Assembly bill proposes wide range of relaxations in licensing laws for NI pubs

An Assembly committee has published proposals to increase pub opening hours, including more late licences, additional Sunday opening - and selling alcohol at cinemas.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 12:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 7:44 am

The Assembly’s Committee for Communities has published its report on the new Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill, which, if passed, will see the most comprehensive changes to liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland since 1996.

The reforms include the removal of restrictions that currently limit trading hours for selling alcohol over the Easter period.

They would also pave the way for certain licensed premises to extend their opening hours by one hour up to 104 times a year.

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Bar Staff serving Drink

Smaller pubs would be able to extend the time for last orders up to 85 times a year.

The current “drinking up” time of 30 mins for all licensed premises would be increased to one hour – a move designed to discourage people from drinking too quickly and to allow more time for gradual dispersal of crowds at the end of the night.

MLAs will consider 63 amendments during what is expected to be a lengthy consideration stage today.

One amendment from independent MLA Claire Sugden would allow alcohol to be sold in cinemas.

Other proposals include limits on where supermarkets can promote deals on alcohol sales, with the intention to limit those to a strict area in and around where the products are sold in store.

The bill would also ban the use of any loyalty schemes in off licences.

Minister Hargey said the bill would give balanced reforms.

“While supporting the hospitality industry, it is my duty to also be mindful of the negative impact that the harmful consumption of alcohol can cause, to individuals and to whole communities,” she said.

Committee Chairperson Paula Bradley said a number of important amendments from her committee that have been accepted by the Minister.

“These include: the removal of current restrictions on licensed premises over the Easter weekend, additional Sunday opening times to reflect current weekday and Saturday hours and an increase in the number of days, from 85 to 104 per year, that small pubs and registered clubs can apply for a late licence.”

The committee also proposed allowing local producers to operate a taproom during limited hours for 104 days a year.

The bill would require the Department of Health to legislate for minimum unit pricing within three years.

Minister Hargey has also accepted a committee amendment to review the new law in three years and every five years after that.

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