Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland licensing laws to undergo a revamp but plans don't go far enough, says trade body

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's licensing laws are set for a revamp, but controversial Easter opening times are likely to remain largely unchanged.

A draft bill is expected to be discussed in Stormont when Assembly sittings resume in autumn. DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan, whose department has responsibility for licensing matters, has accepted reform is needed.

He has copied a paper to colleagues in the Executive seeking agreement on a Licensing Bill.

Mr Givan said it will include "minor changes" to opening hours.

Northern Ireland's licensing laws have long been a source of debate. Restrictions on the sale of alcohol are in place from the Thursday until Sunday at Easter.

On Good Friday alcohol can only be served between 5pm and 11pm. Bars also have to stop serving at midnight on the Thursday and Easter Saturday. Sources said the new proposals are likely to mean:

  • Pubs can open as normal on the Thursday before Easter;
  • A new "occasional hours" late licence would allow alcohol to be sold until 2am on 12 nights a year;
  • Pub-goers would be allowed an extra 30 minutes' drinking-up time, pushing the current cut-off back from 1.30am until 2am.

However, Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster, the industry body which represents pubs, hotels and restaurants, said the proposed changes do not go far enough.

"We welcome the proposed Bill, but we are disappointed that it seems it will not give us what we need for the modern environment," he said.

"We will continue to push hard to have it amended to include the things we want. This isn't about selling more drink, it is about being able to attract more people who are drinking at home out from their homes. About 70% of all alcohol is now consumed at home, and 20% of people drink alone, whereas pubs offer a controlled environment."

Mr Givan has said the proposed Bill will include measures to address the potential for alcohol abuse. He was responding to an Assembly question from Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson.

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