Our 'farcical' Easter opening hours to cost hospitality trade £20m
Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland will lose £20m in trade over Easter weekend as a result of restrictions on the sale of alcohol, it's been claimed.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said Northern Ireland was effectively closed to tourists and visitors over the bank holiday weekend because of the limits.
And he said venues here were likely to lose business to the Republic, as restrictions have finally been lifted across the border.
Earlier this week restaurateur Michael Deane lambasted the laws forbidding the sale of alcohol in licensed premises to between 5pm and 11pm on Good Friday as "biblical".
On Holy Saturday alcohol can only be served until midnight and on Easter Sunday until 10pm. The day before Good Friday alcohol can be served up until midnight.
Mr Neill said: "We are now entering yet another Easter in Northern Ireland where pubs, hotels and restaurants will be forced to sell alcohol on restricted hours across the whole of the Easter holiday period.
"This is a ridiculous and unsustainable position for decision makers to enforce, especially when you consider that this year for the first time, and very sensibly, the hospitality sector in the Republic will be able to operate as normal across Easter.
"That means that while Northern Ireland's pubs, restaurants and hotels are putting up 'Sorry, closed early' signs, for their counterparts in the Republic it will be business as usual."
Mr Deane, who runs six restaurants around Belfast, said he had decided to close on Friday lunchtime "to avoid any more embarrassment to our hard-working staff who are there to serve people".
Licensed premises cannot open to serve alcohol before 5pm on Good Friday - and if they do wish to open, they cannot serve alcohol until after 5pm.
Mr Neill said the restrictions caused "huge inconvenience" to people who wanted a drink in a licensed premises over Easter.
"It also send outs a sign to tourists from Great Britain, the Republic and further afield that Northern Ireland is not a place to visit over Easter," he added.
"It is estimated that in previous years the licensing hours cost the hospitality sector in the province £16m in lost trade, £16m that could be used to help pay wages, rates, taxes and other bills. This year, with the Republic opening, we can be sure the losses will run toward £20m."
Mr Neill said the Easter licensing laws were "a farce" as there are no limits on supermarket sales of alcohol over Easter.