Legislation Threatens Future of Local Pubs

22 October 2012

The future of dozens of pubs and the livelihoods of hundreds of people across Fermanagh could be at risk, due to the extreme way in which licensing laws are being interpreted in the county, according to industry body Pubs of Ulster.

The warning comes as local PSNI force the early closure of a number of pubs across Fermanagh and take a blanket objection to the renewal of the majority of liquor licenses, unless they reduce the number of late nights they are allowed to open. Under the current law, a pub must have an Article 44 which allows them to open after 11pm provided food or live entertainment are on offer.  As well as impacting local business and jobs, it is feared that this enforcement of licensing laws will cause irreparable damage to the local economy.


Speaking following a meeting with local publicans, PSNI and MLAs in Fermanagh on Thursday (18th October), Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said:


“Pubs of Ulster are greatly concerned about the Article 44 issue in Fermanagh and whilst we understand and appreciate that the PSNI have the best intentions, we believe that the blanket objection is very heavy handed.  We are concerned that that these actions will damage forever an industry already struggling to survive.


“We are encouraged however by the constructive meeting held with the PSNI, local publicans and local MLAs on Thursday night.  The meeting was very much an open forum, allowing over 60 concerned publicans to express the genuine fear they have for the future of their businesses.  We hope that the PSNI now reflect on the concerns raised and continue to engage with Pubs of Ulster and the local trade to find a way forward that safeguards the future of pubs in the area.”


This is the latest incident that has caused growing concern for the future of local pubs and follows what has been an extremely difficult time for the trade.  The on-going downturn in the economy has had a severe impact on customer footfall, resulting in a fall in turnover for the majority of pubs across Northern Ireland.  As a result, many pubs have been pushed to the brink and many have been forced to close.  It is feared that any measure that forces a pub to close early, losing valuable trading hours, will have a very damaging effect on local pubs.  Concerns have also been raised about the effect a struggling pub trade will have on local employment, potentially putting hundreds of local jobs at risk if pubs are forced to close.  In addition, the restriction on the number of nights available to local pubs removes the opportunity to react to one off events, which is essential when pubs struggle to pay basic bills such as rates and electricity. There is also growing fear regarding the effect early closures will have on Fermanagh’s tourist economy, of which pubs play a vital role in the unique local offering.  A vital element of the local tourist economy is Enniskillen’s Purple Flag status- of which Enniskillen is one of only four in Northern Ireland – which could be in jeopardy if this latest clamp down on Article 44 applications impacts the night-time economy.  


A number of local MLAs have also joined Pubs of Ulster in the call for a more appropriate approach to licensing laws, especially in relation to Article 44 applications, with a number also attending the meeting with the PSNI and local publicans.


Commenting on the issue, Phil Flanagan MLA, said:


“As someone who worked for many years in the hospitality sector in Fermanagh, I completely understand the frustrations of the local licensees at the approach being taken by the PSNI to this issue, particularly given the tough economic circumstances the pub industry is currently facing.


“There is a certain amount of flexibility that the PSNI need to exercise in this regard and that must begin with the removal of their objection to Article 44 applications and continuing to engage proactively with licensees in Fermanagh to rectify this situation.


“There is currently a review of licensing laws under way and it is imperative that local vintners have their say and that future laws meet the needs of a rural and tourist area like Fermanagh. As an MLA concerned about the future of the local pub industry, I will ensure that their voice is heard.”


Also commenting on the issue, Tom Elliott MLA, said:


"It is unfortunate that at this very difficult economic time many businesses within the service and hospitality sector could be forced out of business due to an inflexible approach from the authorities.


"I do not believe the current system is proving any more problematic than a change of implementation would, indeed it could be more practical for police to control and maintain. There is in general an excellent relationship between licence holders and the police, it is crucial for that to continue.


"The hospitality sector plays a vital role within Fermanagh's tourism and we need to support those within it as much as possible."


Pubs of Ulster will continue to engage with local pubs, as well as the PSNI and local MLAs, in order to find a way forward and ultimately ensure the future of the licensed trade in Fermanagh and throughout Northern Ireland.