Published Monday, 21 July 2014
Among the changes to be brought forward are plans to allow bars to apply for permission to sell alcohol until 2am - but only up to 12 times per year.
"The challenge is finding the right balance," the DUP politician said.
"Many of those who responded to the public consultation argued that the law in Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the law in England and Wales, where there are fewer restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
"Given the experience in England and Wales since their law was relaxed in 2005, I do not believe it is sensible to go down that road."
Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity and it is clear that excessive alcohol consumption has a negative impact on people's health, their relationships, and on society generally.
Nelson McCausland, DUP
The plans come after consultations in 2012 with the drinks industry, health bodies and the public.
However, the body which represents the retail licensed trade in Northern Ireland has said that the changes to what it calls "antiquated" alcohol sales laws are welcome, but do not go far enough.
"There is still a way to go before the industry here sees true modernisation of the system," Chief Executive Colin Neill said.
Other proposed changes include:
- restrictions on the advertising of alcohol in supermarkets and off sales premises
- modest changes to the Easter opening hours for public houses, with normal opening hours applying on the Thursday and Saturday before Easter
- the alignment of the alcohol and entertainment licensing systems to make enforcement of the law on late opening easier for the police
- formal approval for codes of practice on the responsible sale of alcohol
- minor changes to the law affecting private members clubs
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has also announced a review of entertainment licensing legislation, including the structure and level of fees for entertainment licences.
"I want to make sure that Northern Ireland has a sensible system in place which does not put undue obstacles in the way of businesses, but ensures that the public are not put at risk and the entertainment does not create an unreasonable nuisance to residents in the area," he said.
"I have invited representatives from various interest groups - including the entertainment sector, local government, the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service - to look at the current legislation and make recommendations to me on any changes needed by the end of the year.
"I am hoping to bring forward changes to complement those announced by Minister McCausland."
But, according to Pubs of Ulster, more work needs to be done around the licensing laws to make Northern Ireland more tourist-friendly.
This occasional licence needs to be allowed at least every weekend, not on 12 occasions as proposed.
Colin Neill, Pubs of Ulster
"The fact that our pubs are still restricted on certain days over Easter weekend, which has become an important holiday weekend in terms of customer demand, means that many pubs will continue to lose out at this time of the year," Colin Neill added.
"Whilst we acknowledge the Minister's intentions to modernise the system, Pubs of Ulster believe there is still room for improvement.
"We will continue to press for further changes in the law to ensure that we have a licensing system that is modern and fit for the 21st century, but is still safe and regulated."
Mr McCausland insists: "While I am keen to ensure that licensing laws assist in supporting the hospitality industry and tourism, it must be in a way that does not add to the difficulties we already have with alcohol as a society."
Full details of the proposed changes are available on the DSD website here.
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