After years of broken promises and false hope, Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector is still being held back by restrictive liquor licensing laws, according to Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen.
Mr Allen said: “Whilst issues around alcohol licensing laws are not just restricted to Easter opening hours, it is at this time of year when Northern Ireland’s archaic rules are most evident.
“Northern Ireland has been trying to modernise its laws for at least the last 10 years, and whilst I certainly don’t want to see the wholesale deregulation of liquor licensing, I absolutely believe the system desperately needs to be made fit for purpose for the 21st century.
“Just as the Assembly collapsed in January 2017, an important Bill – the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill – was making its way through the legislative process and was just about to be further amended and improved by the Communities Committee. The last 15 months, and the subsequent policy and legislative vacuum at Stormont, however have instead simply represented yet another lost opportunity for our local tourism and hospitality sectors.
“There are issues other than just opening times needing reform – at present there is an imbalance between the alignment of alcohol and entertainment licensing systems which is consequently making enforcement of late opening hours almost impossible at times for the police. Importantly also, Northern Ireland’s mirco-breweries – a local industry just on the edge of major growth – still have little formal recognition and are greatly limited by laws preventing them from selling at source or even at farmers markets.
“This is just the latest example of a sector being repeatedly offered false hope but with little action. It’s also just another illustration of how the impasse at Stormont is having a direct impact on local people and businesses.”