Minister: I'll end illegal drinking on buses
Stormont's new Environment Minister has vowed to tackle illegal drinking on buses.
Mark H Durkan claimed so-called "booze buses" were a danger on the roads and should be stopped.
His campaign follows in the footsteps of his predecessor and SDLP colleague Alex Attwood who highlighted this issue last March.
Mr Durkan (right) said that, while he has no problem with people enjoying themselves, the consumption of alcohol in these vehicles can be dangerous on our roads.
"Unfortunately the practice of drinking on board buses is still commonplace in Northern Ireland and problems have been further escalated in recent years due to the increased popularity of 'party' vehicles or 'booze buses' for social use," he said.
"This activity is illegal and unsafe and action must be taken to address it." Presently, anyone convicted of drinking alcohol on a bus could face a fine of up to £1,000.
However, the minister believes bus operators who encourage and facilitate drunkenness should also be penalised.
Speaking at the launch of a public consultation, Mr Durkan said it was his duty as Environment Minister to attempt to regulate this activity so that responsible operators can continue to make a living whilse those who are facilitating this behaviour are penalised accordingly.
Iain Greenway, director of road safety and vehicle regulation at the Department of the Environment (DoE), said the consultation was necessary because the use of party buses as an extension of a night out is increasing.
One proposal is to make it a crime for bus operators to allow drinking on buses. Another is that it could be a condition of their licence renewal that no alcohol is carried on the bus.
In March 2012, former minister Alex Attwood met a number of bus operators to stress the dangers of illegal drinking on buses.
Jim Wallace from Party Buses Ireland, which employs up to 30 people in the Dungannon area, said his vehicles were an extension of a limousine offering smoke machines, laser lights and toilets.
He told the BBC that drivers couldn't police drinking because they "have no powers to seize and search".
He also said he could be put out of business if the proposed sanctions go ahead.
"I don't see any reason why a 50-year-old's birthday party or a group of hens cannot enjoy a drink on the way to a venue.
He added: "If it's a private party of people who know each other then I don't see a problem."
The public consultation will run until September 30.
Problems associated with 'booze buses' first came to the forefront in February last year after a video emerged exposing young passengers playing drinking games en route to a nightclub. In the footage young men and women are seen drinking spirits straight from a bottle and downing alcohol through a funnel. The rise of 'party' buses is part of the reason for the Environment Minister's attempt to clamp down on illegal drinking on buses. Anyone convicted of drinking alcohol on a bus could be fined up to £1,000, but the minister believes bus operators who facilitate drunkenness should also be penalised.