Northern Ireland news

Council halts pub overcrowding probe despite 'Greenvale-type scenario' fears

The Harbour Bar beside the Water World complex in Portrush, Co Antrim. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL'S management ordered a senior official not to visit a pub about an overcrowding complaint despite concerns of a "Greenvale-type scenario".

The senior environmental health officer of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council had planned a follow-up visit to the Harbour Bar in Portrush after a public safety complaint.

Concerns had been raised of overcrowding and street drinking at the pub during The Open golf championship last summer.

In an email to colleagues, an official warned of the need to avoid the potential of a situation unfolding similar to the Greenvale Hotel tragedy in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Three teenagers died in the crush tragedy outside the venue on St Patrick's night last year as hundreds of young people queued to enter a disco.

But shortly before a planned follow-up visit with police and fire service personnel, the senior environmental health officer was told by council management not to attend.

The intervention was revealed through internal correspondence obtained by TUV leader Jim Allister through Freedom of Information requests.

Causeway council said issues raised were addressed and no further action was required.

But Mr Allister has questioned the local authority's response and why some records have either been withheld or heavily redacted.

In a letter to the council, he wrote: "I cannot believe there are not documented records of a decision to issue such a direction in circumstances where environmental health was dealing with the safety of customers and staff."

The Harbour Bar was a popular spot for many golf fans as crowds flocked to The Open at Royal Portrush last July, including many star golfers stopping by for a pint.

On July 17, authorities received a complaint over public safety, involving overcrowding and street drinking.

Police and the council's environmental health department visited the premises and spoke to management and door staff.

In an email to colleagues that night, a council official said they had reminded the pub owners of their duties on safe numbers inside the premises, risks posed by overcrowding and compliance with entertainment licensing.

They wrote: "Whilst we want a successful week we don't want a Greenvale-type scenario either (from a public safety perspective). We reinforced the need for owner to manage this situation by ensuring he was managing his numbers."

They said the pub may place barriers outside the premises to act as an "overspill area".

The following morning, a council official told a colleague that council chief executive David Jackson had raised environmental health's visit with another staff member.

"David J texted Aidan last nite that he was getting complaints ehos [environmental health and safety officers] cleared Harbour Bar," they said in an email.

"This is not my interpretation of what happened and my understanding is we focused on inside and PSNI did most talking as complaint to PSNI arose from another licensed premises."

That afternoon, the senior environmental health officer hand-delivered a formal letter to the premises management.

They had arranged to revisit the pub that evening with the fire service and police.

However, in an internal memo the official said: "Shortly before 1800 I was told not to visit that night by council management... I had been told not to visit the premises."

Council records show that the pub later placed metal barriers outside to help control the number of customers.

PSNI superintendent Jeremy Lindsay said there were subsequently no issues and further police contact was "merely routine patrol".

He said the bar was "much busier than normal" as it had been "well marketed and was very popular with American tourists attending the golf".

"Police spoke to door staff to ask them to reduce the number of people at the front of the bar as some of their patrons were causing minor obstruction of the road," he said in a letter to Mr Allister.

"Following discussion with the management of the complex, door staff implemented a more controlled access and exit policy, maintaining the numbers of people attending that bar to a manageable number and reducing potential obstruction of the roadway."

The council was asked a series of questions about why management told environmental health not to revisit the pub, but the local authority did not answer them.

A spokesman said in a statement: "Council officers and PSNI officers attended following a complaint about overcrowding and on-street drinking. The issues were addressed and no further action was required."

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