Change to licensing laws must work for all - not just The Open
HOSPITALITY Ulster has long campaigned for changes to Northern Ireland's licensing laws on behalf of the hospitality industry. The evidence of the benefit that reforming our licensing laws would bring are obvious and multiple and we have consistently made the case of the economic impacts for the region.
That's why the recent short-sighted Department for Communities consultation to allow it the power to designate a limited number of events taking place in Northern Ireland as a ‘special event' is so disappointing.
The department, having designated the ‘special event', would then have the power to increase the hours for the sale of alcoholic drinks at that event and allow off-sales.
Let's be clear - this is a knee jerk consultation to hastily amend liquor licensing legislation to give increased hours and allow off-sales for alcohol at The Open this July. It does nothing to address the restrictive legislation that negatively impacts the hospitality industry and doesn't even limit the off-sales of products from our local brewers and distillers.
What about the rest of the industry? These changes might benefit the big companies that come here for a short time to run these big events, but it completely ignores the challenges faced by the hospitality industry here, who have lobbied for modernisation of liquor licensing for years.
To compound matters, there was a Bill that would deal with most of the issues facing the hospitality industry that has been stalled by the collapse of the Assembly over two years ago.
Hospitality Ulster has sought urgent meetings with the head of the civil service David Sterling and Secretary of State Karen Bradley, calling on them to intervene and get the wider liquor licensing laws sorted as part of this process once and for all.
If Westminster can legislate on this issue, then the wider liquor licensing laws should be sorted as part of this process once and for all, instead of just giving special status to big event promoters who will be gone as soon as they arrive.
Everybody in Northern Ireland, whether they're interested in golf or not, wants The Open to be a success. It's a wonderful opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland as a fantastic tourism destination and the home of the greatest hospitality businesses in the world.
But our civil servants should not be bending over backwards to rush through legislation for The Open, whilst ignoring the businesses that are the backbone of our tourism industry. The outcome of this consultation isn't going to support those businesses.
The Open may be worth £80 million to the local economy as a one off. But our members contribute £1.2 billion to the Northern Ireland economy every year.
It's time that our civil servants and politicians recognised the value and importance of our hospitality industry and act to support its sustainability and the growth by introducing legislation for all and not just those who enjoy a round of golf.
:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster