Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's archaic licensing laws are 'harming growth of tourism'

By John Mulgrew

Stormont's failure to modernise Northern Ireland's alcohol licensing laws has caused an increase in binge drinking, one industry boss has claimed.

Hospitality Ulster - the industry body which represents pubs, hotels and restaurants - is demanding Stormont revamps "outdated" laws here.

And in response to concern over the effects on health of alcohol, Colin Neill says his industry behaves responsibly, despite concerns over binge drinking and over-consumption.

"We've done everything asked, and the consultation had the highest response of any", he said.

"Proposals were developed, but Stormont got involved in internal fighting. There are 108 MLAs and any one could have brought a Members Bill, but they were too busy fighting."

Mr Neill wants a revamp of laws here, including extending opening hours, allowing restaurants greater freedom with alcohol sales, and for Stormont to "take it seriously" and "modernise" restrictions currently in place.

And he says the easy availability of alcohol in supermarkets is increasingly making more people drink at home, with two-thirds of all alcohol sold being consumed at home in Northern Ireland.

Mr Neill says it's also putting off tourists and said, despite it being the Year of Food here, he's not able to promote Northern Ireland's own drinks industry.

"This isn't about singling out one particular element, it's about modernising the law to provide a product," he said. "I think the Northern Ireland Assembly's inaction is indirectly driving irresponsible consumption. People are sitting at home, drinking."

And he said while there will always be "rogues" in every industry, "you can't penalise the majority" of pubs, clubs and restaurants which behave responsibly.

But he's doubtful Stormont will take any action before the upcoming election in May. The industry here employs around 60,000 people, equalling £650m a year in wages, and contributing £1.2bn to the Northern Ireland economy each year.

Belfast Telegraph