Hospitality Ulster boss hails changes to licensing laws as NI drinks in first Easter with extended pub hours
Lifting restrictions on Easter drinking in Northern Ireland has served up a massive boost to the local pub trade as it rebuilds after the pandemic, one bar owner has said.
Changes to the licensing laws mean pubs and bars can open as normal this Easter after decades of limitations.
Previously on Good Friday, alcohol was only able to be served between 5pm and 11pm in the region.
Licensed premises also had to stop serving at midnight on Easter Thursday and Holy Saturday.
Those curbs were lifted by the Licensing and Registration of Clubs Act passed in the Assembly last year.
While some churches have expressed concern at the move, it has been broadly welcomed by the hospitality sector.
Industry representatives have said the relaxations are timely, given the financial hardships experienced during the pandemic.
Pedro Donald, owner of the Sunflower Public House in Belfast, said the change was a long time coming.
"I've been working with pubs nearly 40 years and it's been talked about since day one, my day one," he said.
"So, yeah, it's a massive, massive, massive change and long overdue.
"This weekend, for example, we've gigs booked in, we've a birthday party booked in, with another event on Sunday afternoon.
"But previous Easters none of those things would have happened, people would have just gone elsewhere or done other things or stayed at home.
"It's come at a good time because we've missed the last two Easters completely with the pandemic, so to bounce back now with the changes is great."
Friends Jordan Gilvear, from Wales, and Adam Goligher, from Co Antrim, were taking advantage of the relaxed laws to enjoy an afternoon pint on Friday.
Mr Gilvear, who is from Cwmbran originally, was surprised to hear about the previous rules.
"I just thought this was normal every day running," he said after ordering a pint at the Sunflower.
"So, it's quite nice to have a pint at this time of day over here. It's quite nice."
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the restrictions had cost the industry millions of pounds every year.
"The hospitality sector is really thrilled to finally be celebrating the Easter bank holiday the way we should have been for many years," he said.
"It is a time when family and friends come together and we are delighted to be able to offer them a glass of wine with lunch, a pint with friends, or a night out over the long weekend without restrictions and limitations.
"The changes to the licensing hours will give customers more choice and provide the sector with the opportunity to trade when previously they couldn't.
"It will also allow us to showcase Northern Ireland's brilliant hospitality offer to those tourists from oversees who previously were at a loss when visiting and couldn't access the full range of our famed pubs and restaurants over the Easter break.
"The outdated laws of the past stifled the sector, seeing millions of pounds of trade lost every year. This weekend is a really proud moment for the industry and Hospitality Ulster who have steadfastly campaigned for these changes and will get to hopefully reap the returns following the most difficult two year period.
"It is our hope that this Easter weekend will be a real turning point for our hospitality sector and will be the real boost needed on the road to recovery for business owners.
"We look forward to welcoming customers back over the bank holiday."