Sunday opening hours issue not in council’s remit’
A proposal by Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Bateson to engage with trade unions with a view to longer shop opening hours on Sunday in large towns like Coleraine and across the council area during summer months wasn’t taken forward after a council officer informed members that the necessary “legislation would need to be changed by the Assembly”.
At the full meeting of Causeway Coast & Glens Council, Cllr Bateson suggested an amendment to a proposal that had been brought previously by Alliance Alderman Yvonne Boyle, writes Gillian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter.
He said: “It was Alderman Boyle’s original proposal about opening up longer hours on Sunday, I just wanted to make a slight amendment to that to propose that council engages quickly with trade unions to reach an agreement on longer Sunday opening hours over the summer to help with tourism and workers/customers safety due to Covid and post lockdown.”
At the June meeting of the Environment Committee, Alderman Boyle had proposed an extension to shop opening hours to between 12 noon and 7pm during the months of July and August to assist in businesses coming out of the pressures of lockdown and to maximise advantages from increased staycation visitors over the summer.
The proposal failed to secure a seconder.
Cllr Bateson added: “Obviously this is something that will take time this summer but in terms of potentially going forward in the future.”
Party colleague Councillor Cara McShane added: “Our small towns rely on extended opening and I think we recognise that our current legislation is outdated and given that there is such restricted opening on a Sunday.
“This proposal is just to consult with the Chamber of Commerce, the businesses, the trade unions on workers’ rights and it was on the back of Alderman Boyle’s proposal.”
Aidan McPeake, Director of Environmental Services informed members “the council wouldn’t have the remit to negotiate with unions for other employees”.
Bryan Edgar, Head of Health and Built Environment advised the only way larger shops (over 280sqm) could open on a Sunday outside the hours of 1pm and 6pm would be if council “turned a blind eye to any enforcement action”. He added that “the legislation would need to be changed by the Assembly”.
DUP Alderman George Duddy stated that the current opening hours had been put in place for a reason.
“This is above and beyond the role of this council, that is the private sector and it is a matter entirely for them,” he said.
“The one thing we have to remember and that is the reason they don’t open until 1 o’clock and that is to allow those who attend their houses of worship to attend those places in relative peace and quiet without having to go through a busy thoroughfare.”
Responding to the officer’s points on legislation, Cllr Bateson said; “Obviously what Mr Edgar said makes the proposal null and void if it’s not within our remit.
“All I wanted to do was engage to see if we could get longer opening hours across the likes of the bigger towns.”
Councillor Padraig McShane described the debate as “just remarkable”, adding: “Councillor Duddy comes in and he expresses concerns about noise etc outside places of worship, it’s a good point, a very good point.
“He doesn’t express the same concern when the fife and drums are outside certain places of worship, he seems content with that.”
The Mayor interjected and asked Mr McShane to address the matter at hand and “not other councillors’ issues”.
Cllr McShane then said; “I would encourage elected members to engage with unions themselves and try and help out that way because the council does not have the remit.”
Coleraine PUP Councillor Russell Watton described the matter as being “a lot of fuss about nothing”.
“I am one of those councillors who does engage with the unions and often on different issues,” he said. “The only problem is when you talk about the shops in the town, how many are unionised?
“I am not aware of any, apart from one shop, in the entire town that is unionised so I don’t know what the proposal is going to achieve, are you going to talk to one shop? Some are small businesses with only half a dozen staff.
“It’s not in our remit and Cllr Bateson has admitted it’s not in our remit so it’s all a lot of fuss about nothing.”
Cllr Bateson agreed with the Mayor’s assessment that the proposal was “outside the scope of our legislative powers” and wouldn’t be taken forward.