Minister hails ‘momentous day’ as Stormont agrees extension of pub opening hours
Sweeping changes to Northern Ireland’s licensing laws, which will allow pubs and nightclubs to stay open later, have been approved by the Stormont Assembly.
The Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill passed its final stage in the Assembly on Tuesday and will now go forward for Royal Assent.
The new laws will modernise pubs, allowing them to open until 3am as well as introducing new opening hours over Easter.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said there was a need to balance the modernisation of licensing laws with health considerations.
She said: “I’m delighted to deliver the long awaited modernisation of liquor licensing laws.
“Today sees the Bill reach a milestone, completing its legislative passage through the Assembly.
“This is a momentous day in delivering a more modern, flexible licensing system.”
She added: “This legislation has been a priority for me.
“I have ensured that we are mindful of the potential harmful impact of alcohol, with this Bill including some very important measures to restrict the availability and promotion of alcohol as well as added protections for children and young people.
“I know from my engagement with the hospitality sector, that it is so important to them to have a more flexible and modern licensing system.
“This will be welcomed as they continue to recover from the impacts of Covid-19.”
The Bill will mean that larger pubs and hotels can apply to open until 2am up to 104 nights per year, while smaller pubs will be able to open to 1am up to 104 nights per year.
Drinking-up time will be increased to one hour and additional restrictions on opening hours over Easter weekend will be removed.
Opening hours on Sunday evenings will be the same as any other night and there will be flexibility around opening hours for bars at major events.
A new category of licence will be created for local producers of craft beers, ciders and spirits and cinemas will be able to apply for a liquor licence and serve drink to customers watching a movie.
Self-service of alcohol and sales by vending machines will be prohibited, restrictions will be placed on off-sales drinks promotions and loyalty schemes will not be able to award or redeem points for the sale of alcoholic drinks.
Most of the changes will take effect from this year, although some of the measures will not be introduced until April 6 next year.
Following a debate at Stormont, the principal deputy speaker put the Bill to an oral vote, which was passed.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster welcomed the new laws, which he said his group had been campaigning for over many years.
He said: “This will see Northern Ireland move to provide an enhanced hospitality offer, and in turn, give customers more options and more freedom to enjoy our local hospitality.”
“For over a decade, we have been campaigning on behalf of the industry for reform of the previous outdated legislation that really stifled not just the night-time economy, but trade around the likes of Easter.
“There have been many failed attempts to get to where we are today, including the collapse of the Assembly in 2017.
“We have gone through several consultations, several ministers and hours and hours of engagement over the years.”
William Mayne, founder of Bullhouse Brewing Company in Belfast, welcomed the provision for a new licence for local producers.
He said: “The new legislation included to allow local producers to open tap rooms.
“We have campaigned since 2016 to include provision for local producers.”
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