Belfast Telegraph

Licensing laws revamp won't let pubs provide for tourists in Northern Ireland, claims body

By Adrian Rutherford

Plans to revamp Northern Ireland's drinking laws do not go far enough, an industry body has claimed.

A long-awaited liquor licensing Bill was introduced in the Assembly yesterday.

It marked the first stage in a process to amend the law on the sale of alcohol here.

The measures include:

  • Restrictions on advertising of alcoholic drinks in supermarkets and off-sales;
  • Introduction of occasional additional late opening for certain licensed premises;
  • Extension of 'drinking-up' time;
  • Minor changes to Easter opening hours;
  • Alignment of alcohol and entertainment licences in licensed premises allowed late opening;
  • And changes in relation to children on licensed premises and registered clubs.

The proposals were revealed by the Belfast Telegraph last month.

Communities Minister Paul Givan said they struck a balance between controlling the sale of alcohol and meeting the needs of the hospitality sector.

However, Colin Neill from Pubs of Ulster said the proposals fell well short of what the industry wanted.

"While it is positive that the Bill has been moved, it doesn't go far enough," he said. "We are not looking deregulation. We are not looking to go the way of England, which has got 24-hour drinking.

"What we are asking for is modest increases which would modernise our legislation and allow us to compete with home drinking and provide tourists what they want."

Mr Neill is particularly unhappy that Easter opening times will remain largely unchanged.

Currently alcohol can only be served between 5pm and 11pm on Good Friday and bars have to stop serving at midnight on the Thursday night and also on Easter Saturday.

On Easter Sunday bars and restaurants have to stop serving at 10pm.

Earlier this year a survey suggested the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland loses up to £16m in potential revenue over the Easter period.

The only change proposed in the Bill would see Thursday opening times normalised.

Mr Neill wants more radical changes to Easter hours.

He also called for an extra hour of sales twice a week. This would allow alcohol to be sold to 2am on 104 nights instead of the proposed 12.

Mr Neill added: "All we are asking for is 109 extra hours of sales a year."

The Bill was introduced yesterday by Mr Givan in one of his first major acts as Communities Minister.

Mr Givan said that it is likely to take eight months to complete its passage through the Assembly.

It means any changes to the law are unlikely to take effect until the middle of next year.

Mr Givan said that the proposals in the Bill were a measured approach.

Belfast Telegraph