New pub laws: Church says public holidays ‘being squeezed out of existence’

The biggest Protestant denomination in the Province has voiced regret about the dropping of Easter pub curbs – as has TUV leader Jim Allister.

Lindsay Conway, secretary to the Presbyterian Church’s Council for Social Witness, dubbed the new law “the biggest single change in Northern Ireland’s licensing laws for the past 25 years”.

He said: “As a church we advocate temperance, in other words, moderate consumption of alcohol – and total abstinence where it’d be the best way forward for an individual suffering from the abuse of alcohol.

“Churches have found common voice with health and social care professionals, in their concern that increased consumption may lead to more problems related to alcohol misuse.

“Churches have found common voice with health and social care professionals in their concern that increased consumption may lead to more problems related to alcohol misuse some of which we see as a service provider through our addiction centre in Belfast...

“We welcome that the legislation now places a duty on the Department of Health to bring forward legislation on minimum unit pricing for alcohol within three years.

“We also welcome the commitment that is now placed in law to review the impact of all of these significant changes.”

When it came to the dropping of shortened opening hours at Easter, he said: “Public holidays are important for the health and wellbeing of society. Allowing space for that rest and reflection for the good of all is increasingly being squeezed out of society, especially for those who will have to work the increased hours provided for by this legislation.

“While we note the support in wider society for a relaxation of opening hours, we do however regret the removal of restrictions around opening times at Easter.”

Mr Allister, speaking in the Assembly, lamented “the lack of deference shown in this legislation towards the key Christian occasion that is Easter”.

It was suggested that people drinking to excess at home is a greater concern than people consuming alcohol in bars, Mr Allister responded: “The logic of that argument is that you never close the public houses, you just have 24-hour opening.”

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