A PROPOSAL to allow bars to open until 2am does not go far enough – because it may only allow late opening a handful of times each year.
The claim follows the announcement that Stormont has launched a public consultation, asking whether the closing time for some of the Province’s bars should be extended.
Among the measures put forward by Nelson McCausland’s Department for Social Development are that bars could apply to serve alcohol until 2am instead of 1am, and would be permitted to open for longer around the Easter period.
But although it seeks to liberalise some aspects, the consultation also suggests a ban on the “self-service” pumps found in some bars, and asks whether alcohol should be more strictly segregated from other goods in supermarkets.
Crucially, the consultation also outlines plans to allow bars to serve alcohol until 2am.
But it suggests the maximum number of times a licence should be granted is between four and 12 per year - although it invites the public to come up with an alternative suggestion of their own.
Jonny Tiernan, 32, a promoter and DJ working at the Lavery’s complex at Shaftesbury Square, said: “Twelve times a year! It’s like your parents saying: ‘You don’t have to get to bed at 11pm. You can stay up until midnight - but only 12 times a year.’
“I just don’t think it goes far enough. It seems like a tokenistic gesture. What difference is an extra hour of trading 12 times a year going to make?
“It’s good they’re thinking about changing it. But it does seem a bit like this is to appease the people who are keen to see change.”
He added the law should go much further, bringing Ulster more in line with places like Germany where 24-hour licences are available.
“I know people in Berlin that don’t leave the house to go to a nightclub until 1am,” he said.
“I think what’s already the case is when a pub shuts at 1am or 2am it forces people to drink more in a shorter space of time – it’s kind of cramming drink in.
“I think a 2am close is a step in the right direction but even it isn’t far enough. There should be later licences available, bringing us in line with Europe and the UK.
“Rather than asking ‘Why should we open until 2am?’ it should be ‘Why do we close at 1am? Why are we so out of step?’”
Paul Mallon, 43, manager of Lavery’s, which also controls the Pavilion bar on the Ormeau Road, said tourists are left disappointed by the current closing times, and early Easter closing.
The 43-year-old, who has been in the trade for 26 years, said: “With the amount of tourism we receive in the bar, it’s very disappointing when people come in from the continent, expect it to stay open later, and then we close.
“It’s devastating for the pub industry. People are coming over wanting to spend money, and we can’t take it off them.”