Major representative bodies support call for wider consultation on liquor licensing

Major representative bodies support call for wider consultation on liquor licensing

02 May 2019

Major representative bodies come out in support of Hospitality Ulster in call to widen Departmental consultation on liquor licensing ‘Special Events’ provision in favour of full legislative overhaul

Manufacturing NI, Retail NI, and the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association have backed Hospitality Ulster in calling for the Department for Communities to have a rethink and widen their latest knee jerk consultation on changing Northern Ireland’s licensing laws ahead of the British Open in Portrush this July. The minor change that the Department is considering is to give ‘special events’ the legal right to sell alcohol outside the hours currently allowed, without extending benefits to local businesses.

The group has expressed concern that the suggested changes also allowing ‘special events’ to sell alcohol for consumption off-premises would not benefit Northern Ireland’s local pubs and restaurants or our local producers, distilleries and breweries and that the Department for Communities needs to look urgently at more wide-ranging reform.

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster said:“Amending liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland to create a special category to address issues at the British Open this July is myopic and ignores the challenges faced by the hospitality industry here, who have lobbied for modernisation of liquor licensing for years.”“The British 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.”

Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Retail NI said:“The changes that the Department for Communities have proposed as part of this consultation are really disappointing because they simply do not go far enough to be of any benefit to our high streets, which are struggling with rising costs and other challenges. In England and Wales, the government has made moves to help businesses, but here in Northern Ireland the lack of a functioning Executive means we haven’t been able to see similar policies enacted here. For years Northern Irish businesses have been calling for a change to the licensing laws, because we know it’s important to support our hospitality sector, which is such a vital part of our high street. Our hotels, bars and restaurants are important in bringing people into town and city centres and that increased footfall obviously has a positive impact on our retail stores.”

Michael Bell, Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association said:“The liquor licensing situation in Northern Ireland has been holding back our tourism offering for some time, and seriously needs addressed if we are to compete with other tourist destinations. There has been considerable investment in innovation in the drinks sector here and we are producing some of the finest artisan beers, craft gins and whiskies which are growing in reputation around the world. This is in stark contrast to our licensing situation which has fallen far behind the times.We need the Department to reform the laws in order to remove barriers to growth for our local producers and boost tourism, rather than making a very small change to assist a specific event management company.”

Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI said: "Everyone wants the Open this July to be demonstration of what can be achieved here. It’s a fantastic endorsement of Northern Ireland that we’re hosting such a prestigious sporting tournament. However, if the Department for Communities is going to start changing the law for ‘special events’, it raises the question of why changes can’t be made to support our local producers. Why is the Government only looking to make changes to benefit these big event organisers and ignoring our local businesses who are already under considerable strain? We have some of the very best distilleries and breweries in the world here that attract tourists from across the globe. They visit to enjoy the experience, the atmosphere and see how their favourite products are made, but then are told they’re not able to actually buy any of it.”

 “If these changes are implemented, we’ll have the frankly baffling scenario where people can buy a bottle of mass produced American whiskey at a sporting event but two miles down the road, our award winning, world famous whiskey distilleries aren’t allowed to sell a bottle of their product to those same tourists. One suggestion that’s been made by the industry is the creation of a new licence category for local producers that would allow them to sell products they manufacture to people visiting their distillery / brewery and also at these ‘special events’. This would go some way to ensuring our local businesses are supported. Amending our licensing laws is a really important step in promoting and supporting our growing hospitality industry and our incredible breweries and distilleries, but the Department can’t do this in a piecemeal way. Changes to our licensing laws should be wide reaching, comprehensive and most importantly designed to support and benefit our local producers.”

 Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster added: “Whilst we welcome the fact that the Open is coming to Northern Ireland, we need to look at the whole picture and not just pander to the company running the event because they want to sell more drink outside of the current permitted hours. This does nothing for local pubs and restaurants who will be missing out on the revenue. Once the Open packs up, the hospitality sector will be left to operate with the same outdated laws that it has struggled with for years, and all this will have done is enabled a big company to make a fast buck. Why are we are bending over backwards to rush through legislation even though there is an entire Bill sitting on the shelf ready to go that will address many, if not all of these issues. It’s time that an ounce of sense was brought to the debate with proper wide-ranging changes to the legislation to sort out our licensing laws.”