With Conor McGregor's UFC bout with Jose Aldo on BT Sport, Balls.ie decided to do a public service and compile a list of public screenings across the country in which it was possible to watch the fight. We quickly ran into trouble, however, when we realised that there were very few licensed venues in the capital screening the fight.
Strictly speaking, Ireland's licensing laws make it illegal for a pub to be open between 4am and 5am, which is when McGregor-Aldo is set to begin Sunday morning. This has not stopped some venues from screening McGregor's fights from Las Vegas in the past.
These laws are a massive frustration for publican Matt Hudson, co-owner for the Woolshed Baa and Grill on Parnell Street. He has criticised these laws as "archaic" and "ridiculous" while explaining the licensing laws to us:
All pubs can stay open to 11.30 pm from Monday to Thursday, until 12.30 am on Friday and Saturday, and until 11pm on Sunday. That’s what everyone can do. On top of that, you can apply to stay open later by what is called a Special Exemption Order, and you apply to the courts for them. You list out the dates you want, but you can only apply for them individually. Generally, you do them a month in advance. It is €410 per exemption per night. You pay before you go into court and before you are awarded the licence. Legally, these special exemptions extend to 2.30am, with an additional half hour drinking up time. You must close at 2.30am, there is no exemption.
There is no legal option for The Woolshed, or for anybody else to go to the gardai and/or the courts to get a special exemption to show important Irish sporting events. Perhaps it is time for a McGregor Law.
You should be able to get an exemption in this day and age. I should be able to go to the court and say that I want an exemption until 6am to show the McGregor/Aldo fight. I would have gone to the Guards and said 'Right, this my plan. I’m going to have X amount of security; this is what I’m going do to not cause noise outside; this is what I’m going to do to make sure people aren’t drunk'. With all these steps, I would ask, 'are you happy, yes or no?' If Yes, then I go and get my exemption. If No, then what can I do to improve it? If it’s a No because you run a poor house, and you are trouble, well then fair enough. There is no avenue to pitch this.
Owing to the lack of an option here, The Woolshed cannot take a legal risk and screen the fight. It is a decision that troubles Hudson, as not being able to screen is costing him between €10,000 and €15,000. "We are a sports bar, and this is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, and we are not allowed to show it. It’s killing us. As I said to you, a number of people have emailed us saying that we are doing a list of people showing it. It killed me not to show the fight in July [McGregor v Chad Mendes]. Some of the places, there were huge advertisements for it, we’re running a full bar, with a big screen".
Despite the fact that it is illegal to publicly screen the fight, we did find a couple of venues who are taking a legal risk and screening it. This flouting of the rules regarding closing times is something that consistently happens in venues across Dublin and the fact that certain places across Dublin regularly get away with having customers on their premises well beyond 3am is something that frustrates Hudson:
So as far as anything goes for McGregor fight, it doesn’t matter if you are not serving alcohol, they have people on their licensed premises, it is outside permitted hours. The only place this can happen is in a hotel bar, which is similar to being in the publican’s house. You can’t not notice it. If a place is really busy, and it's got a line of taxis going from one end of the street to the other, there are security cameras all around the place, if you can’t notice there’s 500 people in a place, somebody’s doing something wrong.
When asked if this inconsistency constituted cronyism, Hudson replied:
I do think this is an issue, and I do want to get it out there, but I do have a business to protect, and I don’t want to go war with the guards, and I don’t want other publicans to say ‘he’s trying to get us shut down’, because I’m not, but I don’t know what else to call it. If something is being flagrantly ignored, and it’s not just the Aldo fight, it’s every weekend, what magic formula is there, there’s got to be something? Corruption is all in the papers and websites about the documentary that was on RTE [RTE's investigation into corrupt local councillours], but to me this is the same. It’s not hidden, it’s blatantly ignoring the laws for commercial benefit. It’s not for the moral being of the country, and everyone should be able to do it or nobody should be able to do it.
Hudson was keen to stress that he has no problem with venues being allowed to stay open later, that "the last thing I want to do is to stop people going out. I want more people to go out, I want them to go out for longer and have a good time." He wants a change to the laws, which he believed are "archaic" in not allowing him to apply for the exemption described above.