Newlyweds looking forward to raising a glass to the love of their life in a stretch limo may have to put the Champagne on ice if the Environment Minister has his way.
That’s because the post-wedding toasts may fall foul of Alex Attwood’s plans to crack down on party buses full of drunken clubbers.
But including wedding limos in proposals to deal with wayward teenagers getting drunk on the way to nightclubs would be overstepping the ministerial mark, and “a load of nonsense”, according to those in the business.
The minister has warned that it is an offence to consume alcohol on public service vehicles and is drawing up new legislation to put a stop to onboard drinking. The Driver and Vehicle Agency has also been ordered to target suspected coaches.
But newlyweds could be caught up in the fallout if they set off from their wedding in a vehicle operated by a private hire company or coach operator.
Bride-to-be Amy Jenkins, who is planning her wedding for June 2013, said she was disappointed that her wedding toast could be going down the drain before her big day.
“One glass to toast their marriage is not going to make a newly married couple bleary-eyed and rowdy in the back of their wedding car and won’t cause any harm to the driver,” the east Belfast woman said.
“Most car companies provide the bride and groom with Champagne in their car as a way to congratulate and allow them to celebrate. It has been happening for many years and has never caused any problems. It is also the only time the couple will have alone on the day, so why shouldn't they be allowed to have a toast to themselves?”
Wedding planner Marie Scott said: “It's just a toast. I think it is a load of nonsense and I think the minister is going too far. It is going to get to the stage where they are going to come into your house and tell you that you cannot drink.
“I don't drink, but I think the Government is overstepping the mark on this one.”
Brian Gallager, who runs Vogue Limo Hire in Strabane, said: “I think it is a bit silly to have this ban on alcohol for wedding couples.
“We only provide two bottles of Champagne — for the bride and groom, and for the rest of the bridal party. It's not that much. I think when it comes to formals or things like that alcohol should definitely be limited — and we do put a limit on the amount of alcohol that can be consumed — but weddings are a different matter altogether.”
Aiden McElvogue, from Dungannon-based Exotic Limos, added: “I have never seen a drunk bride yet. I think it is too much — there should be a difference between a party bus and a limousine carrying a married couple to their wedding venue. They are totally different.”
The bizarre potential anomaly came to light after Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson asked Mr Attwood if he would consider allowing newlyweds to enjoy a toast as they set off on married life. But, while sympathetic, the minister said public service vehicle regulations prohibit passengers from consuming alcohol — an offence carrying a maximum fine of £1,000.
“Extensive public consultation has been undertaken and the issue of alcohol being carried in public service vehicles as well as the issue of wedding toasts have been raised and are being considered,” he said.
“I acknowledge the proposal outlined by the Member, would have sympathy with the sentiment, but have to ensure that mixed messages are not conveyed by me and the department about alcohol consumption in a vehicle.”
Mrs Dobson said she had met with a local coach hire company which is concerned that those businesses who comply may lose out to those who decide to continue to offer toasts.
“I am pleased that in response to my question the minister is considering the issue and has indeed expressed ‘sympathy’ with the sentiment of wedding toasts, which form an important part of newly married couples around the world, and especially on what is for them the happiest day of their lives,” she said.
Regulation 51(1)(k) of the Public Service Vehicles Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1985 prohibits passengers on public service vehicles (PSVs) from consuming alcohol. A PSV is a vehicle suitable for carrying nine or more passengers — plus the driver — and doing so for hire or reward, or a smaller vehicle carrying passengers and charging them “separate fares”.