The Department for Communities (DfC) has launched a consultation on the law relating to the sale and supply of alcohol in Northern Ireland.
Officials want to hear the views of stakeholders and the public on the current laws around liquor licensing here; how they are impacted and the changes they believe need to be mad to ensure a more flexible licensing framework.
Launching the long-awaited consultation recently, DfC permanent secretary, Tracy Meharg acknowledged the £1.2bn contribution which the trade makes to the economy in Northern Ireland and indicated that the department was committed to assisting it to support tourism where possible.
She also said, however:
‘It is vitally important, however, that we protect the public from alcohol-related harm. In Northern Ireland, 303 deaths due to alcohol were recorded in 2017. There has been a 15 per cent increase in hospital admissions wholly related to alcohol and 43.3 per cent of the general public report they are concerned about alcohol-related issues in their local area. This shows that any future changes to the law must be balanced with the need for regulation in the public interest.’
NI’s antiquated licensing laws were last up for consultation in May during a controversial attempt by the department to introduce a ‘special event’ variation prior to the arrival of The Open golf tournament at Portrush.
Welcoming the move, Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill warned, however, that ‘we have been here several times before’
‘It was not so long ago that a Bill to reform our outdated licensing laws had already been introduced to the last Assembly, prior to its collapse, with much of the heavy lifting in terms of drafting already carried out,’ he added,
‘By re-consulting it may feel like we are back to square one, but with the last consultation now seven years old, it is vital that this is updated and ready for action once we have a government, allowing them to move forward swiftly and decisively, and address the outdated law as it currently sits.’
The new consultation has also been welcomed consumer group, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which took the opportunity to repeat its demand for local brewers and cider-makers to be able to serve their products in taprooms and shops on their premises, run brewery tours and sell at local events and markets.
Many local consumers don’t realise that local producers currently don’t have these entitlements because of colonial-era laws. Their counterparts in the RoI do, however, after the Irish government repealed the old British laws earlier this year
CAMRA’s NI chair, Ruth Sloan, said NI’s outdated laws mean that businesses, pub-goers and tourists are at more of a disadvantage here than anywhere else in the British Isles.
‘This consultation is a chance to bring alcohol laws into the 21st century, to allow local brewing and pub businesses to expand and thrive, as well as make sure that residents and tourists alike can get access to tasty, locally-produced brews.
‘We need to give pubs more flexibility over things like opening hours and the types of beer they sell, as well as recognise their important as community assets, helping tackle loneliness and support reasonable drinking.’