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Speaking on behalf of the Public Affairs community here in Northern Ireland, we would like to extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Jo Cox MP on her untimely passing this week.

This week after many years of consultation and stalling by previous incumbents, the new Minister for Communities, Paul Givan said that he will be bringing a paper to the Northern Ireland Executive in a bid to develop a draft bill to modernise liquor licensing legislation in Northern Ireland.

Despite being a part of the world that loves a drop, has a decent hospitality offer, and is a place that many tourists visit, our current liquor licensing regime is archaic and not fit for purpose.

It may come as a surprise to many, but NI is currently operating with severely outdated legislation, some pieces as old as Noah’s Ark itself. We need to modernise the law in order to provide the unique hospitality experience that we are known for, and what people come here for. For example, Easter is one of the key times in the year when families get together, people come home from abroad and many have a few days off to relax and enjoy themselves, yet NI is a graveyard in terms of allowing the hospitality sector to trade due to restrictive opening hours. Recent figures by the leading lobby group Hospitality Ulster, said that around £16million is lost across the Easter weekend due to the fact that the sector cannot open like many other weekends of the year.

On balance also, health statistics also show that problem drinking has been on the rise for a number of years in Northern Ireland. Drinking at home has been cited as a major issue and it is hoped that the updating of liquor licensing legislation can also help address and promote the responsible retailing of alcohol.

This progress has been welcomed by Hospitality Ulster and sets out a path to develop a piece of legislation that can address many barriers to growth and also increase the tourist offer and visitor experience. Statistics show that tourist numbers to Northern Ireland are increasing year on year, however spend is down, so there is a pretty obvious contributory reason as to why this is the case.

After the paper is submitted to the Executive by the new Minister at the end of June, a draft bill is likely to be introduced before the Assembly summer recess and will be consulted upon over the summer also. Let’s hope by Easter next year we can enjoy a drink with friends and family out in one of Northern Ireland’s fine establishments.