The meeting arose after what were termed “irresponsible” drinks promotions which, it’s claimed, were partly responsible for the death of a 20 year-old man who drowned after drinking vodka shots at £1 a time at the Odyssey complex one evening last January.
Pubs of Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neil said, “Pubs of Ulster has been working closely with our members and the wider licensed trade to seek a solution to some of the issues currently facing the industry including irresponsible drinks promotions and alleged illegal practices.
"As well as developing a joint industry code of practice on drinks promotions, Pubs of Ulster has also worked with our members to create a new voluntary agreement which will see nightclubs close at 2am.”
He described the measure, now in effect, as “another way that the industry aims to demonstrate its commitment to responsible practices by doing all in its power to address the issues at hand. The voluntary agreement is also a vital step in showing our ability to self-regulate.
"However, whilst we continue to work on improving the industry from within, we can only do so much within the confines of the current licensing laws in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the current laws need to be modernised to address not only late night opening but also issues such as opening times at Easter.
“The first stage in achieving this however is proving that Northern Ireland has an industry that can act responsibly within the current licensing laws. Pubs of Ulster will continue to work with our members to address the issues at hand whilst also working with the Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland and Environment Minister Alex Attwood to develop a responsible way forward on licensing laws."
NI Environment Minister Alex Attwood agreed that this was the right move.
“I want to acknowledge the good work of Pubs of Ulster and promoters who have signed up to closing at 2am,” he stated, “I believe that this gives every reasonable opportunity for people to go out for the night and responsibly enjoy themselves.
“I also believe that it’s time for the Assembly to endorse a common position on drinking and entertainments licences — in particular making both 2am.”
The Minister wants to restrict further the availability of entertainment licences which can mean a 3am closing time for pubs and clubs in NI although all alcohol sales have to cease at 1am (followed by 30 minutes drinking-up time).
Normally, NI licensees can only sell alcohol until 11pm unless they’ve availed of Article 44 in the Liquor Licensing legislation there which permits them to sell alcohol until 1am at the latest on weekdays (or midnight on Sundays) provided they have either live entertainment or a substantial food offering.
The agreement is expected to last until new legislation on the matter can be introduced. In the meantime Pubs of Ulster’s latest draft proposals for a Code of Practice can be seen at http://www.pubsofulster.org/Industry-Representation/Responsible-Retailing-Code