Published Tuesday, 24 July 2012
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UTV NEWS POLL
Should pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland be allowed to stay open later?
A consultation launched by Nelson McCausland could give some bars an extra hour of opening on special occasions, while the sale of alcohol in supermarkets may be further restricted.
The Minister said he wants to tackle the "increasingly unhealthy relationship with alcohol", adding that too many people die because of drink misuse.
Although the abuse of alcohol costs the public health in NI £900 million a year, and almost 300 people died directly from misuse in 2010, Mr McCausland said he recognised that drink is a major sustainer of jobs in the hospitality industry.
"It is a sad paradox however that the decline in pubs, which offer the safest and most regulated place to consume alcohol, has come alongside what seems to be an increase in drinking and alcohol-related problems," he said.
Any bars that took up the extra opening hour would have to pay a fee to cover the additional cost of emergency service cover during the period. Mr McCausland has also proposed late opening on the Thursday and Sunday before Easter Saturday - when pubs and bars usually shut early.
Pubs of Ulster's Colin Neill said they are "greatly encouraged" by the changes to opening hours over Easter.
"As recognised by the minister, the licensed trade makes a significant contribution to the local economy and plays a vital role in communities throughout Northern Ireland.
"The consultation creates an opportunity to bring about some positive change in the industry by striking a balance between supporting business and creating a safe, regulated environment for people to enjoy.
"Not only that, it also offers the opportunity to modernise the current licensing laws and bring Northern Ireland's night-time economy into the 21st century," he added.
At supermarkets, alcohol-only checkouts would be created, which means anyone wanting to buy drink would have to queue up twice, and a solid wall would be put up between alcohol displays and the shopper.
The consultation is open for 16 weeks.