closed container (like a bottle or can) within 100 metres of the off-licence where it was sold. The law does not forbid a pub from delivering drinks to people’s homes, or allowing customers to bring drinks home.
It is also an offence to be so drunk in a public place that you could reasonably be assumed to be a danger to yourself or to anyone around you.
Behaviour while drunk
Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, a ‘drunken person’ is someone who is intoxicated to such a degree that they may be a danger to themselves or to other people.
It is an offence to supply alcohol to a drunken person. It is also an offence to engage in disorderly conduct in a licenced premises. This means that you cannot behave in any way that poses a risk to the health, safety or welfare of anyone else on the premises. If you are asked to leave the premises by the licence holder or a Garda, you must leave or you may be guilty of an offence. You could also be arrested.
Government measures to reduce alcohol consumption
The Government has introduced measures to encourage people to drink less. This includes rules about drinks promotions and ‘happy hours’ (see above).
There are strict rules about the advertising of alcohol in Ireland. It is illegal to advertise alcohol:
- In or on public service vehicles, at public transport stops or stations and within 200 metres of a school, a crèche or a local authority playground
- In a cinema except around films with an 18 classification or in a licensed premises in a cinema
- On children’s clothing
Minimum unit pricing
Minimum unit pricing (MUP) means that alcoholic drinks must be sold for at least the minimum price set for the quantity of alcohol the drink contains. The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 contains plans for MUP to be introduced in Ireland, but the section of the Act that sets out the law on MUP has not been commenced.
Fines and penalties
This table summarises some of the penalties for breaking alcohol-related laws in Ireland. It is not a full list of all alcohol related laws and penalties You can also read about drink driving offences.
|Selling or giving alcohol to a person under 18||Fine of up to €5,000 and a closure order for a licence holder|
|Underage drinking||Fine of up to €500|
|Supplying alcohol to a drunken person||Fine of €4000 for a first offence and €5000 for second or subsequent offence|
|Acting in disorderly conduct or failing to leave a licenced premises when asked to leave by the licence holder or a Garda||Fine of up to €500|
|Being so drunk in a public place that you pose a risk to yourself or others||Fine of up to €500|
|Altering a Garda Age Card||Fine of up to €2500 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months|
The relevant Irish legislation relating to the serving of alcohol in licensed premises, the buying of alcoholic drinks in off-licences and drinking alcohol in public places is:
If you are concerned about your drinking or someone else’s drinking, there is help available:
- You can phone the HSE Drugs and Alcohol helpline on 1800 459 459.
- The HSE has a list of local alcohol services.
- SpunOut has information for young people who are concerned about their drinking