The Portman Group has submitted its response to the Northern Ireland Department for Communities’ consultation on liquor licensing laws.

As the responsibility body for drinks producers across the whole of the UK, we have a substantial interest in how products are presented for sale and consumed in terms of alcohol’s wider impact on society.

We welcomed the Department’s recognition that any revisions to regulation should be proportionate and balanced between protecting public health and order and fostering a vibrant alcohol sector, and we are committed to playing our part in helping to reduce the harms related to alcohol.

Whilst we have seen a trend towards lower consumption amongst Northern Irish drinkers, we are always looking at what more can be done to encourage further responsible consumption.

We would advocate an evidence-based and proportionate common-sense approach to alcohol licensing, which balances protecting underage and vulnerable people with the freedom for adults to choose to drink responsibly.

Using extended drinking-up time to encourage safety

We would support an extension of allowable drinking-up time after the end of sales from 30 minutes to 1 hour, to allow a more gradual and orderly dispersal of customers, ease the immediate impact of closing upon neighbouring residents and businesses, and discourage the rapid consumption of products.

Ensuring the responsible use of self-service innovations

We would also back greater explicit restrictions in line with current licensing requirements on the use of self-service alcohol dispensers, such as pour-your-own pint tables and alcohol vending machines, so that their use does not encourage immoderate consumption or inadvertently provide access to under-18s.

We do not believe such innovations should be banned, as they allow adult consumers to enjoy drinking in a novel way, but that their use should take place in a controlled environment where the venue is able to check age and intoxication.

Self-serve taps can be disabled by default and access only given after age is checked by a member of staff. Alerts can also be utilised for staff to check on consumers after a certain volume is dispensed / time elapsed.

Supporting the existing success of self-regulation

We support the Department’s proposal to formally approve industry codes of practice, as the UK is a global leader in effective self-regulation. Our Code of Practice aims to ensure that alcohol is marketed in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable.

We call on the Northern Ireland Executive to encourage licensees to work with the Portman Group and register as a signatory to support our Codes of Practice. Our Advisory Service Team can also give guidance to both retailers and on-trade licensees about ensuring their promotions are responsible and do not, for example, encourage immoderate consumption or drunkenness.

A full copy of the consultation can be found here.