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More than £80,000 of booze bought in Stormont's bars

More than £80,000 worth of alcohol has been purchased at Stormont's venues in recent years
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT's bars and restaurants have sold more than £80,000 worth of alcohol in the past seven years.

MLAs, civil servants and guests spent £81,182.95 buying booze in the assembly between 2009/10 and 2015/16, new figures show.

The members' bar and dining room racked up the most alcohol sales at more than £61,000.

Campaigners have previously criticised the availability of alcohol at Stormont, saying that it "sends completely the wrong message".

The latest figures were obtained by The Irish News through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Stormont buildings have five venues that sell alcohol – Blue Flax, the members' bar, the members' dining room, Cafe Recess and the assembly gift shop.

Another catering outlet, the Brasserie, was closed in March 2011. The Press Bar closed in September 2010 and immediately reopened as tea-and-coffee outlet Cafe Recess.

Blue Flax opens at 8am, while the members' bar opens at 10am.

In its FOI response, the assembly said the members' bar and dining room had the most sales because alcohol supplied for various events and functions are traded through these venues.

A spokesman said that all sales are net of VAT and include beers, ciders, wine, spirits and liqueurs.

The sale of alcohol at parliamentary buildings on both sides of the border has faced criticism in recent years.

In 2013 there was criticism of the Dáil bar amid the 'Lapgate' controversy, when then Fine Gael TD Tom Barry pulled colleague Aine Collins onto his lap during a recess in a lengthy abortion legislation debate.

Mr Barry apologised over the incident and said he had been drinking, but not "excessively".

At the time Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams called for new restrictions on alcohol sales in the Dáil private members' bar.

In the same year Alcohol Concern's then chief executive Eric Appleby hit out at the availability of alcohol at Stormont when details of booze sales emerged.

"Having a workplace environment where booze is available all day from numerous bars sends completely the wrong message. In fact it's impossible to imagine any other workplace where alcohol would be so freely and constantly available," he said.

"If we're to change our drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse it's time politicians led by example."

The assembly said alcohol can be purchased either by individuals or the various organisations, agencies and departments that use parliament buildings.

It said each venue is accessible to all individuals, as long as they are accompanied by authorised users, and that they can cater for private events, public events and visitors to Stormont.

And since last year the public has had access to the members' bar and dining room during assembly recess periods without the need to be accompanied by authorised users.

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