Licensing laws reform in Northern Ireland overdue

Out-Law News | 03 Jul 2019 | 9:50 am | 1 min. read

It is unsurprising to see growing calls for reforms to Northern Ireland's licensing laws, an expert has said.

Belfast-based specialist in licensing laws James Griffiths of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said, though, that real change is unlikely to be delivered until the current political impasse in the country is resolved.

Griffiths was commenting after the BBC reported on concerns raised by brewers in Northern Ireland that the licensing regime is stifling opportunities to grow their business.

"The hospitality industry’s frustrations at the ongoing absence of liquor licensing reform in Northern Ireland are totally understandable," Griffiths said. "The legislation which governs licensing in Northern Ireland, the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland is a totally different place now. The existing restrictions on, for example, drinking hours and the strictly controlled number of pub and bar licences, stifle efforts to further develop Northern Ireland as a 21st century tourist destination."

Griffiths said that some minor amendments have been proposed in recent years, such as the Department for Communities’ recent consultation exercise which has recommended the liberalisation of opening hours and authorisation of off-sales at ‘special events’ in order to make Northern Ireland a more attractive proposition for major sporting and cultural events like the forthcoming Open Golf championship at Royal Portrush.

He said there was also the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in 2016 just before the fall of the Stormont government, and which proposes some minor extensions to permitted opening hours amongst other limited measures.

"That Bill did not go far enough in the opinion of most people in the hospitality trade, and it remains to be seen what happens to it whenever an Executive is restored," Griffiths said.

"Until we have a functioning government again in Northern Ireland, it is clear that substantive changes will not be delivered. However, once an Executive is restored they will come back to consistent calls from the hospitality industry for wholesale reform of the licensing regime, in order to give their businesses and Northern Ireland the best chance of thriving in years to come," he said.