Paul Givan defends new licensing law changes

The hospitality industry says the minister's proposals do not go far enough
The hospitality industry says the minister's proposals do not go far enough

Communities Minister Paul Givan has responded to criticism of his proposed reforms to licensing laws, which the pub and hotel sector has claimed “does nothing for us”.

Hospitality Ulster chief Colin Neill told the News Letter that the proposed changes don’t go far enough.

In 2012 over 2,500 people took part in a consultation about extending opening hours over Easter and during the year.

One of Mr Givan’s ministerial predecessors, DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, said in a consultation paper that “Easter is a period of special significance in Northern Ireland which is reflected in licensing”.

At present pubs must close by midnight on the Thursday before Easter Sunday, 11pm on Good Friday, midnight on the Saturday and 10pm on Easter Sunday.

The Bill proposes permitting late opening on the Thursday before Good Friday to 1am the following day.

Mr Neill said that Easter week is virtually wiped out for his members due to restrictive hours, which he said dissuade many people from coming out at all to pubs over the period.

“We want to be able to open until 1am for all four nights of Easter week,” he said.

His members also want to be able to open until 2am two nights a week throughout the year.

“The minister is offering us 12 nights a year but this does nothing for us,” he said.

However, a spokeswoman for Mr Givan defended his proposals.

“Alcohol is not an ordinary product and the sale of it must be regulated to ensure the protection of public health and the preservation of public order,” she said.

“The minister recognises that certain aspects of liquor licensing law in Northern Ireland are in need of reform and he introduced a licensing Bill in the Assembly on Monday September 19.”

She added: “The Bill includes a number of measures to tackle practices which may encourage alcohol misuse, safeguards for children and young people and some minor changes to opening hours.”

Seventy per cent of alcohol is now consumed at home so legislation must be updated, she added, and MLAs will be able to debate and amend the bill during its imminent passage.

Mr Neill said they will now enforce the law which requires anyone under 18 to vacate licensed premises after 9.30pm.

However, this would have a severe impact on school formals in hotels; the minister’s proposal is to lock hotel bars and serve soft drinks from tables instead.

The new rules would also restrict alcohol advertising within 30 metres of supermarkets.