Governing alcohol consumption: Who are the winners?

“Excuse me mate, the only reason you could possibly want to go into this club is to get drunk as a skunk, so get back in the car.”

A Belfast taxi man has confidently told me that people in his profession are the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to what’s happening on our streets.

Robert said that when he took passengers from Lavery’s bar in Belfast to a nightclub at 00.45 on May 26th; the PSNI were waiting at the taxi door to tell the punters that there was no point paying £10 in, as they would be enforcing the bar to stop serving alcohol at 1am anyway.

The 3 main arguments of my new friend (and there were many) were:
• The police were overstepping the line getting involved in an individual’s choice to enter the club
• Belfast would never become a thriving European city under current licensing laws
• The economy and health service would suffer as a consequence.

The law is in place for a reason and one cannot argue about people doing their job because of these laws.

The argument I have is whether the right laws are in place.

As things stand people rush drinks into them before 1am then go on to the streets highly inebriated. Robert suggests that, rather than sending drinkers out in this state, they should be allowed to “fizzle out” within the premises of the establishment.

On Rain’s closing time Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster said: “Rain Nightclub has notified Pubs of Ulster of its decision to leave the voluntary agreement regarding 2am closing. The decision to go back to closing at 3am is of course very disappointing and we will be engaging with them to discuss the issue further.”

If the bar is supposed to stop serving at 1am, why does Pubs of Ulster want people thrown out an hour earlier? Would more hypothetical harm not be caused in the unsupervised fresh air?

Justice Minister David Ford has announced he is introducing an on-the-spot fine for being drunk in public that will come into force next week. The fine of £40 applies to indecent behaviour, urination in the street and public drunkenness. Assistant Chief, Constable George Hamilton responded to the announcement: “As part of our Service Excellence programme to deliver speedy, proportionate and visible justice I welcome the introduction of fixed penalty notices for minor offences,” he said.

The disparate powers that be at Stormont are making incongruous laws that encourage a no-win situation. If I had the legislative power within my hands, I would consider allowing pubs and clubs to serve beers but no shots or spirits after 1am – thus enabling punters to enjoy themselves in the club, without getting drunk at an accelerated rate.

The problem is that there is no pleasing everyone. Clubs have their largest mark-up from selling shots, so they will not be keen to serve beer only. Drinkers want the choice to drink what they want.
As things stand, an already crowded A+E department is filled with alcohol related injuries; the bar staff of Rain have told me that shifts are being cut and they are barely making enough to live on; and less people will go to the clubs at all.

Supermarkets continue to offer a much more attractive option of home drinking. The latest Tesco offers include 3 boxes of beer for £20 or 12 Becks for £7: less than the cost of 2 pints of beer in most pubs.

The danger will be that the abuse of alcohol will go unnoticed in people’s homes. As more people choose to stay in, the cultural problem worsens. The traditional family atmosphere in pubs is now non-existent.

Freelance journalist, researcher and writer