Long standing court saga set to end next month after landmark ruling
The long-running court saga over the question of a seven-day publican’s license for Clare Island Community Centre (CICC) is set to end with a license expected to be granted next month in Dublin.
Mr Justice Michael Hanna agreed in principle to granting the license at last Thursday’s High Court sitting in Roscommon providing that certain undertakings are given by the Board of Directors of the CICC Ltd. It is believed to be the first time in the history of the state that a community centre has been granted a full publican’s license.
It brings to an end a long and painstaking court battle between CICC and two objectors, local businessman Chris O’Grady and prospective developer on the island, Jim Cox.
However, before the license is granted, the members of CICC must hold an Extraordinary General Meeting and give approval for the Board of Directors of CICC to give sworn compliance to a number of conditions.
CICC have had a club license to serve alcohol for over ten years. At the High Court sitting in Castlebar the previous week, Chairman of the CICC, Mr Brendan O’Leary, said that many visitors had ‘taken offence’ to the need to sign-in to enter the bar and that the lack of functions allowed under the club license was restrictive.
Objecting to the application were Chris O’Grady who operates the only ferry to the offshore island and has run The Bayview Hotel there since 1964 and Jim Cox, who moved to the island earlier this year and has plans to build a hostel, public bar and private residence on the island.
The chief grounds for their objections were that the centre didn’t conform to planning; that the centre ‘regularly breached’ the opening hours and admittance criteria of the club license they held, meaning that, as the island had no Gardaí stationed there, the bar in the centre could and did run as an open public house.
However, under questioning from Ms Constance Cassidy, SC, instructed by Áine Boyle, JC, and John Carlos, Solicitor, for CICC, Mr O’Grady admitted that he had been trading illegally since 1964. This happened any time he served a member of the general public at his bar, which only had a hotel license. He said he did this unknowingly and had secured a publican’s license recently.
Mr Justice Hanna said it was ‘of significance’ that neither the Gardaí or the fire authority objected to a seven-day license. He added that he found Mr O’Grady’s evidence that he was unaware he was in breach of the law as being ‘disingenuous’.
He did add that it would ‘weigh heavily’ with him if he could factor in commercial disadvantages faced by the O’Gradys and Mr Cox as private businesses having to compete with a public funded building with some public funded staff. But he said this was not a matter he could rule on.
Justice Hanna said he was satisfied the centre was in compliance with planning as while the original plans were deviated from, it was always clear that alcohol would be sold at the centre.
He added that the problem was how to ensure enforceability. Stating he couldn’t attach conditions to the license, he instead requested the Board of the Directors of CICC to given sworn undertakings. These include: to have no more than 15 functions per year; to have no exterior signage for a public house; and that the bar be closed any time any event is taking place for the benefit of people under 18. The board of directors must also give an undertaking that the public house aspect of the centre will remain ‘ancillary’ to the main uses of the centre. He added that he felt the community themselves will self-police in this regard, that they will ‘frown upon and control unnecessary behaviour’.
He said that breaches of the undertakings will be contempt of court by the company and by the individuals themselves.
The CICC are expected to hold their EGM this week ahead of a High Court appearance in Dublin on Friday, December 9.
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