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SIBA NI voices concern on reform of liquor licensing laws

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has voiced its concerns of the proposals to reform liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s communities minister, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, announced executive agreement on proposals that will “transform and modernise” the liquor licensing law.

The proposals will now be included in a Bill which will be taken through the legislative process in the Assembly, before becoming law. They include changes in relation to late opening hours for pubs, Easter trading arrangements, advertising in supermarkets, and special events.

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Commenting on the announcement, SIBA head of policy and public affairs, Barry Watts said: “Small independent brewers in Northern Ireland want the freedom to sell their local beers directly to the public, to open taprooms and sell online. 

“Sadly today’s [16 July] proposals fall far short of what small breweries need and mean they can’t meet the customer demand for a greater variety of locally produced beer.”

He added: “We understand that the new category of licence proposed will limit breweries to providing a sample after a tour and will not permit tap rooms which have become common place in England, Wales and Scotland

“A tour only licence severely restricts what breweries can offer and has not been a success when it was recently introduced in the Republic of Ireland. When the industry is struggling to cope with the impacts of Covid-19, Northern Ireland breweries should be allowed the same opportunities as other small brewers in the UK.”

However, chair of the Campaign for Real Ale Northern Ireland (CAMRA) Ruth Sloan said CAMRA NI is “really pleased” that the Assembly has finally been given a chance to bring its alcohol laws into the 21st century.

Sloan said: “The commitment to introduce a new category of licence for local breweries and cider makers is also good news, as current licensing laws are a huge barrier to expanding these local businesses, creating new jobs and helping local independent breweries making the most of the tourist trade.

“However, the devil will be in the detail. Allowing producers to sell their products online is great news, but we want to make sure that small, local and independent breweries have a fair crack of the whip and can sell at local events and markets, as well as in brewery shops and taprooms.”

She added: “MLAs need to make sure this legislation helps independent pubs and local beer and cider makers – not just the big global brewers and pub companies.”

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