Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's licensing laws need shaken up: Lord Mayor Niall O’Donnghaile

By Claire McNeilly

The Lord Mayor of Belfast has said it is time to rethink the licensing laws in Northern Ireland so that the province can compete with its UK and European counterparts.

Niall O’Donnghaile was speaking after it emerged that a major Belfast nightclub had decided to do a U-turn on a voluntary agreement to close earlier.

Following a deal made last month, bars and clubs agreed to close at 2am instead of 3am to try and tackle issues surrounding illegal drinking.

But Rain, located in Tomb Street, has indicated it will revert to the 3am closing time — to the disappointment of the PSNI and Pubs of Ulster, the organisation responsible for licensed premises.

“The decision to go back to closing at 3am is of course very disappointing and we will be engaging with them to discuss the issue further,” said Colin Neill, Pubs of Ulster boss.

“We would like to remind the industry that the agreement has the support and backing of the PSNI and therefore any decision by a licensee to remove themselves from it will be brought to their attention.

“By demonstrating effective self-regulation and the industry's commitment to responsible practices, we hope to pave the way for modernising the current licensing laws in Northern Ireland.

“This will only happen, however, if the industry comes together on issues such as 2am closing.”

The police also said they were disappointed by Rain's decision to opt out.

“Rain did notify police of this decision yesterday, and we have asked them to reconsider,” a spokesman said.

“Police have advised Rain nightclub that we will continue to inspect their premises to ensure that they are not trading outside of licensing hours or breaching the licensing laws.”

Mr O’Donnghaile said it was clear that the contentious issue of opening hours of pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland must be addressed.

“It’s fair to say that we need to look at the licensing laws and there is an appetite within Belfast City Council to do that,” he said.

“We have taken a partnership approach and it is a responsible way, but it is time for a rethink of the licensing laws and the council is up for doing that.”

Background

In Northern Ireland there is a discrepancy between liquor licences, which are granted until 1am, and entertainments licences, which can extend until 3am. It means that although establishments must stop serving alcohol at 1am, they do not have to close until 3am. This time difference has given rise to some concerns over illegal drinking.

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