DUP MLAs hail major relaxation of NI booze laws

A bill which has been dubbed the biggest change to Northern Ireland’s alcohol laws in a generation has passed its final hurdle, with the DUP among those hailing its passage.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 8:37 am
The Rev Ian Paisley, DUP founder and fierce opponent of alcohol
The Rev Ian Paisley, DUP founder and fierce opponent of alcohol

The changes will extend the opening hours for venues, allow people to buy booze in cinemas, and remove restrictions around Easter trading.

Early opposition to the bill was voiced by groups as different as the PSNI, Unite the Union, and the Presbyterian Church.

Among those hailing the new relaxed laws yesterday were Pam Cameron and Paula Bradley of the DUP a party which had historically been seen as inseparable from Protestant traditionalism (particularly under Rev Ian Paisley, who famously dubbed alcohol “the devil’s buttermilk”).

The Province’s previous licencing laws date back to 1996, before the Assembly was even formed.

They have been amended a handful of times since, but in relatively minor ways (such as curbing what the government called “irresponsible promotions” and expanding licences for outdoor cafe spaces).

Moves to ease trading laws in a more substantial way have been mooted ever since 2012, but never happened (in part due to Sinn Fein collapsing Stormont).

It is understood the bill will spell the following changes:

> On 104 occasions throughout the year, last orders will be changed from 1am for larger bars and hotels (with another half an hour for drinking-up), to 2am (with a full hour for drinking-up).

This means customers can stay on the premises until 3am, instead of having to leave at 1.30am.

However, smaller pubs will be limited to 1am last orders.

> Sunday opening hours will be the same as any other night. Currently pubs are restricted to 10pm generally, or midnight if they are granted extra hours.

> Cinemas can sell booze until 11pm

> Compulsory early closing of pubs during the Easter holidays is effectively ended.

Ms Bradley told MLAs: “I really welcome the fact we’ll finally get new modernised licensing laws over the line.

“This bill will bring about the biggest changes in licensing laws in a generation.”

Mrs Cameron meanwhile called the bill a “legislative milestone” and hailed “the progress that it represents”.

She recognised this will cause “some concern for some”, but added “we do need to strike that balance, and recognise the consumer demand”.

Whilst “all of us have seen the damaging impact alcohol can have on people’s lives” she said, “this bill does not give any great latitude to exacerbating this problem”

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