Belfast Telegraph

Belfast nightclubs' new 2am closing time is right move: Alex Attwood

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

A new agreement which means nightclubs now close an hour earlier has been described as the “right move”.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood, who met with club owners last month to discuss what he branded “irresponsible” drinks promotions, welcomed the voluntary arrangement to which venues across Belfast have signed up.

Under the new agreement clubs will now shut at 2am instead of an hour later at 3am.

It follows controversy over the death of 20-year-old Joby Murphy who drowned after a night drinking £1 vodka shots at the Odyssey complex in January.

“This is the right move,” Mr Attwood said. “I want to acknowledge the good work of Pubs of Ulster and promoters who have signed up to closing at 2am, not 3am.

“I believe that this gives every reasonable opportunity for people to go out for the night and responsibly enjoy themselves.

“I also believe that it is time for the Assembly to endorse a common position on drinking and entertainments licences — in particular making both 2am.”

Currently alcohol licences run until 1am, but some premises have entertainment licenses until 3am.

Mr Attwood wants to make it tougher for pubs and clubs to get and retain this type of licence.

Colin Neill, from the industry body Pubs of Ulster, said the new closing time — which came into effect last weekend — would last until new legislation on drinks and entertainments licences was brought in.

“A storm brewed about irresponsible promotions and there were also allegations of illegality, so we as an industry had to respond to that.

“We take these allegations very seriously and this is us saying we are responsible.

“The voluntary agreement is also a vital step in demonstrating our ability to self-regulate.

“However, whilst we continue to work on improving the industry from within, we can only do so much within the confines of our current licensing laws.

“It is clear that the current laws need to be modernised to address not only late night opening, but also issues such as Easter opening times.

“But the first stagein achieving this is proving that Northern Ireland has an industry that can act responsibly within the current laws.”

However, not everyone is happy with the new timings. Promoter Lyndon Stephens said people had been confused and surprised on Saturday.

Police entered several clubs at about 2am on Sunday to ensure people left the premises on time. The change has happened very quickly and it caused a lot of confusion in terms of people getting home,” he said.

Mr Stephens said the earlier closure would be bad news for tourism, with people from some European countries accustomed to only going out at 1am.

A PSNI spokeswoman said officers would continue to carry out inspections of licensed premises.

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