Plans unveiled to relax Northern Ireland's drinking laws ahead of Open
A government department has launched a public consultation on relaxing Northern Ireland's drinking laws ahead of this summer's Open Championship.
The Department for Communities (DfC) has announced plans to designate certain occasions as 'special events' which would allow them to sell alcohol outside the normal licensing hours.
The 2019 Open Championship is set to take place at Royal Portrush Golf Club from July 18-21 and DfC believe the new proposals "will contribute to the success of the event and improve the prospects of this event and others coming to Northern Ireland in the near future".
The department said the plan "would benefit the hospitality and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland".
Northern Ireland's hospitality sector has long campaigned for more relaxed licensing laws in the region, which are more limited than the rest of the UK.
Any event given the special dispensation would have the power to vary permitted hours for the sale of alcoholic drinks at the event. It would also have the power to permit the sale of alcoholic drinks for consumption off the premises at special events.
The plan includes food and drink shows where exhibitors wish to sell their products to visitors.
However, the department says the the number of special events is "expected to be very small" and conditions would be imposed where necessary.
UUP MLA Robbie Butler said it was a "sham" that it took the Open to force Northern Ireland into reforming its licensing laws.
“Over the last 14 years there were many failed attempts at reforming Northern Ireland’s outdated and obsolete liquor licensing laws," he said.
“Reforms are essential, not only to update existing legislation and reflect the needs of a modern market and the increasing popularity of micro-breweries, but also to ensure that we are doing everything possible to tackle the high levels of alcohol addiction across Northern Ireland.
“It’s a sham however that it took the imminent 148th Open at Royal Portrush, and the inevitable embarrassment that would have been felt on an international stage, to force Northern Ireland’s hand on this."
DfC acknowledged that organisers of events in Northern Ireland feel that restrictions on selling alcohol "have a negative impact" on their events.
"The Department believes that it is important to recognise the significant contribution the hospitality industry makes to the local economy, and assist it where possible," a department spokesperson said.
"It is also important that the public is protected from alcohol related harm and the Department welcomes views on the conditions that should be attached to any change in permitted hours."
The consultation period will run from March 22 to May 3. Email responses can be submitted to email@example.com
Belfast Telegraph Digital