Joe O’Riordan told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser that many licensing decisions are based on the personality of councillors rather than whether it will be good for the town. He said fears, which were expressed when licensing issues were transferred from the hands of magistrates to local authorities in 2005, have been realised and he handed in his resignation last week after reaching a point where he “couldn’t carry on”.
“A Magistrates Court was not biased in any way and by and large you always got a fair hearing. It was a system that had been operating for centuries and it didn’t need fixing because it wasn’t broken,” he said.
“Well I’ve been a councillor for two and a half years and there is absolutely no doubt that certain decisions in local authorities are made based on who proposed it and whether that councillor is liked or not liked. It’s a fact now that in some councils two or three people don’t get along and they fight like bullies to stop what the other one is doing irrespective of the good it may do to their local area.
“In short, as we thought, it becomes personal.”
The Licensing Act, which ruled that each local authority must set up a Licensing Committee of 10-15 members, was passed in 2003 but did not come into effect until 2005.
O’Riordan, who is also secretary of the 1066 Licensed Victuallers Association and was a licensee for 39 years, said he sat before a local council licensing board several years ago and was frustrated that he was unable to challenge or cross-examine statements made by councillors, a right which is available in the Magistrates Court.
He added that it was “highly unlikely” the system would transfer back to the power of magistrates but said he would like to see the licence trade “press the government” to go back to the old system.
“In among the decisions in 2003 the government were giving concrete promises that there would be no increase in bureaucracy and no substantial increase in fees. Both of those have turned out to be absolute nonsense,” he said.
“It’s something I think should be thrown into the public arena for people to discuss. There are a lot of licensees and big companies who I think would agree and say ‘Yeah, that’s happened to me.’”