Belfast Telegraph

'Draconian' licensing laws to cost trade £16m over Easter

By Cate McCurry

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector will miss out on £16m over Easter because of "out-of-date" alcohol licensing laws, it has been claimed.

Hospitality Ulster said legislation was in urgent need of updating and that the industry was now at "boiling point" over trade lost to the Republic.

Its study, which was carried out in partnership with accountancy firm BDO, predicted the loss across pubs, hotels and restaurants.

Some 1,309 pubs will miss out on £12.1m, while 152 hotels will lose out on £1.6m and 559 restaurants will be left will a £2.1m dent in profits.

In Northern Ireland alcohol can only be served between 5pm and 11pm on Good Friday. Bars have to stop serving at midnight on Thursday and Easter Saturday. And on Easter Sunday bars and restaurants have to stop serving alcohol at 10pm.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the industry, which employs 45,000 people in food and drink alone, could no longer work under "draconian legislation".

"We are on the ground speaking with a range of members on a daily basis and the level of anger about the restrictive trading hours over the Easter period is something that I have not witnessed in recent years," he said.

"The industry is now at boiling point. "There is anger about losing out on potential revenue, anger about losing trade to the Republic of Ireland in the border areas and anger that the Assembly has left this issue hanging by not bringing forward the Bill that would modernise liquor licensing.

"The industry is respectful of religious belief in relation to the sale of alcohol during this period, but the debate has moved on. It is no longer a black-and-white issue."

Brian Murphy, advisory partner at BDO Northern Ireland, said the restrictions added further pressure to the sector. "Over the last year the hospitality sector has begun to see signs of optimism, with levels of disposable income increasing and a greater level of customer confidence within the market," he added.

"However, despite this fact, the industry continues to be faced with financial pressures, with the impending increase in the national living wage from April, which is due to have a material effect upon the sector.

"The restrictions placed on the trade through the current liquor licensing system adds further pressure to operators, with the results of the Hospitality Ulster survey demonstrating the extent to which the sector will lose out financially over the Easter period."

Belfast Telegraph

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