TESCO HAS got the go-ahead for a controversial new off-licence in Dublin’s Temple Bar after successfully appealing a judicial ruling that it lacked the character to run such a premises.
Earlier this month, Judge Mary Collins of Dublin District Court rejected Tesco’s application for an off-licence at the former ESB showrooms in Temple Bar and called into question its character.
She also criticised the manner in which planning and off-licence applications had been made by it or on its behalf at a number of locations, including Thomas Street in Dublin and University Road in Galway.
The ruling could have made it difficult for Tesco Ireland to make applications for new licences and could have even placed existing ones in jeopardy. The retailer took the issue seriously and retained two of the State’s leading senior counsel – Dermot Gleeson and Constance Cassidy – to represent it in the Circuit Civil Court yesterday.
Opening the hearing, Mr Gleeson said the refusal to grant the company a licence had been made on the grounds of character, which was, he continued, “a very serious matter” for the company, particularly given its size. He pointed out that there were few contemporary examples of an applicant being denied an off-licence on such grounds. “It is not as if they were running a shebeen or hired some sort of lunatic as a manager or had a string of convictions,” Mr Gleeson said.
He said all of the concerns in the District Court had been raised on planning permission grounds and were not, in his view, sustainable. He said there was a clear distinction to be made between planning applications and off-licence applications. “There are different regimes dealing with different social matters,” he said, adding that there had never been a suggestion that one regime could be used as an instrument of the other.
He told the court that if planning matters could be used to determine the outcome of off-licence applications it would be “a radical revision of 150 years of law” which could be “breathtaking in its scope” and lead to “limitless inquiries” into the planning practices of every company making an application for an off-licence.
He also said full planning permission had been granted by both the local planning authority and, on appeal, by An Bord Pleanála
Dermot Breen, Tesco Ireland’s corporate affairs director, said it took its responsibilities with regard to the sale of alcohol very seriously. He said it had a “think 25 policy” which mandated that if staff thought a person attempting to buy alcohol was under that age, they had to ask them for ID. He also pointed out that over the course of the last decade the company had had close to 100 million transactions involving alcohol across its 130 licensed premises and only one conviction for selling drink to a minor. The objectors, the Griffin Retail Group, Griffin Central Ltd and traders supporting the Cultural Quarter Ltd, trading as Temple Bar Traders, were represented by Dorothy Collins SC and solicitor Ursula Courtney.
Ms Collins said doubts had been cast over the bona fides of Tesco Ireland by Judge Collins. She said Tesco had not properly applied for planning permission for the specific purpose of selling alcohol in a number of cases – a charge the store denied – and said it had also made multiple applications for planning in some stores that meant some potential objectors did not have the opportunity to have their concerns heard.
Judge Alison Lindsay said the objectors had missed their opportunity to object to the licence on ground of planning issues at the initial stages and could not do so now. She said Tesco Ireland had complied with all planning laws and the legal proofs necessary to obtain its certificate for a licence.