Northern Ireland

NI alcohol sales laws to be changed says Nelson McCausland

Beer at a city bar Image copyright AFP
Image caption Publicans will be able to apply for extended opening hours until 02:00 BST up to 12 times in any year

Northern Ireland's laws on the sale of alcohol are to be changed, Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has said.

But he rejected calls to bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales where laws are less stringent.

The changes mean publicans will be able to apply for an extension until 02:00 BST, 12 times every year.

Restrictions on advertising alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences will be introduced.

Other changes include:

· Modest changes to the Easter opening hours for public houses, with normal opening hours applying on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter;

· The alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems to make enforcement of the law on late opening easier for the police;

· Formal approval for codes of practice on the responsible sale of alcohol;

· Minor changes to the law affecting private members' clubs.

Mr McCausland said a consultation attracted more than 2,500 responses from the drinks industry, health bodies and the general public.

"While I am keen to ensure that licensing laws assist in supporting the hospitality industry and tourism, it must be in a way that does not add to the difficulties we already have with alcohol as a society," he said.

"The challenge is finding the right balance. Many of those who responded to the public consultation argued that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the law in England and Wales where there are fewer restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

"Given the experience in England and Wales, since their law was relaxed in 2005, I do not believe it is sensible to go down that road."

Pubs of Ulster chief executive Colin Neill welcomed the announcement, but said he felt that the plans did not go far enough.

"There is still a way to go before the industry here sees true modernisation of the system," he said.

"Pubs of Ulster have been calling for a change in the law for a number of years and we welcome proposals such as the alignment of drinks and entertainment licensing systems, and the introduction of a new 'Occasional Licence' that will allow pubs to open until 2am. However this occasional licence needs to be allowed at least every weekend, and not on 12 occasions as proposed.

"More work also needs to be done to make Northern Ireland more tourist friendly and the fact that our pubs are still restricted on certain days over Easter weekend, which has become an important holiday weekend in terms of customer demand, means that many pubs will continue to lose out at this time of the year."

Mr Neill said his group would continue to press for more changes in licensing laws.

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