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Northern Ireland’s liquor licensing reform passed by Stormont Published Date: 29/06/2021

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has today finalised a Bill to modernise outdated liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Minister said she was delighted to deliver this much anticipated reform.  The licensing Bill was a priority for the Minister when taking up post and it has now completed its Final Stage in the Assembly.

The Bill includes the following changes to licensing laws:-

  • Pubs and Hotels can apply to open until 2am up to 104 nights per year;
  • Smaller pubs will be able to open to 1am up to 104 nights per year;
  • Drinking-up time will be increased to 1 hour;
  • All additional restrictions on opening  hours over Easter weekend will be removed;
  • Opening hours on Sunday evenings will be the same as any other night;
  • There will be flexibility around opening hours for bars at major events;
  • A new category of licence will be created for local producers of craft beers, ciders and spirits;
  • Cinemas will be able to apply for a liquor licence and serve drink to customers watching a movie;
  • Sporting clubs will be able to use their grounds for functions up to 6 times per year;
  • Registered clubs will be able to open to 1am up to 104 nights per year;
  • Self-service of alcohol and sales by vending machines will be prohibited;
  • Restrictions will be placed on off-sales drinks promotions;
  • Loyalty schemes will not be able to award or redeem points for the sale of alcoholic drinks.

The Bill will now be put forward for Royal Assent.  It is expected the majority of the provisions in the Bill will become law in October this year, with some requiring a longer lead in time.

A full statutory review of licensing laws in Northern Ireland will also be held following an amendment to the licensing bill secured by SDLP assembly member (MLA) Matthew O'Toole on Tuesday afternoon, meaning the Department for Communities must begin an independent review within the next year, including an investigation of how the so-called "surrender principle" affects the industry.*

The principle means no new licence can be granted unless another one is surrendered.

Licences for selling alcohol on and off premises are also convertible in court, which means that every supermarket or convenience store seeking to add an off sales needs to acquire a licence from somewhere else.

Mr O'Toole said the review would be a "first step toward reforming the system here so that it works for everyone".

*Source: BBC News