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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
24-hour pub opening 'a disaster'
People in Northern Ireland do not 'respect' alcohol
Round-the-clock drinking would be "a disaster" for Northern Ireland, a University of Ulster addiction expert has said.

Victor Robinson was speaking as the Department for Social Development confirmed 24-hour licensing would be going out to consultation in November.

It is intended any changes will come into effect in 2007.

"Our psyche is not equipped to handle the 24-hour availability of alcohol," the lecturer said.

"We are not a Mediterranean people, and have not been socialised into the respect for alcohol those cultures have."

"In my judgment, 24-hour availability of alcohol in Northern Ireland will mean the introduction of 24-hour bingeing, not a new age of temperance and moderation."

The review will see a wide range of issues put out for public consultation including flexible opening hours, enforcement and health promotion.

Mr Robinson said in the past religious temperance movements in the province had seen a high percentage of the population remain teetotal.

"But those times are behind us: alcohol and drug use is increasing in Northern Ireland.

Given the prevailing drinking culture, extending licensing hours are more likely to turn our town centres into Faliraki than Florence
Geethika Jayatilaka
Alcohol Concern

"There is an increasing trend for young people to drink alcohol, and for women to drink. Of course, women always did drink, but today their drinking is more public and visible," he said.

Alcohol and addictions present major challenges for Northern Ireland society, he said.

Mr Robinson added that according to recent figures, around 40% of acute hospital beds in Northern Ireland were being taken up by people who misuse alcohol.

The chief executive of the Federation of Retail Licensed Trade, Nicola Carruthers, said their members would welcome some changes to the current legislation.

""I know that a lot of nightclub owners who maybe don't open until 10 o'clock would like something looked at," she said.

"I know the majority of licensees would probably want a bit of additional flexibility around weekends, Christmas and Easter and other special occasions that type of thing.

"But certainly nobody is going to be looking for any vast change and nobody is going to be looking for 24-hour opening."

Alcohol Concern, the national agency on alcohol misuse, expressed its own reservations about extending opening hours in the province.

"Given the prevailing drinking culture, extending licensing hours are more likely to turn our town centres into Faliraki than Florence," said Geethika Jayatilaka, director of policy and public affairs at Alcohol Concern.

"In theory the aims of extended opening hours are worthy - reducing crime and disorder and tackling the binge-drinking culture," she said.

"In practice, changes may well increase crime and disorder rather than curb it - putting more pressure on police and struggling emergency services."

The Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland sounded its own warning.

It said evidence from the US, Australia and Europe suggested longer licensing hours meant increased alcohol-related problems.

Public health expert Victoria Creasy said: "Northern Ireland has already seen an increase in binge drinking, with all its associated problems, in the past few years and longer opening hours is the last thing we need."

Pub opening hours to be reviewed
04 Mar 04 |  Northern Ireland

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