Pubs could pay more to close later
Some pubs in Northern Ireland could be allowed to stay open until 2am under proposed changes announced by the Social Development Minister.
A levy on the late night businesses may be imposed to pay for emergency service cover as part of a deal attracting tourists and developing the night-time economy. The extra hour of opening on special occasions could go in tandem with measures to further restrict the sale of alcohol in supermarkets.
Minister Nelson McCausland said too many people died because of drink misuse.
"This is totally unacceptable and as Social Development Minister I am committed to tackling our increasingly unhealthy relationship with alcohol," he said.
Placing solid walls between alcohol displays and the shopper in supermarkets in Northern Ireland and forcing buyers to queue up twice are among government proposals designed to discourage the abuse of alcohol.
The habit costs public health in Northern Ireland up to £900 million a year. In 2010, 284 people died directly from alcohol misuse, an increase of around 40% since 2001.
Drink is a major sustainer of jobs in the hospitality industry, encourages tourism and Mr McCausland said he recognised the trade's contribution.
"It is a sad paradox however that the decline in pubs, which offer the safest and most regulated place to consume alcohol, has come alongside what seems to be an increase in drinking and alcohol-related problems," he said.
Department of Health figures show that three quarters of people surveyed had exceeded the recommended daily alcohol limit and almost a third engaged in at least one binge session in the week prior to the study.
The minister is trying to balance combating the harm caused by binge drinking with allowing it in a relatively regulated environment, such as the pub, rather than pre-loading at home before going out.