Assembly approves licensing law reforms

It is expected that the majority of the law changes will take effect in October. Credit: PA

Proposed reforms of Northern Ireland's licensing laws have been passed by the Stormont Assembly.

The Licensing and Registration of Clubs Bill passed its final stage at Stormont on Tuesday and will now go forward for Royal Assent.

The new laws will modernise pubs, allowing them to open until 3am as well as new opening hours over Easter.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said there was a need to balance the modernisation of licensing laws with health considerations.

She said: "We're updating our laws into 2021, where they should be." The principal deputy speaker put the Bill to an oral vote, which was passed.

The new laws also pave the way for certain licensed premises to extended their opening hours by one hour up to 104 times a year.

Smaller pubs will be able to extend the time for last orders up to 85 times a year.

The current "drinking up" time of 30 minutes for all licensed premises would be increased to one hour under the Bill - a move designed to discourage people from drinking too quickly and to allow more time for a gradual departures at the end of the night.

It is expected that the majority of the law changes will take effect in October.

Licensing laws were last updated here in the 1990s.

A bid to update the legislation was progressing through the Assembly prior to the collapse of powersharing in 2017 but that Bill was lost when the institutions collapsed.

So what exactly does the Bill include?

  • Pubs and Hotels can apply to open until 2.00am up to 104 nights per year;

  • Smaller pubs will be able to open to 1.00am up to 104 nights per year;

  • Drinking-up time will be increased to one 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 six times per year;

  • Registered clubs will be able to open to 1.00am 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.