Relaxation of NI licensing laws gets a ‘cheers’ from industry

Progress towards further relaxation of Northern Ireland’s licensing laws has been a much-needed boost following a devastating Covid lockdown, Hospitality Ulster has said.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 3:28 pm
The new legislation is “about giving premises choice and flexibility to cater for their particular market,” Hospitality Ulster said. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/PA Wire

Chief executive Colin Neill was commenting following the progress of a new bill through Stormont that will pave the way for many licensed premises to extend their opening hours until 3am at weekends.

Other reforms include the removal of restrictions that limit opening hours over the Easter period, and the extension of ‘drinking up time’ from half an hour to an hour – allowing alcohol to be served until 2am with the premises cleared by 3am.

Mr Neill described the progress of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill – during a marathon sitting of the assembly into the early hour of Wednesday – as a “significant step” towards “fit for purpose” regulations.

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“We welcome this progress to modernising out licensing laws that will help us going forward, especially after the pandemic.

“I think they are fit for purpose and the form they will come in will suit the requirements at the moment.”

Mr Neill added: “Obviously it now requires the assembly to continue operating to get [the bill] through the final stage of the process.

“It will then be sent off to get royal assent, which will probably be in the autumn.

“They are modest changes – we never asked for deregulation or 24-hour drinking – and not every licensed premises will use them.

“This a about giving premises choice and flexibility to cater for their particular market.”

When the new bill becomes law, certain licensed premises to be able to serve alcohol for an extra hour up to 104 times a year, while smaller pubs would be able to extend the time for last orders up to 85 times a year.

The stated purpose of extending ‘drinking up time’ is to discourage people from drinking too quickly and to allow more time for gradual departures at the end of the night.

One amendment, from independent MLA Claire Sugden, that would allow alcohol to be sold in cinemas, was also approved.

In a tweet, Ms Sugden said she was “delighted” that her proposal was backed, as Northern Ireland will no longer be only region in the UK and Ireland not to offer customers the opportunity to buy and consume alcohol.

The law is also being tightened in some areas – including placing restrictions on where supermarkets can place in-store advertising for deals on alcohol.

The current voluntary code of practice for drinks promotions will be replaced with legal requirements.

Licensing laws were last updated in the 1990s. A bid to update the legislation was progressing through the assembly before the collapse of powersharing in 2017 but that bill was lost when the institutions collapsed.

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