[Sinn Fein]

24th June 2003

Liquor Bill sets `dangerous precedent' for equality legislation and human rights

Speaking during the 2nd stage debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill (2003) Sinn Fein spokesperson on Equality and Justice Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said Sinn Fein rejected the Bill because it set a ``dangerous precedent'' in its proposed amendments to the Equal Status Act. He went on to say that ``everyone has a right to equal treatment and to protection against discrimination'' and that no industry or sector can be exempt from their legal obligations in this regard. He also accused the Government of failing to establish ``a comprehensive and effective policy on alcohol based on international best practice'', saying that there are already effective laws and powers to deal with over-consumption of alcohol and associated public disorder but that these are not adequately enforced.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: ``Sinn Fein recognises that over-consumption of alcohol, alcoholism, and associated ill-health, public and private violence, and negative economic impacts are serious social problems in this state. These problems require effective solutions based on international best practice.

``We want to see effective legislation tabled. However, we believe this Bill is deeply flawed. We believe that portions of this Bill are unnecessary, and others possibly unenforceable. We believe that yet other provisions in this Bill have the potential to exacerbate existing problems and to create new ones.

``The Government have failed to ensure the full and effective enforcement of existing laws and powers with respect to over-consumption of alcohol and associated public disorder. This Bill ? while it gives additional powers ? is no substitute for political will to confront this problem effectively and comprehensively.

``This is a Trojan Horse Bill, which exploits genuine and widespread concerns about the negative impact of alcohol and alcoholism on Irish society. It also exploits the prejudices and preconceptions that Travellers and young people are responsible for the bulk of public order offences.

``This Bill represents a threat to the equality legislation for which many in this state including my own party have fought so diligently over decades, and won in principle with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein will be opposing this Bill, and have tabled a motion declining to progress the Bill to second stage.

``Sinn Fein has grave concerns about the dangerous precedent set by proposed amendments to the Equal Status Act ? which are not related to international best practice in reducing alcohol over-consumption and associated public disorder.

``Without exception, everyone has a right to equal treatment and to protection against discrimination, and that there can be no exemption of certain industries or sectors from common obligations under the Equal Status Act 2000. Not even after such powerful interest groups lobby the Minister.

``This flawed legislation must NOT be fast-tracked through the Dáil. Instead, it should be referred back to the Minister for revision in keeping with these concerns. Second Reading of any revised Bill should be postponed until such time as the Minister has prepared an Impact Assessment Statement that covers the implications of the Government's proposals for Gardaí, Local Authorities, and the industries concerned in its enforcement. He should also seek impact Assessment statements from the Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission confirming that the proposals will have no deleterious impact on equality rights and the operation of the Equal Status Act 2000.'' ENDS

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