Views sought on NI alcohol sales and pub opening hours

BBC Newsline's Julie McCullough reports

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A public consultation on the reform of liquor licensing legislation has been launched by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.

The consultation is open for 16 weeks and seeks the views of the public on proposed changes to laws regulating the sale and supply of alcohol in NI.

Issues for consultation include late opening hours and further restrictions on mixed trading in supermarkets.

Changes to the law affecting private members clubs will also be considered.

Supermarket alcohol questions

  • To what extent do you agree that selling alcohol in addition to other items should be further restricted in supermarkets and shops?
  • To what extent would you agree with increasing the degree of separation in supermarkets between areas where alcohol and other goods are displayed?
  • To what extent would you agree that persons under 18 should not be allowed to enter areas in supermarkets where alcohol is displayed?
  • To what extent would you agree that the purchase of alcohol in supermarkets should be restricted to alcohol only checkouts?

Mr McCausland said the consultation would also take in the alignment of alcohol and entertainment licences, formal approval of codes of practice on responsible retailing and changes to the law affecting private members clubs.

"Undertaking a further review of licensing legislation at this time provides an opportunity for my department to introduce extra measures to help address some of the concerns surrounding alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland," he said.

"It also enables me to respond to concerns surrounding irresponsible alcohol consumption, including the availability of alcohol and changes in drinking patterns.

"While tackling irresponsible drinking, I also feel it is important to recognise the contribution made to the local economy by the licensed trade, which has changed in recent years and makes a significant contribution to our tourism offering, as well as providing much needed employment."

'Positive change'

The public consultation was welcomed by Colin Neill of Pubs of Ulster, the bar owners' representative body.

Opening hours questions

  • To what extent would you agree with the introduction of occasional additional late opening hours to 2am for certain licensed premises?
  • In your view, what should the limit be on the number of occasions where additional late opening hours are granted each year? Up to 4, 6, 8 or 12 occasions, or other?
  • To what extent would you agree with the conditions attached to the granting of occasional additional late opening hours?
  • To what extent do you agree with permitting late opening hours on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter Sunday?
  • To what extent would you agree that the current 'drinking up' time should be extended from 30 minutes to one hour?

Mr Neill said he hoped the move "marks the start of positive change for the industry".

"Pubs of Ulster has been at the forefront of calls for reform of the current licensing laws and has lobbied on a range of issues over the last number of years," he said.

"We are therefore greatly encouraged that many of the issues Pubs of Ulster has campaigned for, such as changes to opening hours over Easter and extending drinking-up time from 30 minutes to one hour, have been included in the consultation.

"As recognised by the minister, the licensed trade makes a significant contribution to the local economy and plays a vital role in communities throughout Northern Ireland."

Mr Neill said the consultation "offered the opportunity to modernise the current licensing laws and bring Northern Ireland's night-time economy into the 21st century".

"Pubs of Ulster calls on all of those with an interest in the future of the industry, from publicans, business owners and customers, to take the opportunity to shape and improve the industry by responding to the consultation before it closes on 12 November 2012," he said.

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