Belfast to get all hot and bothered as fresh sex shop storm brews
Belfast City council is heading for a fresh sex shop licensing storm, it can be revealed.
The businessman at the centre of a four-year legal battle to secure a sex establishment licence for a city centre shop has submitted a fresh application.
Politicians are set to battle it out at a special meeting of the council in October, with unionists expected to oppose the application. The SDLP has already said it will support it.
Belfast has no legal sex shops, although a number operate without a licence.
But now businessman Brian Hope has applied for a permit to open his shop Miss Behavin Ltd on Gresham Street.
A previous application for the same shop prompted a legal row that reached all the way to the House of Lords as the council battled to defend its decision to refuse the outlet a licence.
In 2003, the council refused a licence for Miss Behavin and announced a total ban on sex shops in the Gresham Street area, saying they felt the city centre street, which is close to churches and family shops, was an "unacceptable" location.
The shop owner appealed this and the Court of Appeal ruled against the council. However, in 2007, five law lords overturned that judgment
Now the battle is set to erupt again following a fresh application by Mr Hope this year.
A meeting of the council's licensing committee last week heard that public notices of the application have been placed in three newspapers, and no objections have so far been received.
The PSNI has also raised no objections, according to the committee's minutes.
Sinn Fein's deputy chairman of the committee, Mary-Ellen Campbell, told the Belfast Telegraph that a special meeting has been organised to take place in October to discuss the matter.
It is understood that Mr Hope will be invited to attend that meeting to put forward his case.
Yesterday, most of the parties represented at City Hall said that they had yet to consider whether they would vote to grant or refuse the licence.
Only the SDLP indicated which way it planned to go.
SDLP group leader Pat McCarthy said he would back the application and did not see any reason why his party colleagues would vote against it.
"You go to any other city in the world and there are sex shops – they are a part of reality," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"People order sex toys, pornography and everything. If you go on to the internet, it is there. So, unfortunately, it is a part of life.
"I can't see any reason why they (SDLP councillors) would vote against it because, legally, they are entitled to be there. It's a sign of the time we live in."
However, Ulster Unionist councillor David Browne said that he was minded to vote against the application.
"To me, it's people's own business if they want to do that sort of stuff. But this one doesn't have a mission of me backing it," he added.
"Really and truly, for things like that, if I was to get strong representations from people, I'll go with what people are saying to me.
"It's not really up to me to decide what I want to do.
"Usually you'd find for issues like that, I would have people contacting me and if enough contacted to say they were in favour of it, I would support it.
"Because if people are interested that much, they will contact you."
The other parties at City Hall have avoided taking a stance on the sex shop issue at this stage. Sinn Fein group leader on the council, Jim McVeigh, said his party would consider the issue before commenting.
The DUP councillor Lee Reynolds revealed his party was awaiting legal advice from the council before deciding on a position in the row.
And the Alliance Party councillor Andrew Webb also said that his party planned to discuss the matter before deciding to back or reject the application.
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said there were currently no licensed sex shops in Belfast and added it was normally the policy to reject applications.