Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 provides for the structural separation of alcohol products from other beverages and food products in premises which are engaged in mixed trading, such as supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. This Code of Practice for the display and sale of alcohol products in mixed trading premises is intended to achieve the policy objectives of section 9 of the 2008 Act on a voluntary basis. The Code provides for an independent audit and verification mechanism to oversee compliance and the provision of an annual report on its implementation to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
This Code of Practice has been drawn up by Retail Ireland, the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) and RGDATA representing the mixed trading sector and the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and Health and Children. It represents a commitment by the mixed trading sector to adhere on a voluntary basis to the standards and procedures set out in the Code.
The credibility of the Code depends on the effectiveness of the independent audit and verification system set up to oversee its implementation. If the audit and verification process reveals that implementation of the Code is achieving the goal of structural separation, it may not be necessary to bring section 9 of the 2008 Act into operation. However, if voluntary measures are not successful, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated that the statutory provisions will be activated.
The basic principle underpinning this Code of Practice is that alcohol is not an ordinary household product despite being sold in many supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations. The sale of alcohol products requires a District Court certificate and a licence issued by the Revenue Commissioners. Renewal of the licence is also subject to District Court supervision. Moreover, the conditions of sale and consumption of alcohol is governed by extensive statutory provisions set out in the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2008.
Contents Of The Code
1. Display Of Code
All mixed trading premises involved in the display and sale of alcohol must display a laminated copy of the Code in a conspicuous place in the premises. It must contain the name and address of the licence holder of the premises concerned. Display of the Code represents the commitment of the licence holder to implement and abide by its provisions. It also alerts customers to the standards which they are entitled to expect.
2. Display Of Alcohol
Under the Code, licence holders commit to displaying alcohol products, (including spirits and spirit based beverages; beer; cider; wine and wine based products), separately from other beverages and food products in one part of the premises. The part of the premises chosen for the display of alcohol should, as far as possible, be such that customers do not have to pass through or by it unless they intend purchasing alcohol products. Ideally, it should be at the rear of the premises. Separate display need not, of necessity, involve a physical wall or other such physical barrier. Cross-merchandising of alcohol with other food products is precluded.
However, while the Code provides that alcohol products must be located in a separate area away from other beverages and food products, it is recognised that certain mixed trading premises specialise exclusively in beverages and food products. For this reason the words ‘as far as possible’ have been included; in such cases, the licence holder is expected to comply as far as possible with the display provisions. It is also recognised that separation of alcohol products from other beverages and food products may present insuperable difficulties for small premises. Here also, the commitment of the licence holder is to ensure compliance as far as possible with the separation provisions.
In short, it is expected that all mixed trading premises, irrespective of size or level of specialisation, will endeavour as far as possible to implement the separation provisions.
The Code permits the display of alcohol products behind the counter in the interest of security. Alcohol products may not, however, be displayed in the windows of the premises.
The display provisions are the cornerstone of the Code and for this reason, the independent audit and verification system will focus in particular on whether or not the licence holder is complying with them. A failure to implement and abide by these standards may result in activation of section 9 of the 2008 Act.
The Code provides that in-store advertising of alcohol products is confined to the area in which such products are displayed. Advertising materials should not, therefore, be placed in windows or at internal locations where they are intended to be seen from outside the premises. Moreover, advertising materials produced by retailers should not seek to glamorise alcohol, or encourage excessive consumption, and should not be directed at minors.
As a complementary measure, the mixed trading sector has given a commitment that any advertisement published in newspapers or magazines must devote at least 75% of any such advertisement to products other than alcohol. This commitment does not apply to a retailer’s own publications or to trade magazines. In addition, the sector undertakes not to commission any alcohol-only radio or television advertising.
4. Sale Of Alcohol
The law specifies that off-sales of alcohol are permitted only between 10.30 a.m. and 10.00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and between 12.30 p.m. and 10.00 p.m. on any Sunday or St Patrick’s Day (such sales are not permitted at all on Christmas Day and Good Friday). These details are included in the Code for the information of the public and for the convenience of sales staff in dealing with customers. It is advisable to block alcohol sales at cash registers outside of these times.
Alcohol products may be sold only at clearly designated check-out points by persons over the age of 18 years. Check-out points at which alcohol products are sold, or the display area, will be monitored by CCTV as an aid to enforcement of the statutory provisions prohibiting the sale of alcohol to persons under 18 years of age.
Unsupervised self-service purchases of alcohol are not to be permitted. In the case of ‘on-line’ purchases of alcohol products, it is a requirement that the customer pays for alcohol at the time of placing the order. Payment on delivery of alcohol products is an offence under licensing law. Moreover, the control systems in place for delivering alcohol products purchased and paid for in advance must include a verification mechanism to ensure that alcohol is not being sold and delivered to persons under 18 years of age.
The inclusion of these provisions regarding the sale and delivery of alcohol are intended to assist licence holders to comply with existing law.
5. Proof Of Age
It is an offence to sell or deliver alcohol to a person under 18 years of age. Where a customer appears to be under the age of 21 years, or where there is a doubt about his or her age, staff members should seek confirmation of the customer’s age. The Garda Age Card is the preferred proof-of-age document for this purpose.
6. Staff Training
It is important that staff involved in the sale of alcohol products have an adequate knowledge and understanding of relevant areas of licensing law, particularly those relating to the sale and delivery of alcohol to persons under 18 years. The Code commits licence holders to ensuring that staff members are adequately trained in these matters. A training manual has been prepared by the mixed trading sector to assist licence holders in this regard. Compliance with the training commitments in the Code reflects good practice in the sector.
7. Independent Audit
An independent body selected by the representative bodies of the mixed trading sector will monitor implementation of the Code and report to a Director appointed by the sector with the agreement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Director will submit an annual compliance report to the Minister.
8. Complaints Mechanism
The Code contains provision for a complaints mechanism which will permit customers to lodge complaints where it appears that the Code’s provisions are not being implemented. It is envisaged that complaints may be resolved locally in consultation with the licence holder or be submitted to the Director. For this reason, the copy of the Code on display must contain contact details of the licence holder and the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Code.
The Code is effective 1 December 2008 and applies to all premises with off-licences which are engaged in mixed trading. These guidelines expand on some of the standards which are set out in the Code and are intended to give practical guidance for their application. They should be read in conjunction with the Code of Practice for the Sale and Display of Alcohol Products in Mixed Trading Premises.