The national bed-time: Why Ireland’s licensing laws should be consigned to the 20th century

The laws and limits holding back the country’s nightlife are decaying an important part of Ireland’s youth culture

You’re deep in the bowels of the club. You’ve just necked the grim remainder of your double vodka-Redbull. It’s done the job you needed it to do. As you begin to hit your stride on a packed dance-floor, your inhibitions and worries are tossed away with each spin and jerk. The crowd obediently sways and nods to the DJ’s march. Suddenly, the lights flash on, the moment is lost, and the real world looms back into view. The night has been cut short when it was only just beginning.

In Ireland, premises that serve alcohol have the right to serve until 11:30pm during the week, and until 12:30am on Friday and Saturday nights. This is completely out of kilter with European norms, and often comes as a shock to revellers from abroad. These relatively early closing times ironically go hand-in-hand with our favourite national past-time; binge-drinking. The early last call encourages us to drink fast and drink a lot, while we still have the chance.

“The early last call encourages us to drink fast and drink a lot, while we still have the chance”

A Special Exemption Order system extends closing times, by allowing clubs and music venues to stay open until 2:30am. Ludicrously, this needs to be applied for in the District Court, on a night-by-night basis. The fee for this license was increased from €220 a night to €410 in 2008, a short-sighted measure that has led to countless closures and job losses in the industry. Over 90,000 Special Exemptions were granted nationally in 2007, while only 37,500 were granted in 2017.

This has been felt by patrons on the ground. The last few years have been nothing short of a massacre for Dublin clubs, with notable closures including The Palace, Hangar, The Wright Venue, Howl at the Moon, and District 8. The gap in the market has been filled for the most part by generic cocktail bars with high stools and even higher prices. Licensing laws are not the only culprit here, but they are a symptom of a wider conservatism at governmental level when it comes to nightlife.

Whereas cities like Paris and London have appointed “night mayors” to protect the interests of this vital sector, Irish nightlife is regularly seen as something to be tolerated instead of celebrated. While cultural hubs such as Tivoli Theatre are being torn down to be replaced by yet more sterile and anodyne aparthotels, the Berlin government is actively investing in soundproofing clubs in order to protect their cultural capital.

“The last few years have been nothing short of a massacre for Dublin clubs.”

Removing the obligation to pay over €130,000 a year in special exemption fees for the privilege of not having to close your doors at 11:30pm seems like an obvious move to protect the unique cultural fabric that is Dublin nightlife. Dublin is a young, multicultural, and cosmopolitan city. It deserves better than the current policy of ejecting crowds of people onto the streets at 3am, fighting (often literally) for a kebab and a taxi. Extending the hours that clubs and music venues can stay open, and improving the availability of late night public transport are both measures that have been tried successfully in other cities across Europe. In this respect, the recent announcement of a limited 24-hour Dublin Bus service as part of BusConnects is welcome.

Music venues and nightclubs are essential spaces for the “liveability” of a city. Places where you can meet new people and reconnect with old friends. Places where ideas spread and artistic talent can be discovered and showcased. Places where you can leave the stresses of the week behind and have fun; this is why they are worth protecting.

The very active “Give Us The Night” campaign, an “independent volunteer group of professionals operating within the night-time industry” aims to demonstrate the contribution that the nightlife sector makes to culture, community, and the economy in Ireland.