News that NI licensing laws could be changed in advance of the Open golf championship at Portrush has been described as “a sham”.
In advance of the 148th Open at Royal Portrush, the Department for Communities has launched a consultation on proposed changes to licensing law which its believes would benefit the hospitality and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland.
The department has suggested a change in law will “improve the prospects of this event and others coming to Northern Ireland in the near future”.
Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler was not impressed it has taken so long for licensing laws to be addressed: “Over the last 14 years there were many failed attempts at reforming Northern Ireland’s outdated and obsolete liquor licensing laws.”
Mr Butler said reforms were essential, but added: “It’s a sham, however, that it took the imminent 148th Open at Royal Portrush, and the inevitable embarrassment that would have been felt on an international stage, to force Northern Ireland’s hand on this.”
The consultation is seeking views on changing the law to provide the department with the power to designate an event taking place in Northern Ireland as a ‘special event’.
The department would then have the power to vary permitted hours for the sale of alcoholic drinks at the event. It would also have the power to permit the sale of alcoholic drinks for consumption off the premises at special events. This includes food and drink shows where exhibitors wish to sell their products to visitors.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, was also not impressed: “We are extremely concerned that the Department for Communities have published a knee-jerk consultation to amend liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland to create a ‘Special Licence’ category to address issues at the Open this July, whilst ignoring the challenges faced by the hospitality industry here, who have lobbied for modernisation of liquor licensing for years.
“We are seeking an urgent meeting with the head of the civil service, David Sterling, and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, calling on them to intervene and get the wider liquor licensing laws sorted as part of this process once and for all and not just give special status to big event promoters who will be gone as soon as they arrive.
“The Open may be worth £80m to the Northern Ireland economy as a one-off, but our members contribute £1.2billion to the Northern Ireland economy every year.”
The consultation period will run until May 3.