June 8, 2021
Proposed reforms of Northern Ireland’s licensing laws strike a balance between supporting businesses and tackling harm caused by alcohol, a Stormont minister has said.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey was speaking ahead of a key Assembly debate on a Bill to modernise liquor licensing.
The reforms include the removal of restrictions that currently limit trading hours for selling alcohol over the Easter period.
They would also pave the way for certain licensed premises to extended their opening hours by one hour up to 104 times a year.
Smaller pubs would be able to extend the time for last orders up to 85 times a year.
The current “drinking up” time of 30 minutes for all licensed premises would be increased to one hour under the Bill – a move designed to discourage people from drinking too quickly and to allow more time for a gradual departures at the end of the night.
MLAs will consider 63 amendments during what is expected to be a lengthy consideration stage of the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill on Tuesday.
One amendment from independent MLA Claire Sugden would allow alcohol to be sold in cinemas.
Ms Hargey has stated that she would prefer that further public consultation was carried out on that proposal before it became law.
Other proposals that will be debated by the Assembly include limits on where supermarkets can promote deals on alcohol sales, with the intention to limit those to a strict area in and around where the products are sold in store.
The Bill would also ban the use of any loyalty schemes in off licences.
If the Bill passes the consideration stage it would only have two further stages before it receives Royal ascent and becomes law. That could happen over the summer, with the majority of the law changes then introduced in October.
Licensing laws were last updated in the 1990s. A bid to update the legislation was progressing through the Assembly prior to the collapse of powersharing in 2017 but that Bill was lost when the institutions collapsed.
Minister Hargey said the long awaited reform, which was included in commitments in the deal to restore powersharing in 2020, was now “within reach”.
“The Bill contains a balanced package of reforms,” she said.
“While supporting the hospitality industry, it is my duty to also be mindful of the negative impact that the harmful consumption of alcohol can cause, to individuals and to whole communities.
“This Bill therefore also includes the relevant safeguards to ensure that people are protected from alcohol-related harms.
“I look forward to taking this Bill through its Consideration Stage today and next stages in the coming weeks and to deliver on this much anticipated reform.”