Fine Gael’s cynical move on cafe bars

June 13th, 2005 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

The world of politics is a cynical one, one where you take advantage where you can get it. There’s something troubling though about news of a Fine Gael motion to be debated next week.

The Irish minister for justice recently announced two different plans that have run into opposition from some government back-benchers. A small number of Fianna Fáil deputies are said to be troubled by plans for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). A larger group are expressing opposition to plans to introduce a new class of cafe bar licenses. As I’ve been writing this post news has emerged that the cafe bar plan is to be shelved.

The source of their opposition lies with existing publicans. Ireland has since the early twentieth century had a cap on the number of bar licenses. In order to open a new pub one must ‘extinguish’ an existing license – which creates a market in bar licenses that publicans, understandably, do not want to lose. The governement solution is to leave the existing licenses as is, but to create a new class of ‘cafe bars’ which would be limited in space and required to serve food. The hope is two-fold:

  • to counter the trend toward ‘super pubs’ that is believed to contribute to Ireland’s increasing alcohol intake, moving consumption towards a continental-style cafe culture; and
  • to liberalise the market for bar licenses to some extent, which will lower barriers to entry, remove the effective monopoly/bottleneck of existing licensees and possibly reduce the political power of the publican lobby.

Now, I’m not a particular fan of the minister – he’s libertarian in his economic tendencies with a fondness for a Thatcherite ‘justice’ system. But this cafe bar idea was a good one, and it makes sense to relax the artificial shortage of bar licenses.

Late last weekFine Gael, the largest opposition party, announced it would propose a motion blocking the cafe bar suggestion, in the hope that government backbenchers would vote against the government proposal. I can see why it makes sense for the opposition to exploit divisions within the government parties, but not through opposing good proposals. One of the reasons many people dislike Fianna Fáil is because of their perceived allegiance to lobby groups such as the publicans. The Fine Gael motion might embarrass the government but it provides no good reason to prefer a Fine Gael-lef government.

And this is the party with whom Labour is now committed to preparing a pre-election pact.

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