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Stormont should guarantee licensing law reform

The Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster has called on political leaders to guarantee Northern Ireland’s liquor licensing laws are reformed with the restoration of the Assembly at Stormont.

Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee inquiry into tourism in Northern Ireland earlier today, Hospitality Ulster CEO Colin Neill called on the Northern Irish political parties to give a written commitment that licensing laws will be reformed with the restoration of the Assembly at Stormont as a matter of urgency.

Colin Neill was responding to questions about how to improve the tourism industry in Northern Ireland and a recent consultation from the Department of Communities on reforming licensing laws. That consultation suggested small reforms to licensing laws that would only benefit big one-off events such as The British Open in Portrush this July.

Colin Neill told the Committee that the industry objected to the proposals in the consultation because it did not benefit the wider hospitality industry, that had been waiting years from modernisation of our outdated legislation. He told the Select Committee MPs present that while the British Open is predicted to bring £80m into the Northern Irish economy, there was nothing in the consultation that would benefit the wider hospitality industry which contributes £1.2bn to the Northern Irish economy every year.

However, the Hospitality Ulster CEO said that his membership were keen to support the Open and other special events, and realised the changes were needed. Going on to say that the industry may be willing to support the changes recommended by the Department if they had written commitments from the Northern Irish political parties that wider licensing law reform would be a priority of any restored Assembly.

In response to a question from Ian Paisley MP, Colin Neill said: “We are 100% supportive of the Open and want it to be an incredible success. Indeed, if we could get guarantees from the political parties that they would put legislation in place with the restoration of the Assembly, I’m sure my members would say that’s a fair deal.”

The Hospitality Ulster CEO told North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon MP that firm guarantees of wider reform were needed to support the Northern Irish tourism industry.

In response to a question from Lady Sylvia Hermon Colin Neill said: “We want to see a wider bill to reform liquor licensing; fuller legislative change; small isolated amendments don’t help; we just can’t have cake tomorrow and nothing thereafter.”