Hospitality Ulster launches 'petition of concern' against licensing laws
The organisation representing publicans in Northern Ireland has launched a "petition of concern" against outdated licensing laws.
Bar owners are seeking longer opening hours and the easing of restrictions on Easter trading to make up for a struggling economy and mandatory minimum wage levels.
An online petition of concern has been launched and the public urged to send letters to Assembly members.
Hospitality Ulster said it wanted the new Assembly after the May elections to move swiftly to modernise the laws.
Chief executive Colin Neill said: "For years the hospitality sector has been pushing for changes to the outdated liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland.
"We have been promised the introduction of a Bill at the Northern Ireland Assembly to make the necessary changes, however the Assembly has failed to bring it forward.
"This is compounded by the fact that the issues contained within the Bill have been consulted upon for over four years and as time moves on, the hospitality sector is being left behind.
"We are aware that there is not enough time left in the lifetime of this Assembly, but as soon as it returns after the election, this issue needs to be a top priority.
"Much of the work has been done and we know there is widespread support for the changes that are proposed, we now need the Assembly to stop sitting on its hands and bring the Bill forward."
The industry is seeking changes to the law to permit people under the age of 18 to attend functions on licensed premises, provided the bar is closed. It is also concerned that restrictions on Easter opening are harming business.
Some of the laws are up to 100 years old.
Mr Neill added: "We are fighting against a downturn in domestic tourism, in a struggling economy, mixed with issues relating to the likes of VAT, rates, and the National Living Wage. We simply can't sustain this ongoing anti-business environment.
"We are an industry that is a significant driver of the Northern Ireland economy, and pregnant with opportunity as we grow the offer to consumers and tourists. The outmoded current legislation is simply holding us back.
"We are calling on the wider sector and public to get in touch with their elected representatives to make sure that they back the Bill in the new Assembly term."
A Department for Social Development spokeswoman said: "The Department has been focused on competing priorities such as Welfare Reform and the Housing Bills, and unfortunately at this stage there is insufficient time to progress a Bill in the current mandate.
"In addition, there were significant pressures to the legislative timetable and so it has not been possible for legislation to go through the Assembly during this mandate.
"Any changes to the law on Liquor Licensing will fall to the new Department for Communities to consider after the Assembly elections in May."
Details on the petition are available here