Northern Ireland

Pub owners frustrated at assembly failure to change Easter opening hours

A man drinking a pint of beer Image copyright PA
Image caption Pub owners had hoped new rules on pub opening hours would be in place two years ago

Publicans have been critical that extended Easter opening hours have not been introduced, four years after a public consultation on the matter.

There will be no change in Easter pub opening hours during the current Northern Ireland Assembly mandate, which ends on 30 March.

Restrictions on selling alcohol are in place from the Thursday before Easter until Easter Sunday.

Pub owners say rules are "archaic" and are damaging the tourism industry.

Alcohol can only be served between 17:00 and 23:00 GMT on Good Friday.

Bars have to stop serving at midnight on Thursday and Easter Saturday.

The Department for Social Development (DSD) has responsibility for pub opening hours.

Hoped

In 2012, more than 2,500 people responded to a consultation about extending opening hours in pubs over the Easter holidays and allowing late-night opening at other times of the year.

During the consultation, the former social development minister, Nelson McCausland, proposed extending serving times by one hour to 01:00 on the Thursday before Easter and on Easter Saturday.

Image caption Tourists are "genuinely surprised" by Easter licensing laws, according to Pedro Donald of the Sunflower Bar

There are no plans to extend the laws on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Pub owners had hoped the new rules would be in place by Easter 2014.

But two years later there is still no legislation.

For Easter 2016 pubs will continue to operate within existing licensing restrictions.

Easter closing times for Northern Ireland pubs

Thursday - midnight

Good Friday - 23:00

Easter Saturday - midnight

Easter Sunday - 22:00

Easter closing times for Northern Ireland off-licences

Good Friday - 23:00

Easter Sunday - closed

Former ministers Mr McCausland, Mervyn Storey and current minister Lord Morrow, all from the Democratic Unionist Party, have not brought forward the legislation.

John McGrillen, the chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland, said alcohol licensing was now becoming a "major issue for the tourism industry" and the laws were no longer fit for purpose.

"Easter is a crucial period for the tourism industry," he said.

"However, the restrictive conditions mean that the hospitality sector cannot meet the expectations of many of our visitors who expect to experience a vibrant night-time economy over the bank holiday weekend."

Confused

Pedro Donald, who runs the Sunflower Pub in Belfast, said tourists are confused when they visit the city over the Easter weekend.

"They are genuinely surprised," he said.

"If they come into a pub on a Sunday afternoon, they can't get a beer - they are genuinely confused, it doesn't make sense.

"We have to explain the situation."

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said his members had reached "boiling point" over the fact the Assembly has not relaxed the law.

"The industry is respectful of religious belief but the debate has moved on," he said.

"It is a crazy situation when alcohol is available to purchase in supermarkets, but not in a pub."

Image caption Lord Morrow's department said there had been plans to make changes to liquor licensing law

A spokesperson for the Department for Social Development (DSD) said there had been an intention "to bring forward a Liquor Licensing Amendment Bill during the current assembly mandate".

The bill, DSD said, was to contain a "balanced set of proposals aimed at discouraging abuse of alcohol" while "also assisting the local hospitality industry".

It was to include "modest changes to opening hours on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter".

"Unfortunately, due to competing priorities, such as welfare reform and the housing bills, the current minister no longer has time to progress a bill in the current mandate," the spokesperson said.

It added that any changes to liquor licensing law would fall to the new Department for Communities to consider after May's assembly election.

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