Northern Ireland

Easter pub opening hours described as 'archaic' by bar owners

Beer at a city bar
Image caption Pubs in Northern Ireland operate a restricted service over the Easter period.

The hours during which bars and restaurants can serve alcohol over Easter have been described as "archaic" by the owner of one of Northern Ireland's biggest bar chains.

Stephen Magorrian, managing director of Botanic Inns, said current legislation was "no longer fit for purpose".

Alcohol can only be served between 17:00 and 23:00 on Good Friday.

Bars have to stop serving at midnight on Thursday night and Easter Saturday.

On Easter Sunday bars and restaurants have to stop serving alcohol at 22:00.

During a recent public consultation on licensing laws, which closed in November 2012, the DUP Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland proposed extending opening hours over the Easter period.

Extended hours

Mr McCausland had proposed extending serving times by one hour to 01:00 on the Thursday before Easter and on Easter Saturday.

The department told the BBC that if they extend the hours the earliest these changes could be introduced would be 2014.

There are no plans to extend the laws on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Stephen Magorrrian said the legislation was difficult to justify.

"In a country where tourism is being promoted as such a big hope it just doesn't make any sense," he said.

"This is always a quiet weekend for us with the worst night being Easter Saturday. We employ less staff during this weekend and have to send staff home early so they also earn less money.

"We should have normal opening hours and if people feel that they do not want to go to a bar and drink they don't have to.

"The government have spent so much money on campaigns like Back in Belfast and Our Time Our Place only to go and basically close the city during one of our busiest tourism periods."

Father Raymond McCullagh, chaplain at Coleraine University of Ulster Campus believes Easter should still be a time for reflection.

"We live in a society that has been shaped by our shared Christian heritage and Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the pinnacle of the Christian calendar so I think it's good to acknowledge that," he said.

"Easter also gives us an opportunity to think about other issues. On Good Friday we have an opportunity to think about those who don't even have water to drink never mind alcohol."

Colin Neill from Pubs of Ulster thinks that it's not a "black and white discussion" because religious views are involved.

He said: "I think religious views should be included in the conversation but I think it's a case of what is it really about. You can only buy alcohol in a pub between 17:00 and 23:00 on Good Friday but you can buy alcohol in a shop from 08:00 so those who want to go and drink in a park can so it's clearly not about alcohol.

"There are certain times in the year that people of different religions take to reflect and Easter is certainly one of them but I don't think if you are able to have a glass of wine with your lunch on Good Friday it will affect that reflection.

'Boost our economy'

"Whether we like it or not we live in a commercial world and even if some people say it's only one weekend a year that can mean that a business won't make a profit that month and that in turn affects employment.

"I'm speaking to restaurateurs who have had to tell tourists they can't have a glass of wine with their meal. Talk to a taxi driver and they will tell you they take a lot of people down to Dublin on Easter Saturday night because we shut so early.

Peter Armstrong, one of the organisers behind Open Late NI said: "There is a huge demand from local revellers, businesses and tourists for our pubs and nightclubs to open later until 03:00, 04:00, or 05:00.

"Northern Ireland attracts large numbers of tourists over the Easter weekend, and we also have thousands of people who work or study in Great Britain returning home to socialise with their family and friends.

"It should be one of the busiest times for our entertainment venues. Unfortunately the law in Northern Ireland is outdated and very restrictive, and pubs/clubs that are filled with revellers are forced to close their doors very early at Easter time.

"If our politicians really want to boost our economy, create a modern Belfast, attract more tourists and send them home with a good reputation of Northern Ireland, then the social development minister must change our licensing legislation and allow us to compete with other UK and European cities."

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