Communities Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, has announced Executive agreement on proposals that will transform and modernise Northern Ireland’s current liquor licensing laws, striking a balance between tackling alcohol abuse and bolstering the hospitality industry. Following a consultation by the Department for Communities in 2019, the NI Executive has agreed a new liquor licensing Bill to be brought before the NI Assembly later this year.
Minister Ní Chuilín said, “I believe these proposals represent a balanced package of measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse and promoting responsible consumption, whilst providing vital support for the hospitality industry. This support is needed now more than ever as the industry begins its recovery from COVID-19”
The Bill includes a number of amendments to Northern Ireland’s current licensing laws which were last updated in 1996.
The following are the key proposed changes –
- Introduction of an occasional additional late opening hour for certain licensed premises that will allow alcohol to be served to 2am – under current legislation, normal trading hours for licensed premises are 11:30am-11:00pm on weekdays, 12:30pm-10:00pm on Sunday or Christmas Day with an additional two hours in certain circumstances;
- Abolishing the current restrictive Easter opening hours to bring it in line with the rest of the year – under the current law late opening (11:00pm-1:00am in pubs and other premises which provide food/entertainment) on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter Sunday must end at midnight;
- An extension on drinking up time– it is proposed to extend the current drinking up time in all licensed premises from 30 minutes to 1 hour to discourage customers drinking too quickly and to allow more gradual departure, especially from larger venues;
- The alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems – it is proposed that any grant of a late opening hours certificate, or the proposed occasional additional opening hour (i.e. 3am and 2am on a Sunday), will require that any associated entertainment licence will not extend beyond the latest time alcoholic drinks can be consumed in the premises;
- Changes relating to children on licensed premises – it is proposed that the requirement for a licensed premises to hold a children’s certificate if they wish to allow young people under 18 on their premises to 9pm will be removed, however the conditions pertaining to the presence of young people will remain;
- Prohibition of self-service and vending machines – it is proposed to amend the law to prevent the sale of alcoholic drinks via self-service means and vending machines;
- Remote sale of alcoholic drinks – current licensing law is silent on the remote sale of alcoholic drinks (alcoholic delivery service) online, via apps, over telephone etc. The proposed amendments will ensure that, where a sale has taken place remotely, the premises from which the alcoholic drink has been dispatched must be licensed;
- Categories of Licence – it is proposed to add local breweries, cideries and distilleries ot the categories of licences which can be licensed.
Hospitality Ulster has welcomed the proposed changes, which they say will bring about the biggest changes to the hospitality sector in a generation if approved by the NI Assembly.
It is expected that the new Liquor Licensing Bill will enter the legislative process in the NI Assembly ahead of the summer recess, with progress expected in the Autumn.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Tourism & Licensing team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.