Bill to modernise licensing laws could be law by October

Bill to modernise licensing laws could be law by October

The prospect of pubs and nightclubs in Northern Ireland staying open later has taken another step towards becoming law, following a debate that itself ran well over time.

MLAs at Stormont considered legislation to modernise NI’s 25-year-old licensing laws into the early hours of Wednesday.

Among many proposed changes, the bill aims to allow pubs and clubs to serve alcohol until 2am almost every weekend.

Other changes could see the current restrictions around Easter drinking scrapped and the definition of what constitutes “a place of public entertainment” extended to perhaps allow drink to be sold in cinemas.

After 63 amendments were debated, the Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill passed its consideration stage shortly before 3am.

The legislation could now pass its final stage in the Assembly by the end of the month, with changes becoming in October.

Welcoming the proposals, Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said there had been a “number of false dawns” in relation to modernising licensing laws and now change was “tantalisingly close”.

Minister Deirdre Hargey is yet to be convinced on alcohol sales in cinemas

Her added: “We recognise alcohol is a controlled substance and needs to be treated as such, we haven’t come asking for 24-hour drinking like England or deregulation, this is about looking at what the customer wants and actually modernise it.

“They are modest but significant in their impact measures, because people do go out later now, they want to go out and socialise.

“We have to be able to provide that (extended hours) particularly with tourists visiting here as well.”

‘Further consultation’

Speaking to the BBC following the debate, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she wanted further consultation on the proposal to allow alcohol in cinemas as “there are very few places at which a family can go and enjoy entertainment where there is no alcohol sold”.

“I want to make sure on the issue of cinemas and looking at that entertainment, which is very family focused, that we do more consultation on that issue,” she added.

As the lengthy debate began on Tuesday evening, Speaker Alex Maskey predicted it may run until the “early hours of the morning and maybe some of us will be driven to drink afterwards”.

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