Environment Minister Alex Attwood is to be congratulated for tackling the problem of cheap drink promotions head on. His meeting with pub and nightclub owners was an opportunity for the minister to make his feelings on the subject crystal clear as well as allowing the hospitality industry to put its case.
For while practically everyone is agreed that a clamp down on irresponsible drinking and drink offers is overdue, it also has to be recognised that publicans and club operators are in a highly competitive industry and need to make a living. The difficulty is in finding the correct balance.
Publicans have drawn up a code of conduct and Mr Attwood intends to incorporate it into tougher licensing laws so that any breaches would mean operators losing their licence. That is an important part of the battle to combat the problem of alcohol abuse. Another element is Health Minister Edwin Poots' proposal to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol which is aimed at supermarkets selling cut-price drink. This is like the multi-faceted anti-smoking approach which has helped to reduce the number of people using tobacco.
What is needed if we are to change the drinking culture in the province is a concerted effort on a variety of fronts over a long period of time. Parental responsibility has a part to play, along with legislation aimed at preventing irresponsible drink offers. So has greater education on the harmful effects of binge drinking. The aim is not to introduce some sort of prohibition, but to promote sensible drinking and stop the frenzied approach to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible.
As this newspaper reveals today there are no shortages of drink promotions and 'happy hours' around Belfast. But the operators have been warned in no uncertain terms that time is being called on these offers and they could face severe penalties if they continue with the promotions. The night-time economy is important and the hospitality industry a major player but it has a moral duty to protect its customers.
Both customers and the trade need to show greater responsibility.