The last dance?

SCHOOL formals in local hotels could be a thing of the past.

Local police have written to all licensed premises in the Borough reminding them that young people are not allowed on the premises after 9.30pm.

The issue was raised at last Monday night’s meeting of the Coleraine District Policing Partnership in Kilrea Town Hall.

DPP member Trevor Clarke referred to the police’s statistics on underage drinking detections and said that, following the PSNI writing to the local licensed trade, there was some confusion surrounding the issue of school formals.

PSNI Area Commander Nicky Thompson said that he was “clear what the law says”.

He explained that in 1996, legislation was changed to allow young people to enter licensed premises to have a meal with their parents but they had to be off the premises by 9.30pm.

“Any young person on the premises beyond 9.30pm runs the risk of being in breach of the law,” he added.

He said that he understood that most people involved in organising school formals were working within “the spirit of the law”.

He gave examples of premises closing down bars during school formals, clearing the shelves of any alcohol and employing door attendants to make sure no alcohol was brought into the premises.

“But,” he stressed, “it is still a breach of the law to have young people on the premises after 9.30pm.”

Chief Inspector Thompson queried whether the law needed to be changed but added that was a matter for legislators, not the police.

Cllr William Creelman then asked if a church group was holding a dinner in a hotel which was licensed and the event went on to 10.30pm because of speeches etc, was that breaking the law?

“If there are young people on the premises after 9.30pm then, yes,” replied Chief Inspector Thompson.

Also attending the meeting was Inspector Catherine Magee who said that, while police understood the queries about school formals, the case could arise where other licensed premises such as pubs could ask why they weren’t being allowed to operate in the same way.

“They could rightly ask ‘Why can’t we run an underage disco if we close our bar?’ so it could result in a very grey area.”

Chairing the meeting, Patricia McQuillan said it was a pity especially when responsible businesses were trying to work within the law to accommodate events like school formals.