Beggs Supports Principles of Licensing Bill at Stormont

East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party MLA, Roy Beggs Jr, has spoken of his support for the principles of a Private Members Bill in licencing, during a debate at Stormont.

Mr Beggs said; “I notice that licensing is yet another area in which the Northern Ireland Executive and in particular, as Dolores Kelly said, the Social Development Minister have failed to address legislation in an area of need. In particular, I notice that there was a 2012 consultation on proposed changes to the law on regulating the sale and supply of alcohol in Northern Ireland. That was almost three years ago, and there were 2,500 responses. What happened after that?

Is this another area where the Executive have been busy consulting and analysing but making no change to meet the needs of our community? Some of those consultation responses would have highlighted the anomaly with, and the absence of, licensing at regional outdoor stadia in Northern Ireland. Yet, no legislative proposals were progressed in that area by the current Social Development Minister or his predecessor over that three-year period.

Going back to the point made earlier, we have produced a detailed consultation, analysed it and then failed to bring about legislative improvement. So, I commend Mrs Judith Cochrane for picking up the issue in her private Member’s Bill to address one of the anomalies in our licensing laws, namely with regard to outdoor regional stadia. I also commend her for gaining a considerable public response to it, which has shown a high level of support for her proposals.

It is quite surprising to think that some of our major sporting and entertainment organisations — the way sport has gone, it is now “sport and entertainment” — have been reliant on an occasional licence as part of their business model to entertain during their regular matches. Should such a business have to operate with such temporary arrangements? It is wrong, and that applies equally to the stadium that is being developed at Windsor Park and the new GAA stadium when one is eventually built. The requirement for a young person to be supervised on the premises as part of the licence is fine. However, the requirement for them to be off the premises by 9.00 pm, which would often be earlier than the end of the sporting event, is just ridiculous in this day and age. We have learned that an amendment was made to enable indoor stadia to be licensed. So, we can license indoor stadia but not outdoor stadia. Clearly there is a gap in our legislation, and this private Member’s Bill appears to be picking up that issue and addressing it.

I note that various sporting bodies can impose their own restrictions. In football guidance, I see that UEFA and FIFA may further limit a stadium above and beyond any local guidance or regulations. Equally, other sporting bodies can impose further sanctions and restrictions if they feel that it is necessary to do so. I noticed in the private Member’s Bill an ability for a court to attach and vary conditions following the intervention of the PSNI district commander. I welcome that. It means that, if issues arise, they can be addressed without the need for further regulations. That is a wise area to have included in the Bill. She has sought to fill a very specific gap in the current legislation: the absence of an outdoor regional stadia licence. I support the principles of the Bill and encourage Members to allow it to move forward to the detailed scrutiny stage.”

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