Easter licensing laws ‘cost £20 million in lost trade’

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector is set to suffer more this year than in others says Colin Neill
Northern Ireland's hospitality sector is set to suffer more this year than in others says Colin Neill

The Northern Ireland hospitality industry is set to lose out even more than usual it has been claimed as out of date licensing laws could cost up to £20 million in lost revenues.

That’s the claim from Hospitality Ulster CEO Colin Neill who said recent relaxation of the laws in the Irish Republic were set to make the situation worse.

“We are now entering yet another Easter in Northern Ireland where pubs, hotels and restaurants will be forced to sell alcohol on restricted hours across the whole of the Easter holiday period,” he said.

“This is a ridiculous and unsustainable position for decision makers to enforce, especially when you consider that this year for the first time, and very sensibly, the hospitality sector in the Republic of Ireland will be able to operate as normal across the Easter period.

“That means that while Northern Ireland’s pubs, restaurants and hotels are putting up `SORRY, CLOSED EARLY’ signs, for their counterparts in the Republic it will be business as usual.”

That, he said caused huge inconvenience to thousands of hardworking people across Northern Ireland, wanting to enjoy a drink in a licensed premises over the Easter period with friends or family.

“It also send outs a sign to tourists from GB, the Republic and further afield that Northern Ireland is not a place to visit over Easter.

“It is estimated that in previous years the licensing hours cost the hospitality sector in the province; £16 million in lost trade, £16m that could be used to help pay wages, rates, taxes and other bills.

“This year, with the Republic opening, we can be sure the losses will run toward £20m.

“Of course the Easter licensing laws are a farce, for if they are really about religion, why are supermarkets able to sell discounted alcohol across the Easter period including on Good Friday, when pubs, restaurants and hotels in Northern Ireland are banned from selling alcohol until 5pm?”

Hospitality Ulster had been at the forefront of campaigning for a change to the Easter licensing laws and Mr Neill said it was clear that Northern Ireland was now being left “far behind our nearest neighbour and biggest rival for tourism”.

“The hospitality sector is working for Northern Ireland. It is growing year-on- year and currently supports more than £60,000 jobs on top of contributing £1.4 billion to the economy every year.

“What reason therefore in punishing the sector and sending out entirely the wrong message to tourists, especially when our biggest competitor has very sensibly scrapped its laws in time for Easter 2018.’’