The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it “regretted” the decision to remove restrictions on the sale of alcohol during the “highpoint of the Christian calendar”.
The Church of Ireland, meanwhile, reafirrmed its view that the old rules — which placed strict restrictions on when alcohol could be bought and sold over the Easter period — were appropriate.
The Methodist Church said that it also “regrets” the decision to no longer “protect” the Easter period in legislaton.
This Easter weekend will be the first under the new rules, following the passing of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act 2021 by MLAs at Stormont.
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The changes have, however, been welcomed by those in the hospitality industry, with the chief executive of industry body Hospitality Ulster Colin Neill describing the new arrangements in a statement as a “shot in the arm” for businesses who struggled during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said, “The Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act 2021 represents the biggest single change in Northern Ireland’s licensing laws in over quarter of a century.
“As a church we advocate temperance, in other words, the moderate consumption of alcohol, and total abstinence where it would be the best way forward for an individual suffering from the abuse of alcohol.”
The spokesperson continued, “In terms of public holidays, we believe that they 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 have had to work the increased hours the new legislation provides for.
“During the legislation’s public consultation process, we noted the support in wider society for a relaxation of opening hours. We regretted then, as we do now, the removal of restrictions around opening times at Easter.”
A spokesperson for the Church of Ireland said: “In a response to a further consultation on liquor licensing law, in 2019, the [Church and Society] Commission reaffirmed that opening hours at Easter – under the legislation in place at that time – were appropriate.”
A spokesperson for the Methodist Church said: “We, as Churches, regret that Easter, the highpoint of the Christian calendar, is no longer protected.
“But we recognise that as Christians we can’t impose our will on people. We would also have concerns about the abuse of alcohol , alcohol being a contributor to domestic violence, and the age of young people taking intoxicating liquior.”