Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Should Northern Ireland's Easter alcohol laws be scrapped?

Calls have been made for Northern Ireland to change its alcohol licensing laws, with the hospitality sector expecting to take a financial hit over the Easter weekend.

Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen has called for a change in legislation, and criticised Northern Ireland's collapsed Executive for failing to update the law over the past decade.

This year will be the first pubs, restaurants and off licences in the Republic of Ireland are permitted to sell alcohol - with new legislation passed through the Dail in January of this year scrapping the 90-year-old rule.

In Northern Ireland licensed premises are prohibited from selling alcohol after midnight on Easter Thursday and Sunday, and can only serve between 5pm and 11pm on Good Friday.

Off licenses are allowed to sell alcohol from 8am in the morning on Good Friday.

On Easter Saturday licensed premises are permitted to sell alcohol from 11.30am until 11pm and those with a late license are allowed to sell until midnight, while off-licences are allowed to sell alcohol from 8am until 11pm.

"Whilst issues around alcohol licensing laws are not just restricted to Easter opening hours, it is at this time of year when Northern Ireland’s archaic rules are most evident," Mr Allen said.

"Just as the Assembly collapsed in January 2017, an important Bill – the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill – was making its way through the legislative process and was just about to be  further amended and improved by the Communities Committee.

"The last 15 months, and the subsequent policy and legislative vacuum at Stormont, however have instead simply represented yet another lost opportunity for our local tourism and hospitality sectors."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster said most hospitality businesses operate on a 20% profit margin - with lost trade over the Easter weekend wiping this out for the month.

"This isn't about religion verse alcohol," he said.

"It’s an anomaly in the licensing laws. On Good Friday I can go and buy a carry out in a supermarket at 8am in the morning and go to an unlicensed restaurant or cafe, and sit in the window and drink wine all day looking across the road at the place that can't sell you alcohol."

He estimates that the drop in trade across the Easter weekend works out at a loss of around £20m across the hospitality industry.

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