Nelson McCausland has set out long-awaited reforms to alcohol licensing, one of which could see a slight relaxation of pub opening hours to allow alcohol sales until 1am on Easter Sunday.
The social development minister yesterday set out plans which would also restrict alcohol advertising around supermarkets or off licences.
However, Mr McCausland’s proposals will have to come before the Assembly in a bill, meaning that MLAs could amend the legislation.
The minister said that he wanted to ensure that the bill would both tackle “excessive alcohol consumption” and also “support the hospitality sector and assist it in supporting tourism”.
Among the DUP minister’s proposals are:
l A ban on alcohol advertisements in the “vicinity” of supermarkets and off licences;
l Allowing for the courts to permit a maximum of 12 extra hours of late-night opening to 2am over a year;
l Allowing an extra hour of opening on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter Sunday, until 1am;
l Doubling the period of ‘drinking up time’ from 30 minutes after the end of the permitted hours for selling alcohol to one hour “on a trial basis” which “will not be extended should the desired aims not be achieved”;
l Banning the sale of alcohol via ‘Pour Your Own Pint’ tables and vending machines.
l Increasing the number of nights on which small pubs can serve alcohol from 20 to 85 in recognition of the role they “play in local communities”.
Mr McCausland admitted that many who responded to his public consultation had argued for less restrictions but added: “The challenge is finding the right balance.”
Colin Neill from Pubs of Ulster welcomed the minister’s “commitment to reforming our antiquated liquor licensing laws” but said that pubs wanted to see greater relaxation of opening hours to allow for opening until 2am “at least every weekend”.
See Morning View, page 14