NI alcohol sales to be relaxed in pubs and nightclubs

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

Image source, Getty Images

Rules on the sale of alcohol are to be significantly relaxed under plans agreed by Stormont ministers.

Pubs and nightclubs will be able to serve alcohol for an extra hour, until 02:00, almost every Friday and Saturday.

Drinking-up time will be extended to an hour, meaning venues can operate until 03:00 at weekends.

If approved by the assembly the new rules should be in place by early next year.

All the restrictions around Easter drinking will also be removed.

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

Alcohol can only be served between 17:00 and 23:00 on Good Friday and bars have to stop serving at midnight on Thursday and Easter Saturday.

In other areas, rules will be tightened up.

The current voluntary code of practice for drinks promotions will be replaced with legal requirements.

The new rules have been a very long time in the making.

Stormont first began consulting on them eight years ago.

Image caption,
Colin Neill said it was "the most significant change to licensing laws in a generation"

Hospitality Ulster's chief executive welcomed the "significant change" and said it comes at "a time when the industry is facing significant challenges as a result of coronavirus".

He said the industry had been calling for changes "for some time". 

"This bill can be a defining moment for the hospitality industry, bringing much of it into line with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and in Great Britain and making it more attractive to customers and visitors." 

'Support is needed now more than ever'

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said she believed the proposals "represent a balanced package of measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse and promoting responsible consumption, whilst providing vital support for the hospitality industry".

"This support is needed now more than ever as the industry begins its recovery from Covid-19," she added.

"The changes will also enable local drinks producers to sell their products directly to the public in limited circumstances, make changes to the law affecting registered private clubs and allow changes to permitted hours at major events, such as last year's Open golf championship.

"The amendments will also include new restrictions on advertising of alcoholic drinks and introduce a statutory code of practice on responsible retailing."

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