For several years, the liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland have been subject to a great deal of criticism and complaint from leaders of our hospitality industry. However, these outdated laws could soon be met with significant reform intended to modernise and improve NI’s liquor licensing legislation. Today, the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey is set to take the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill before the Assembly, which will allow MLAs to vote on key amendments that could introduce substantial changes to our licensing laws, including the removal of additional licensing restrictions at Easter, as well as the allowance of additional trading hours for pubs and hotels.
In her statement, Minister Hargey announced, “the reform of licensing is a priority for this Executive under the New Decade, New Approach Deal and I am pleased to see modernisation is within reach… 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.”
It is hoped that the new legislation will pass the final stage in the Assembly by the end of June, so that the changes can be implemented from October this year.
Some of the main provisions put forward by the Bill include allowing bars and nightclubs to serve alcohol for an extra hour until 2:00am on the majority of weekends throughout the year. The Bill also includes a proposal to extend ‘drinking up’ time from 30 minutes to an hour, which will allow bars and clubs in Northern Ireland to operate until 3:00am on weekends.
Along with the proposals set out by the Communities Minister, other MLAs have made suggestions to modernise our licensing. MLA Claire Sugden has submitted an amendment to include cinemas in the definition of “a place of public entertainment”, which would allow cinema goers to purchase alcohol on cinema premises. In addition, Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP has forwarded an amendment that would require the Executive to review the licensing ‘surrender principle’ that forms part of our liquor licensing laws. Mr O’Toole also suggested that the Department should publish an annual report setting out the number of pubs and operation licenses on a postcode basis.
Nonetheless, any amendments included in today’s Bill will be put up for debate by MLAs, who have the opportunity now to determine the extent of the modernisation of licensing in Northern Ireland. Today’s news will no doubt be welcomed by many business owners in the hospitality industry, who will be able to trade more freely and recoup some of the losses incurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you have a query relating to a liquor licensing matter, contact O’Reilly Stewart on 028 90 321 000