Responsible publicans ‘need not fear’ new licensing law

LARNE pubs and off-licences could be shut down if they are caught serving alcohol to underaged drinkers under tough new laws introduced this month.

Under the Licensing and Registration of Clubs Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, any licensed premises convicted of selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 could be given penalty points.

And if a premises accumulates 10 points within a three-year period, its licence may be suspended for anything between one week and three months.

The Act has also introduced a new proof-of-age scheme, laying out for the first time acceptable proof of age documentation for licensed premises

These include a passport, driving licence, electoral identity card or a photographic identify card approved by the British Retail Consortium.

Establishments must also display notices describing offences relating to the sale of alcohol to underage people and the purchase of alcohol by, or for, under-18s. The notice will also refer to the documents approved for the purposes of proving age.

One Larne publican has reacted to the legislation with mixed feelings. Natalie Warren, general manager at the Kiln, said that while she welcomed elements of the Bill, she felt the closure measure was “too severe”.

“The new law will help stop underage drinkers getting into the premises. While it is not a major problem at the Kiln, in general it is getting harder and harder to determine the age of some young people, many of whom look much older than they actually are,” she added.

“But what has me worried is that these new regulations are placing the onus unfairly on bars and clubs.

“Parents need to take their share of responsibility for their children, as many young people are getting drunk at home and then going out to bars or clubs pre-loaded.

“I also feel that closing a bar as a punishment is a bit too strict. If a licensed premises is shut down for even the minimum period of one week, it would be very difficult to recover from that much loss of revenue in these tough economic times. Some businesses just won’t survive.”

But chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, Colin Neill, said responsible pub owners have “nothing to fear” from this legislation.

The Larne man added: “This industry is facing massive economic challenges. The world has changed; young people tend to buy more alcohol from supermarkets and drink it at home, with the result that many bars and clubs are losing out.

“Underage drinking remains a big problem across NI and the rest of the UK, and this legislation goes some way to tackle this problem.

“Any premises convicted of selling alcohol to a minor will receive six points on their licence, so if they are detected twice in a three-year period, it will mean an automatic closure.

“While these new measures place the duty of care firmly on licensees, they are designed to help pubs and clubs rather than hinder them. No responsible licensee has anything to fear from the legislation,” Mr Neill concluded.