Licensing law reform on the horizon after cross party commitment
11 June 2019
Several weeks ago our outdated liquor licensing regime came into sharp focus as we raised the issue that a limited consultation from the Department for Communities on special events meant that only a small number of amendments would be made that would really only benefit the management of The Open due to take place next month in Portrush.
At that time, these potential changes would have been wholly unfair to the hospitality sector who have been lobbying hard for change for many years. We objected as an industry to the proposals and were supported by the major representative bodies across manufacturing, retail, tourism and food and drink. That was welcomed and shows the importance of the hospitality sector to the economy and the regard in which it is held.
If we stuck rigidly to our position, it was highly likely that the changes asked for in relation to the special events consultation would not have progressed. However, in the intervening period, having received written commitment from all the main political parties that wider licensing law reform would be a priority of any restored Assembly, we took the responsible decision and lifted our objection to the special events consultation recommendations.
This can only be regarded as a win-win situation for both the implementation of the recommendations from the special events consultation, and more importantly for the wider reform of liquor licensing in Northern Ireland. The short-term gain afforded to the management of The Open, must be balanced by the longer-term benefits of full reform. After all, this is an industry which contributes £1.2bn to the Northern Irish economy every year and could contribute much more if given the tools to do so.
This is not about selling more drink to the same people. It is about a holistic approach to how we create an appropriate legislative environment to allow the industry to fulfil its potential. If we are going to make tourism numbers and reputational impact key indicators in a programme for government, then we must not curtail what it can achieve to hit the objectives the government has set.
Issues around Easter opening hours, the below cost selling of alcohol by supermarkets, and drinking up time for example are all real issues that have social, cultural and business implications that need to be dealt with if we are to take ourselves seriously about how we attract local customers and tourists to come from near and far. We operate in a small marketplace with a limited number of people, so we must compete with other European destinations.
We also must remember that the Bill to push forward the reforms had already been introduced to the last Assembly prior to its collapse, so much of the heavy lifting in terms of drafting has already been carried out.
The political parties are now on record with their commitment and we look forward to swift and effective legislative progress.