Easter pub opening hours: Publicans criticise Nelson McCausland
Publicans have criticised Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland for not introducing extended Easter opening hours, almost two years after a public consultation.
Restrictions on selling alcohol are currently in place from the Thursday before Easter until Easter Sunday.
Pub owners say rules are "archaic" and damaging the tourism industry.
A public consultation about extending the opening times over the Easter holidays was carried out in 2012.
Alcohol can only be served between 17:00 BST and 23:00 BST 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 BST.
During the public consultation on licensing laws, which closed in November 2012, Mr McCausland proposed extending opening hours over the Easter period.
He proposed extending serving times by one hour to 01:00 BST on the Thursday before Easter and on Easter Saturday.
There are no plans to extend the laws on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Pub owners say they hoped that the new rules would be in place for this Easter but as yet Mr McCausland has not brought any new legislation forward.
For Easter 2014, pubs will continue to operate within licensing restrictions.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said he was disappointed the rules had not been changed in time for Easter 2014 and that his members cannot "take advantage of this economic opportunity due to restrictive licensing hours."
"It's now been two years since there has been a review of liquor licensing and we were hopeful then that there would be some movement," he said.
"We understand Easter is a sensitive issue but I think there is room for compromise and we had hoped that was coming.
"Here we see another year where our industry cannot take advantage of the tourism trade and the beginning of the holidays."
Mr Neill also said that current laws can make it even more confusing for consumers.
"It remains a fact that alcohol can be bought in a supermarket at 08:00 BST on Good Friday, whilst pubs and restaurants are prohibited selling alcohol until 17:00 BST," he said.
"This situation makes nonsense of the current legislation and drives people to consume alcohol at home rather than in the controlled environment of a pub or restaurant."
Stephen Magorrian, director of the Horatio Group, who operate the Botanic Inn, Horatio Todds and the Northern Whig, said Easter was a difficult time for pub owners.
"This is the first big tourist weekend of the season and yet for us it's one of the quietest weekends of the year in terms of trade.
"It's a time when you are looking to cut costs, you're working with skeleton workforces trying not to waste money.
"It should be an opportunity to show off what we have got and boost profit."
'Time to overhaul'
Alex Maskey MLA, chair of the Social Development Committee at Stormont, said he was disappointed that no legislation had been brought forward. He said current regulations were "archaic".
He said the social development committee was now going to be more pro-active on the issue.
"The committee has agreed to revisit this issue because we have not had any legislation brought forward by the minister or the department," he said.
"I've had expressed to myself the frustrations of a number of people out there who thought, 'Well, we took part in the consultation, we were asked for our opinions and it went nowhere'.
"It's time for change and it's time to overhaul the legislation."
A spokesperson for Nelson McCausland said: "The department consulted on changes to the law on the sale and supply of alcohol in 2012. The consultation generated considerable interest with over 2,500 responses and a report on the outcome of the consultation was published in December 2013.
"The minister has previously indicated his support for permitting licensed premises an opportunity to apply to the courts for extension of late opening to 02:00 BST for special occasions (01:00 BST on Sundays) on a limited number of nights per year and also supports the proposal to allow normal late opening on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter Sunday.
"The minister also outlined how he has no plans for further changes to opening hours on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
"The minister is currently giving careful consideration to all of the issues consulted upon and expects to make an announcement on the way forward in the near future."