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NI pubs shakeup plan to change drinking times and Easter opening

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Communities Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster

Communities Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster

Communities Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster

Northern Ireland's pubs and bars are set to be able to serve alcohol to 2am over 100 times a year under new proposals to reform licensing laws.

Laws restricting opening at Easter time will also be abolished under the plan from the Department for Communities (DfC).

The Executive has signed off on the plan and the proposals will be part of a bill introduced in the Assembly, and if approved could be in place by early next year.

Representatives of the pub trade said the coronavirus crisis had meant the changes were needed now more than ever but said the proposals fell short.

Pubs and bars that sell food or have outside seating were allowed to reopen from July 3. However no date has been set to allow establishments that don't serve food to reopen.

The Belfast Telegraphs understands there has been no progress on setting a reopening date as of yet and the matter remains under consideration by the Executive.

"We need every opportunity to bring customers back," said Colin Neil of Hospitality Ulster.

The move follows a public consultation on Northern Ireland's liquor licensing laws between October and December last year.

Under the plans certain licensed premises will be able to apply to serve alcohol for an extra hour until 2am 104 times per year.

They will also be allowed a further hour drinking up time, allowing them to remain open till 3am.

Restrictions around opening hours over Easter weekend will also be removed after years of campaigning from bar and restaurant owners.

Under current laws alcohol can only be served until midnight on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter and between 5pm and 11pm on Good Friday.

Other proposals include legal requirements around drinks promotions, the alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems, changes relating to children on licensed premises and the prohibition of self-service and vending machines.

Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neil said the plans will "bring about the biggest changes to the hospitality sector in a generation".

He said it was an important development at a time when many bars and nightclubs are dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Neill said the changes would bring Northern Ireland in line with Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland and make it "more attractive to customers and visitors".

"We are hopeful now that real and meaningful change can finally be implemented," he said.

"Whilst significant, the proposals do not include everything we asked for, it is crucial now that our MLAs listen to the industry and swiftly make the legislative changes that will transform the industry.

"Despite the undoubted challenges ahead, this updated legislation would be a welcome boost for hospitality businesses right across Northern Ireland.”

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said she believed the proposals would tackle alcohol misuse and promote responsible consumption while providing vital support to the hospitality industry.

"This support is needed now more than ever as the industry begins its recovery from Covid-19," the Sinn Fein MLA said.

“The changes will also enable local drinks producers to sell their products directly to the public in limited circumstances, make changes to the law affecting registered private clubs and allow changes to permitted hours at major events, such as last year’s Open golf championship.

"The amendments will also include new restrictions on advertising of alcoholic drinks and introduce a statutory code of practice on responsible retailing.”

Belfast Telegraph