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Northern Ireland licensing laws 'could block Irish Rugby World Cup bid '

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's licensing laws could block the Irish bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it has been claimed.

Unless the current legislation is tackled, the move backed by the NI Executive will fail, a Stormont committee heard.

Shane Logan, the chief executive of Ulster Rugby, warned that if the law wasn't changed the bid to host the World Cup in seven years would have to be withdrawn.

Former First Minister Peter Robinson joined Taoiseach Enda Kenny when the Irish Rugby Football Union formally announced its intention to submit a bid for the prestigious competition just over a year ago. Yesterday the Assembly's social development committee was taking evidence on proposals to review liquor licensing at sports stadiums in the province.

A Private Member's Bill from Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane aims to allow outdoor sporting venues to sell alcohol, given the ongoing development of Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium, Windsor Park football ground and Casement Park GAA stadium.

Rugby authorities at the Kingspan Stadium still have to apply for the use of an occasional licence for each of their matches, the committee was told.

Mr Logan said: "We would not be able to fulfil the criteria for access to alcohol bars and family access to entertainment that is required to allow us to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The law as it stands - we would have to withdraw from that."

Mr Logan said, as things stand, there were up to 18 professional games played at Kingspan every year, and each time they had to apply to a court for a temporary licence.

The process offers "no certainty" as these are only awarded on the day of the match, he added.

"This precludes us from bidding for major events," he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister has voiced fears the proposed Bill would allow alcohol to be served at events for young people such as the Ulster Schools Cup Final. He asked if any occasional licences had been refused. He was told "no", but that was not the issue. "We have to bid for events with certainty of licensing," Mr Logan added.

Danny Murphy of the GAA described Mrs Cochrane's proposed Bill as an "appropriate and timely piece of work" which will bring Northern Ireland into line with Britain and the Republic. "If we have people going to games and they want to buy a pint, to have it sold to them legally is the best way," he said.

Both Dublin and Stormont have pledged to support the bid in which Ireland is competing with France, Italy and South Africa to host the competition.

Mr Robinson said at the launch: "This bid shows the ambition of the Northern Ireland Executive and our determination to bring world class international sporting events to Northern Ireland.

"Northern Ireland has demonstrated that whatever the event, whatever the occasion, we deliver. Regardless of whether it is cycling, golf, the World Police and Fire Games and now rugby, I have no doubt that this will be a resounding success both on and off the field."

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