Licensing laws revision 'strikes right balance'
A proposed revision of Northern Ireland's licensing laws strikes a balance between the needs of the hospitality industry and society's concerns about excessive alcohol use, a Stormont minister has insisted.
Communities Minister Paul Givan defended his decision not to relax restrictions to the extent requested by many pub and club owners as he outlined details of a new legislative Bill to the Assembly.
"Some of the measures in the Bill will, I hope, contribute to a reduction in alcohol-related harm by encouraging those who choose to drink to do so sensibly," he said.
"I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance between controlling the sale of alcoholic drinks on the one hand and offering some support to the hospitality sector on the other."
The update of the 1996 legal framework will allow licence holders to extend drinking hours from 1am to 2am on 12 occasions in the year.
It will also extend drinking-up time after last orders from 30 minutes to one hour - a move designed to reduce pressure on revellers to quickly finish beverages as their night comes to a close.
There had been calls for Mr Givan to lift Northern Ireland's tight restrictions on the sale of alcohol in licensed premises over the Easter period.
The minister has given some ground, by removing limitations on Easter Thursday, but there will be no similar relaxations on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"Easter is a period of special significance in Northern Ireland, which is reflected in licensing law, and I am not prepared to remove the current restrictions entirely," he said.
The Licensing and Regulation of Clubs (Amendment) Bill proceeded through its second stage in the Assembly on Tuesday.
It will now be considered by Mr Givan's Assembly scrutiny committee - a process that may see changes proposed.
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew, who is deputy chair of the Communities committee, asked whether overly restricting the hospitality industry was the correct course.
She said most incidents of excess intake of alcohol occur in the home.
"By limiting the proposals in the Bill that, in general, may be seen as liberalising our current laws, are we, in fact, inadvertently penalising the hospitality industry because of an erroneous perception of where the alcohol problem lies?" she asked.
The Bill contains a number of clauses dealing with reducing the capacity of young people to access alcohol.
Licensed premises will be able to have young people on site on certain nights - for events such as teenage discos - but only if they apply for court permission and on the basis that no alcohol is available for sale.
Supermarkets will not be able to make home deliveries of orders containing alcohol if there is no adult at the property when the goods are being dropped off.
The supermarkets will also not be allowed to advertise drinks offers in any part of the store other than the area where the licensed products are sold.
The Bill also allows for the formation of a statutory code of conduct for retailers.