THE committee in charge of Clare Island’s Community Centre have been accused of not being fit to hold a seven-day publican’s licence for their centre, with objectors claiming that they openly flout the licensing laws and it will be undesirable to turn the centre into a public house.
The strong winds and inclement weather could not keep the people of Clare Island away from Castlebar yesterday (Monday) with up to 50 residents travelling to the Circuit Court to hear the eagerly-awaited application for a seven-day publican’s licence for the local community centre.
The very young and old alike travelled to the mainland for the hearing which pitted those in favour of the Community Centre getting the publican’s licence against those opposed to it being granted. The objectors are Chris O’Grady, proprietor of the Bay View Hotel on the island and Jim and Ann Cox, who are planning to build a ten bedroom lodge with a bar and activities centre on the island.
The Clare Island Community Centre (CICC) currently holds a club licence which only allows members to use the bar while guests have to be ‘signed in’ by a member.
Outlining their reasons for applying for the licence, Ms Constance Cassidy, SC for the CICC said that under the current club licence, the centre could hold only one function a year and this was very restrictive particularly for tourism. It was claimed that since Mr O’Grady’s hotel was damaged by fire in 2006, the centre is currently the only place on the island where tourists can get a drink.
However, the objectors claim that the restrictions of the club licence are being ‘utterly ignored’ with locals and visitors alike being served at 3am.
Mr O’Grady, who is planning to develop his hotel into a hostel, also claimed that because the bar staff at the centre were until recently paid by FÁS, he had to lay-off employees and he objected to a centre ‘grant aided by tax payers’ running in opposition to a private enterprise.
“I find it difficult to accept a licence being made available to a project which is 100 per cent grant-aided. I have created employment on Clare Island for 48 years and I intend to continue in that vein,” he said.
Mr O’Grady said since the centre has obtained a club licence it has operated as an ‘open-door pub’ and has no regard for the conditions of the licence, and he was ‘forced to object’ to the licence.
When questioned by Ms Cassidy, he admitted that he also had difficulties operating to the licensing laws when there are no gardaí on the island to supervise and it is difficult to ‘get people out’.
Mr Brendan O’Leary, Chairperson of CICC, explained that they have raised €85,000 through a €50,000 bank loan and fundraising to buy the pub licence. He said the current licence was very restrictive and cited the visit of President Mary McAleese in 2009 as an example.
“The President visited in 2009 to launch the academy survey which was a very big event but we had to close the bar when the President was on the premises. We made a meal for her but we couldn’t even give her a glass of wine,” he said.
When asked by Judge Raymond Groarke if they could not have signed her in, Mr O’Leary said that even if they did sign her in, they cannot have alcohol in the hall where the function meal was held.
Mr John Jordan, BL for Mr O’Grady said it was fundamentally undesirable for a Community Centre to become a public house and under the terms of the application the entire building including the library and toilets would be licenced.
Mr O’Leary gave an undertaking that no alcohol would be consumed in the library and the bar would not be open if children were using the centre. He also gave an undertaking that they would comply with the law on opening hours and would limit the number of functions which would conclude at 2am to 15 per year.
Mr O’Leary said he did not agree with the claim by Mr Eoin Garavan, BL for Mr Cox that they allow after hour drinking and let non-members drink without signing in.
Judge Groarke adjourned the hearing until Wednesday in Clifden Circuit Court to hear the remaining evidence and to give his decision.