Northern Ireland's Easter drinking laws explained as pub opening hours extended

Hospitality businesses are expecting a bumper Easter thanks to new licensing laws.

Pub opening hours and alcohol service will no longer be restricted over the holiday.

The move, which those in the hospitality sector have been calling for, has been hailed as a "significant step forward" and bringing the industry into the 21st century.

What were the old rules?

With all the disruption of the pandemic, you could be forgiven for forgetting how an old Easter weekend looked.

Due to the religious significance of the holiday liquor licensing laws were restricted over the Easter weekend.

This included the religious festivals of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

This was obviously an inconvenience for hospitality businesses who wished to take advantage of the increased business over a bank holiday weekend.

It was also an imposition on the non-Christian and non-religious communities of Northern Ireland, for whom the holiday has no spiritual meaning.

What's changed for this Easter?

The Northern Ireland Executive passed the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 last September.

This act modernised and reformed many aspects of liquor laws in NI, allowing for pubs to serve alcohol later and for premises with late licenses to close an hour later.

The first eight provisions of the act removed the restrictions over Easter weekend, allowing hospitality businesses to treat the period as they do any other weekend of the year.

So what can I do now that I couldn't in previous Easters?

You can buy alcohol from restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs until 11 pm everywhere, and until 2am from premises with a late license.

Basically, if you can drink after midnight in your favourite pub on any other Saturday, you can now do it on Easter Saturday.

Of course, opening hours remain at the discretion of individual businesses. An owner might decide to give their staff the bank holiday off, so make sure to check before heading out this weekend.

So there's nothing extra to be worried about this weekend?

The PSNI always advises people to take extra precautions over festive periods. With large crowds and the excitement of a bank holiday, make sure to not get carried away or take any unnecessary risks.

Also be aware that bank holiday weekends see busier roads and public transport, especially as Trains and buses will be operating under an Easter timetable.

It's also worth bearing in mind that Covid-19 is still spreading in Northern Ireland.

All legal restrictions have lapsed, but the department of health still advises you to wear a face covering, sanitise your hands and practice social distancing where possible when on nights out.

In other words, the main things you need to worry about this Easter weekend are the things all adults should keep in mind when on nights out.