Belfast Telegraph

Booze flows in Stormont on Good Friday despite restrictions on Northern Ireland pubs

By Allan Preston

Stormont has been accused of asking people to "do as I say, not as I do" after serving alcohol in Parliament Buildings on Good Friday.

Licensed premises here can only sell booze between 5pm and 11pm on the Easter holiday despite annual appeals from the hospitality sector for a change in the law.

But customer Kathryn Kennedy expressed surprise on social media that wine was being served when she had lunch with her mother Barbara in Stormont's Members' Dining Room restaurant on Good Friday.

"We had our wine and thoroughly enjoyed our meal," Barbara told BBC Radio Ulster.

"It just puzzled me. Do they ever take notice of the licensing laws or can they drink there whenever? It's absolutely stupid, they make the rules and they can ignore them."

However, as a Crown property, it is understood that Parliament Buildings is technically exempt from the licensing laws.

But Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster branded it "total hypocrisy".

"It reeks of different rules for them than the rest of us," he said.

"Our licensing laws are an anomaly here. You have alcohol available in so many other places like supermarkets.

"The question has to be asked why the hospitality industry is being singled out."

Mr Neill estimated pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland lost £20m over the Easter weekend because of the laws.

In contrast, pubs in the Republic netted £35m over the weekend after its Good Friday booze ban was lifted after 90 years.

"Our restrictions go over four days, so that turns Easter visitors away," Mr Neill said.

He added: "I don't think Stormont needs to stop serving alcohol on Good Friday, they should just let us open.

"Having a glass of wine with your lunch on Good Friday is disrespectful to no one. Lots of people are doing it, they just can't do it in a proper restaurant."

Mr Neill said the licensing debate was one of many fixable issues faced by all sectors in Northern Ireland being held up by the political stalemate.

"It is not just time we had a government, we deserve a government to sort it out," he said.

"It's holding us back and stopping our guys making a living while increasing our overheads at the same time." Last week Belfast restaurateur Michael Deane protested against the drink laws by closing his six city premises at lunchtime to "avoid any more embarrassment to our hard-working staff".

The Assembly was contacted for a comment yesterday but did not respond.

Belfast Telegraph

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