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NI trade frustrated by RoI Easter changes

February 28th, 2018 | by LCN Editor
NI trade frustrated by RoI Easter changes

A recent decision by the Irish parliament to repeal its blanket ban on Good Friday alcohol sales has sparked renewed consternation among traders north of the border, most of whom remain frustrated by our restrictive Easter trading regime.

It’s long been the argument that tourists who visit Northern Ireland over the Easter period are left confused and frustrated by the current licensing legislation, which imposes additional trading restrictions over a four-day period.

Many local people will take their trade over the border for the holiday period and this, combined with lost tourist revenue, is believed to cost the northern hospitality trade around £16m a year in lost takings.

Now, traders here feel that with the end of the century-old Good Friday ban in the Republic, the outlook for Easter trading on this side of the border can only get worse.

House Belfast director, Michael Stewart, a well-known figure in the trade across Belfast, has been involved in campaigning for liquor licensing reform here for 30 years and he says the situation has become “ridiculous”.

“This absolutely has a downward effect on our business,” he told LCN this month. “Easter always falls on different days, but it has traditionally signalled the start of the tourist season here. But you see it all the time. Tourists come to Northern Ireland and they’re confused. They can’t understand why they can’t have a drink with their meal, and the ludicrous thing about it all us that you can walk into a supermarket on Good Friday and buy whatever you want.”

Calling for an end to the stalemate at Stormont, Michael pointed out licensing was a devolved matter:

“Nothing will happen while there is no government,” he added. “The trade bodies and the people are agreed that we need a balanced approach that will see this issue resolved.”

Restaurateur, Tony O’Neill, who owns Coppi and Buba in St. Anne’s Square, Belfast, said that he was “concerned” by news of the changed arrangements in the Republic and “frustrated” by the continued lack of reform in the north:

“This is 2018 and I think we need to move with the times,” he added. “Let the people decide what they want to do.

“The Good Friday arrangements do come as a shock to people, they just don’t understand, they don’t know why they can’t get served and they get frustrated, especially the Spanish and Italians who don’t generally go out until 10pm or after it.”

Calling for issues of religion and politics to be kept separate, Tony said that he felt Belfast should be allowed to thrive as the cosmopolitan city that it was.

Colin Neill of trade body, Hospitality Ulster, warned that the decision by the government in the Republic meant that the NI trade was now “further behind in the race to attract tourists at Easter”. Calling for a quick modernisation of the current legislation, Colin added:

“The time is well past where the decision-makers responsible for licensing law can sit on their hands and procrastinate. They must enact legislation which brings our Easter licensing laws into the modern era and which allows all those hard working people in the hospitality sector to trade on a level playing field with those in the south.”

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