Shake-up of Northern Ireland drink laws 'doesn't go far enough' in becoming more tourist friendly
A shake-up of laws regulating the sale of alcohol in Northern Ireland has not gone far enough in becoming more tourist friendly, according to the bar trade.
Among the changes announced by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland are a ban on carry-outs from pubs and an hour for drinking-up, as opposed to half-an-hour.
A new 'occasional licence' will also allow pubs to open until 2am on 12 nights per year.
However, it's the small changes to the Easter opening, where normal opening hours will apply on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter, which are causing most disagreement, with campaigners calling for more normalised hours.
A Department for Social Development consultation launched in 2012 attracted over 2,500 responses from the drinks industry, health bodies and the public.
Unveiling the new laws, Mr McCausland said that alcohol was "not an ordinary commodity".
He said: "The sale and supply of alcohol has to be regulated in a way that recognises its potential negative impacts. I believe that liquor licensing plays a key role in setting the environment in which alcohol is consumed.
"While I am keen to ensure that licensing laws assist in supporting the hospitality industry and tourism, it must be in a way that does not add to the difficulties we already have with alcohol."
Many of those who responded to the public consultation argued that we should be brought into line with England and Wales, where there are fewer restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Colin Neill, chief executive of trade body Pubs of Ulster, said that while the plans could go further, change "is a good first step".
He said: "More work needs to be done to make NI more tourist friendly and the fact that our pubs are still restricted on certain days over Easter weekend, which has become an important holiday weekend in terms of customer demand, means that many pubs will continue to lose out.
"We believe there is still room for improvement and will continue to press for further changes in the law to ensure we have a licensing system that is modern and fit for the 21st century."
An industry commentator known as Belfast Barman said he had been "apologising to tourists for eight years".
He added: "At 2pm on Good Friday I cannot serve Guinness, but I can serve a Steak and Guinness pie, it's a joke."
Other changes to the law will permit people under the age of 18 to attend functions on licensed premises, provided the bar is closed.
There will be restrictions on the advertising of alcohol in supermarkets and off sales premises, and a ban on advertising alcohol within the vicinity of the premises.
There will also be minor changes to the law affecting private members clubs.