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Sunday trading does not mean some things shouldn't be sacred

By Lindy McDowell

Published 15/07/2015

Big business: supermarkets are still open on Sundays
Big business: supermarkets are still open on Sundays

Note to all those keen customers who are so terribly dismayed that we in backward Northern Ireland are not set to benefit from new legislation in England and Wales which could lead to a change in Sunday trading hours. (Local councils there will be able to rule on opening times in their own areas.)

Actually shops here are open on Sundays.

Granted the hours of the bigger business are curtailed to around the half day mark. But even so. There is Sunday opening. More than enough if you ask me.

I am not a religious person. My views are not based on what it may say in the Bible about whether or not Marksies shalt be allowed to ply its trade on the Sabbath.

I just like the idea of a day of (sort of) rest.

And, yes, I know it's not a rest for everyone. But if the likes of Tesco and Asda got their 24/7 way, how many more workers would be slogging long hours in order to maximise the profits of big business?

None of us will starve if the supermarket is only open for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. Honestly. If you're that desperate you can always get a Pot Noodle down at the filling station.

But in some circles here there's almost an hysteria around Sunday trading as though it's a definitive measure of advanced civilisation.

What must the tourists think of us, the critics cry. I am all for making our visitors feel welcome.

But I imagine the answer to that question is that the tourists think our shops are closed for a few hours longer than normal on a Sunday because, well, that's the local law.

Their own trading laws often involve a built-in rest factor too. The Mediterranean siesta shut-up being a prime example. That's the way it is there. How many people are seriously put off the Costas on account of the fear that the local Spar might not be open until 4pm? Where the critics might have a reasonable point is with the argument - what else is there for the tourists to do of a Sunday?

I've often watched the easyJet city-breakers straggle forlornly around a quiet Belfast on a Sunday morning and wondered that same thing myself.

There's only so many pictures you can take of the Albert Clock.

But should we assume that shopping is, or even should be, the only answer to this conundrum? And given that it's the giant supermarket chains which are most likely to avail of any change in trading rules, are the tourists likely to be tempted down the grocery aisle anyway? A more commonsense move would be to focus on relaxing laws that make things difficult - and less profitable - for the hospitality industry. Later opening times at weekends for a start. The tourists might prefer that. A Sunday morning market.

Again this would involve longer hours for some workers. But the age profile of those who work in bars and restaurants tends to be younger. Shop workers on the other hand are more likely to be older, female and with families at home who very much cherish that wee bit of a break on the Sabbath day.

This is the point that concerns the unions. If we extend Sunday trading laws something has to give. It is in the nature of big business that the something - or, more precisely, the someone - that has to do the giving will be the worker.

In this instance that would entail giving up precious hours of family time, the guaranteed few hours in the week when they know they won't be on the rota - for what?

To ensure we don't look backward? To ensure we can expect the shops to be open any time we want? This in the era of online shopping where you can trawl the aisles as much as you want, at any hour, any day or night.

Extended Sunday shopping? Give us a break. Some things should remain sacred.

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