Promise of strict scrutiny as relaxation of NI’s alcohol laws progresses

New proposals to relax Northern Ireland’s licensing laws have broad support in principle, but will be strictly scrutinised to minimise the harm caused by alcohol abuse, MLAs have heard.

Tuesday, 3rd November 2020, 3:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd November 2020, 5:36 pm
Communities committee chair Paula Bradley

Speaking during an Assembly debate on the new legislation on Tuesday – which will permit many more late licence applications and greater flexibility in catering for one-off events – Communities committee chair Paula Bradley said it was important to support the tourism and hospitality sectors, but “the committee will not lose sight of the fact that alcohol misuse is a significant public health and social issue” in Northern Ireland.

The DUP MLA said the committee’s scrutiny of the “important and long-awaited changes” will establish if the bill “strikes the appropriate balance”.

Introducing the Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill, minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the aim of the new measures is to “contribute to a reduction in alcohol related harm, while providing much needed assistance to the hospitality sector as it supports our tourist offering.”

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The bill includes provision for ‘drinking up time’ to be extended by 30 minutes to one hour, to allow any event awarded ‘major event’ status to have varied alcohol selling hours permitted by the Department for Communities, and to allow local small breweries and other alcohol producers to sell their own products for consumption off the premises.

Ms Ni Chuilin also announced that the sale of alcohol at self-service tills and from vending machines will be prohibited.

“This will ensure that the sale of alcoholic drinks will always be supervised, allowing trained staff, in a regulated environment, the opportunity to monitor alcohol consumption and refuse the sale of alcoholic drinks if necessary,” the minister said.

Another relaxation will ensure that in terms of alcohol sales, Easter “will be treated like any other weekend throughout the year”.

Also, if the bill is given final approval, young people will no longer be able to accept a delivery of alcoholic drinks on behalf of the customer – with delivery drivers required to check ID and to record the type of ID provided.