Andy Allen MLA, Ulster Unionist Communities spokesperson has criticised the lack of progress in modernising Northern Ireland’s licensing laws.
Mr Allen said:
“The perennial issue of Northern Ireland’s highly restrictive entertainment and liquor licensing laws is again a matter of public debate this Easter. It is doubly frustrating for those of us who wish to see the law reformed and modernised that there is no functioning Assembly and Executive to progress legislation.
“The Committee for Communities were in the middle of carrying out important amendments to the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill when the Assembly was brought down in January. This issue must be returned to- preferably by a new Assembly- or alternatively through the NIO under Direct Rule.
“It has to be said that the Bill as introduced by the Communities Minister was minimalist and needed significant amendment, but there was an emerging consensus on the Committee on how the Bill could be improved and made fit for purpose.
“Issues around licensing laws are not restricted to Easter opening hours. Another matter is the need for recognition for micro-breweries, who produce local, home grown craft beers and ciders. These local companies are being massively restricted by our current licensing laws, and there are solid grounds for introducing a new category of licence to permit small brewers to apply for permission to sell at source, as well as an option to apply for occasional extensions to sell at local events.
“It must be emphasised that problems with alcohol abuse- which are numerous and serious- cannot be laid at the door of licensed premises. The Department of Health’s 2013 survey showed that 65% of alcohol consumption happens at home, with only 20% in a pub, and 17% in a restaurant.
“After years of delay where successive DUP Ministers have failed to legislate, the hospitality sector has understandably run out of patience. This is another policy area which shows the Assembly needs to be back functioning and legislating now.”