‘We need a shift in all our attitudes towards opening up the night’
The Department of Justice is currently operating an open consultation portal to carry out a review of the alcohol licensing laws in Ireland.
I would say that this is timely, yet as existing laws are Victorian, it is evidently not. With this review however, we now have the opportunity to dust off the aged British rules and look at how they may be conflicting with our modern day society.
It is important to point out that this opportunity is not just about alcohol – it is potentially about nurturing innovation, talent and well-being in our young population.
Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe, yet at night, we pull the shutters down and sleep.
Cities such as Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam have a thriving night time economy because they encourage their youthful populations to express themselves creatively and musically.
Where this is not physically possible, they can go ‘underground’. The result is social inclusivity and essentially but crucially, culture for all.
The potential for such innovation in Ireland is equally possible, but to achieve that, there needs to be a shift in old paradigms and attitudes, much like that of the Victorian laws.
Traditionally, towns function at a slower pace than cities and choice is limited for socialising, with the general population relying on pubs and restaurants.
This is perfectly acceptable for many however there is more than just a murmur of dissatisfaction amongst our younger people. Ireland is an incredibly innovative and creative country and we have been progressive in many social issues over the last couple of decades, but there is a lingering and pervading sense that young people should be seen and not heard, which remains in conflict with many European towns and cities.
At a local level, towns such as Navan, Trim and Kells offer pubs and a smattering of night clubs attached to hotels. Night clubs will undoubtedly have their day once more however they are restricted by licensing laws, which see them herding people out onto the street at the legislated time, followed by a black out.
These towns are fighting heroically to shrug off the problems associated with inactive streets and dereliction and their efforts have certainly not gone unnoticed.
Putting aesthetics aside however, we need to consider that towns are living organisms whose lifeblood depends on the sustenance of all their people.
Active animated streets at all times of the day and night, have been shown to decrease crime and violence due to the simple presence of continual passive surveillance.
They have also been shown to benefit community well-being, sense of place and belonging.
Strolling through Navan there is, as is common throughout Ireland, still too much dereliction and abandonment of buildings. Elliot’s Mill has for the last number of years been the subject of planning battles for construction of a care home. This has eventually come to fruition for the developers by way of a recent grant of permission.
For a ridiculously long time however, the mill has lain derelict waiting to be capitalised upon by those who have had the privilege of time.
This site might have been a place where young talented innovators, only seeing a wealth of possibilities in the gritty, grungy dereliction, could have created a licensed venue for the people who want to stay up until dawn; whether that was through a food bar, DJ showcasing, dancing or just to get a drink.
Young people deserve a space in which they feel welcome to do all of those things without feeling supressed.
In Kells, the Courthouse building is defined amongst other things as a cultural hub and it is lifting to see its beautiful stone illuminated in colour in the dark winter months recently.
In theory, this building could offer musicians and DJ’s the opportunity to host fully licensed events. The definition of culture is not mutually exclusive and it encompasses more than just heritage aspects.
It stands therefore, that our young innovators with creative talent have a position within this sphere.
The subject is a prickly one, certain as pointed out earlier, to prompt an indignant bluster of opposition.
There should then be a realisation of the economic return and social well-being that the creation of innovative culture by our youth and a 24-hour economy would bring to our towns. Instead of reacting in default mode, let’s consider for a moment what a thriving continual night time market might mean for Navan, Kells and Trim?
All age groups would be catered for at all times of the day and night; a whole new realm of employment would be available; tourism would be enhanced, providing an experience not thus far offered in Ireland.
There are also many of the general population who do not work regular hours and would welcome the fact that the world is awake while they are up and about. Yet, it is almost inevitable that fierce opposition would come from hardened political corners with the ear of established groups and vintners who run the clique market as it currently exists.
Active opposition would come from those who are nervous of the unknown and what venues licensed by younger people might mean for their community.
2022 will see the reform of legislation around opening times for night clubs thanks to Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee and Sunil Sharpe’s tireless efforts through the ‘Give us the Night’ movement, but in terms of reform, we still have a way to go.
This legislation will still depend on the willingness of vintners to diversify their businesses, which is why focus should also be shifted towards cultural or unused buildings.
The core of the matter is that this model not only works in other locations, but is flourishing, with all age groups functioning companionably side by side.
The only reasons we have not moved in tandem, is because of our antiquated licensing laws, and an unwillingness to trust not just our youth but our people as a whole with the responsibility of a night time licence, borne simply out of fear and parochial thinking patterns.
The European Commission is vocal about social cohesion and fostering all kinds of culture in our communities. If you are in support of cultural innovation for our creative youth, please visit the Department of Justice consultation portal on; www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/open-consultation-sale-of-alcohol
Or you can sign and share the petition to the Department on; www.change.org/Cultural-Well-Being-Ireland
- Lisa Carroll is a Spatial Planning student studying at TU Dublin.