There’s something just so appealing about an afternoon pint on Good Friday. Unfortunately for us, in the North and South of Ireland, the concept of this is about as realistic as an atheist’s view towards the very reason the day is remembered.
Easter is a weird time of the year for the Irish. We’re granted time off work, but what can we actually do with it? The situation in the Republic of Ireland isn’t as bad as it once was. Good Friday had traditionally been a dry day, but recently, plans to lift the 90 year old restriction on the sale of alcohol have been revealed for next year. However, things look slightly less optimistic in the North.
Earlier in the week Hospitality Ulster Chief Colin Neill stated that Northern Ireland’s bars and restaurants will miss out on a staggering £16 million because of the current laws that restrict opening hours from 5pm-11pm on Good Friday, 11pm on Saturday and 10pm on Sunday. It’s ironic in a sense, then, that an off sales can open from 8am-11pm on Good Friday. Basically, your breakfast can entail chugging away at a three litre of Frosty Jack’s in the comfort of your own home, but God forbid if you take a craving for a freshly poured Guinness in the afternoon.
The situation is made even more laughable when you are gleefully reminded that the DUP pissed £490 million up the wall due to the RHI scandal. As Jordan, of Belfast’s The Night Institute, points out, “It might be nice to establish a legal and culturally beneficial way to recoup that money.”
“In terms of tourism, everyone from hoteliers to taxi drivers can vouch for the fact that visitors are both shocked and dismayed that a night time industry is virtually non-existent here, and at Easter, when they have time off work, there is literally no attraction to Belfast city for social trips.”
Promoters throughout Northern Ireland share Jordan’s bewildered view on the prehistoric laws that still dictate how those that reside within the country spend their hard earned cash. “The people on the hill are the only ones that disagree,” explains Gerard O’Brien of Derry’s BEKUZ. “Unfortunately, as it is with the majority of things, they have the final say.” Timmy Stewart, resident at The Night Institute alongside Jordan and founder of Belfast label Extended Play, echoes the perspective of Gerard. “100% time for a reform. I think, within reason, dictating what anyone does with their own leisure time is beyond prehistoric.”
A reoccurring them within the world of club culture is the lack of political figures accepting clubs as a form of cultural value. “Berlin’s Berghain is now in the same bracket as museums and theatre,” Gerard states. “They even pay a reduced level of tax, all because they see it as a cultural figure, could you imagine something like that happening here!”
The unfortunate thing is, we can’t. I’m not for one minute saying that Belfast is on the same level as Berlin when it comes to a clubbing experience, but just how far off we are in terms of acceptance and tolerance is really quite astonishing. Phil Lucas of Twitch, one of Belfast’s longest running and most respected events, illustrates that “it’s because decisions are being made by people with no care or interest in club culture. They don’t even think of it as being something even to be considered as cultural, it’s more doggedly protecting their personal cultural identity than representing the cultural identity of the wider community.”
We aren’t just moaning about not being able to have fun, either. The brain drain is a very real thing. Phil points this out, highlighting the cultural value that Belfast’s Culture Night showcases and how the long term effects on our local creative community could be impacted negatively if these polices are not altered.
“We get one night a year where they relax their policies and allow a couple of car park raves to show how cultured we can be, and then they slash arts funding and go back to these archaic policies immediately after the same night. We are losing creative people at an alarming rate from these policies. Cities like Berlin and London offer a more supportive network to them, and better nightlife.”
It all seems bit unfair, doesn’t it? Forcing personal and religious views on a community whose majority doesn’t even share them. As Jordan perfectly puts it, “A society of tolerance, respect and equality should allow everyone to follow their faith without discrimination or judgement, and similarly people who follow secular lifestyles, or even less staunch, shouldn’t have theocratic policies imposed upon them unfairly.”
So, is there any possibility of a reform? Things are definitely changing, albeit at a very slow pace. Timmy brings my attention to updated legislation regarding the Thursday before Good Friday, informing me that the update “proposes that an extra two hours will be granted, meaning that bars and clubs can stay open until 1am instead of 11pm. However, the new legislation also proposes that entertainment licenses will be brought into line with alcohol licenses meaning that clubs must close when ‘drinking up time’ finishes. It feels like one step forward and two steps back.”
That, unfortunately, is an all too familiar feeling in Northern Ireland. A country that has come on leaps and bounds in terms acceptance, development and peace is still being tarnished by an ancient law imposed by dinosaurs. The sense of community that exists within the entire island of Ireland is wonderfully refreshing; providing hope that promoters, club goers and artists alike may one day live on an island where creatives, instead of being strangled, are give the opportunity to thrive, and we can finally meet in the bar for that crisp Good Friday afternoon pint.
“Maybe we should stick Phil Kieran and Timmy Stewart in Stormont?” says Gerard. Now there’s a party I’d definitely vote for.