The public are being asked how alcohol laws in Northern Ireland can best be changed.

It comes as civil servants responsible for liquor licensing laws have launched a full public consultation, which is open for responses until 6th December.

The consultation asks for views on issues like whether new types of businesses should be allowed to apply for a licence and whether pubs should be allowed to stay open for longer.

CAMRA will be using the consultation to make the case to civil servants that when the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running ministers should change the law to give consumers greater choice, to help local pubs thrive and to allow brewers and cider makers in Northern Ireland to expand their businesses by bringing licensing in line with other parts of the UK.

At the moment, brewers in Northern Ireland are unable to sell their products online. They can’t sell their product in a shop at their brewery, or after a brewery tour – so they face the absurd situation of running brewery tours and being able to sell merchandise like glasses and t-shirts – but not their actual beer. They are also unable to open a regular taproom or sell at local farmers markets or events.

The stranglehold of big international companies over pubs in Northern Ireland also means there are few pubs selling cask ale from local brewers.

So there’s a lot that needs to be done to bring Northern Ireland’s laws into the 21st century and to make sure that locals and tourists alike can get access to high quality, locally produced ales and ciders.

That’s why it is so important that we use this consultation to convince those in charge – both civil servants and politicians in NI – that we need fundamental changes to the current laws.

It’s not the first time people in Northern Ireland have been asked about changes to the law. Earlier in the year, civil servants had agreed that licensing laws should be more flexible for special events. Whilst there was an expectation that the Open golf tournament in July would have been the first such designated ‘special event’ the lack of a functioning Assembly meant no change in the law could be passed.

Since then, CAMRA has argued that Northern Ireland needs wholesale reform of alcohol and licensing laws to improve consumer choice, support pubs and help local brewing businesses.

We recently held an information event at the Northern Ireland Assembly, where CAMRA NI members and local brewers and cider producers spoke to members of the Assembly from all political parties about the challenges and opportunities facing the beer and pubs sector in Northern Ireland, and about the need to bringing alcohol licensing laws into the 21st century.

We’ll be making sure that we use this public consultation to convince civil servants that wholesale reform of licensing laws in Northern Ireland is long overdue and should be a priority when the NI Assembly is back up and running.

CAMRA NI will be producing a template response to help people reply to the public consultation. If you would like to receive a copy of the template, when it is ready, to help you respond to the consultation please contact paul.edgeworth@camra.org.uk

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