The licensed trade has handed political leaders here an ultimatum.
As talks continue around the re-establishment of the political institutions at Stormont, trade body Hospitality Ulster has called on political leaders to deliver a guarantee that with the return of the Assembly, licensing law will be reformed ‘as a matter of urgency’.
After a recent meeting with the NI Affairs Committee, which is currently examining issues around tourism here, Colin Neill called on the political parties to give a written commitment to a new licensing regime.
Mr Neill was responding to a question from the committee around a recent consultation from the Department of Communities, which is keen to vary NI’s famously restrictive licensing laws to assist the forthcoming Open golf tournament at Portrush.
That consultation has sparked widespread anger across the trade in NI, which has been fighting for fundamental legal reforms for many years.
Mr. Neill, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Department’s approach, repeated his claim that while the Open may bring in the region of £80m to the NI economy, our hospitality trade contributes £1.2bn annually.
On a more conciliatory note, he also said, however, that trade members of Hospitality Ulster might be willing to support the Department in its bid for a variation in the law of they had ‘written commitments’ from the political parties here that licensing reform would be top of the agenda in a re-formed Assembly.
In response to a question from committee member, Lady Sylvia Hermon, Mr Neill added:
‘We want to see a wider bill to reform liquor licensing, fuller legislative change. Small isolated amendments don’t help, we just can’t have cake tomorrow and nothing thereafter.’