Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland, has announced that he intends to change the law on the sale of alcohol.
The main changes centre on new restrictions on the advertising of alcohol in supermarkets and off licenses, some licensed premises being allowed to open until 2am on up to 12 nights of the year, and lining up alcohol and entertainment licenses to make enforcement on late opening easier for the police.
In 2012 the Department for Social Development consulted on a wide range of proposed changes to the law regulating the sale and supply of alcohol in Northern Ireland.
The consultation attracted over 2,500 responses from a wide range of stakeholders including the drinks industry, health bodies and the general public.
Having carefully considered the views of those who responded to the consultation, and looked at evidence on the impact of changes elsewhere, the Minister has now decided which proposals he will implement.
Following Executive agreement to the changes Minister McCausland said: “Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity and it is clear that excessive alcohol consumption has a negative impact on people’s health, their relationships and on society generally.
“The sale and supply of alcohol has to be regulated in a way that recognises its potential negative impacts and I believe that liquor licensing plays a key role in setting the environment in which alcohol is consumed.
The Minister added: “While I am keen to ensure that licensing laws assist in supporting the hospitality industry and tourism it must be in a way that does not add to the difficulties we already have with alcohol as a society.
Concluding the Minister said: “The challenge is finding the right balance. Many of those who responded to the public consultation argued that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the law in England and Wales where there are fewer restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Given the experience in England and Wales, since their law was relaxed in 2005, I do not believe it is sensible to go down that road. I am prepared however to support a small increase in opening times for bars by allowing them to apply for permission to sell alcohol until 2am on up to 12 occasions per year.”
The changes being brought forward by the Minister include:
- restrictions on the advertising of alcohol in supermarkets and off sales premises;
- introduction of an occasional additional late opening hour for certain licensed premises on up to 12 occasions per year;
- modest changes to the Easter opening hours for public houses, with normal opening hours applying on the Thursday andSaturday before Easter;
- the alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems to make enforcement of the law on late opening easier for the police;
- formal approval for codes of practice on the responsible sale of alcohol; and
- minor changes to the law affecting private members clubs.