Northern Ireland

When Beer and Politics Collide

The Northern Ireland public go to the polls on 5th May to elect a new Stormont assembly but do politicians actually listen or respond to the ordinary man and woman in the street?  At this time when they’re knocking on doors and pleading for your vote, why should you vote for one candidate over the other?  Do you really know what their stance is on issues that matter to you?  Using a pseudonym, (I’ve no idea why either) I put on my beer hat the other week and contacted all 15 candidates standing in my constituency of East Antrim to see what they had to say.

Here’s my email –

Ahead of the upcoming election in May, I have a couple of questions which would go someway to deciding who gets my vote in East Antrim.  I am interested to know if…

1.    You would support small Northern Ireland breweries by introducing a new category to the licensing laws to allow them to ‘sell at source’ ie, sell beer directly to the public from the brewery … and to encourage global brewers such as Diageo (Guinness) and Tennent’s (who both own the vast majority of NI pubs) to offer a guest draught beer option to improve the small NI brewer’s access to the market.

2.    You are in favour of changing the licensing laws at Easter to bring them into line with the rest of the UK.

Craft brewing has never been as popular as now in Northern Ireland but the industry can only survive with help from local government.  At the moment this is not happening.


Time passed. Six replied, nine did not.  Here are the replies, some more positive than others, but that’s for you to decide, as is where your valuable 1,2,3 etc vote goes on the ballot paper.

Thank you for getting in touch.
As it happens I am so what of an amateur Brewer myself and would totally support the introduction of a new category to the licensing laws. I believe many of our laws here are totally archaic and I would fully support the Easter licensing law being brought into line with the rest of the U.K.
I hope this helps and if you have any other questions please feel free to get in touch.

John Stewart – UUP

Thank you for your letter.   
As you may know Sinn Féin will be launching our manifesto on April 27 as part of the Assembly election campaign.   
However, given space and the need to keep it manageable we are restricted as to how much we can include.   
As a party it is not our practice to endorse other manifestos, rather we go to the electorate seeking their mandate on our own manifesto.   
We would hope that our manifesto sufficiently addresses the issues that you have raised and will allow you to support Sinn Fein on May 5th.

Oliver McMullan – SF

Thanks for your email in relation to brewing.
I cannot claim to be an expert in the licensing laws, but I have been working alongside Hospitality Ulster (previously Pubs of Ulster) to modify the laws in Northern Ireland in the new Assembly term. Only last week I held a meeting of publicans in the Newtownabbey area to discuss what reforms are necessary in order to assist the hospitality industry and I have given my support to any sensible reforms without delay.
On the issue of ’selling at source’, I am sympathetic to a new category of license, not least because of the growth of local breweries and distilleries in NI.
It is my understanding that once the new Assembly is elected a package of reforms will be introduced and you will be able to make an input into this piece of work.

Alastair Ross – DUP 

You raise a couple of interesting points. I would support a change to the licensing laws to try and help the trade. I would also be interested in helping the small Independant brewers. I have discovered a few locally recently and I for one would appreciate the products being made more available with more people getting the chance to sample some excellent products . 
Again thank you for the email and raising these issues and if I can help any further please get in touch.

David Hilditch – DUP

Thank you very much for your email in relation to my views on the licensing laws in Northern Ireland.  I am certainly in favour of changing the licensing laws as at present we seem to have some nonsensical inconsistencies in regard to when and where alcohol can be sold and I am more than happy to ensure that those are changed and indeed our First Minister, Arlene Foster, has already committed to changing the licensing laws at Easter time and I am more than happy to support any such efforts.
With regard to the other issue that you have raised about allowing breweries to sell at source.  This is not an issue that I have had raised with me before, however I am more than happy to look into this and see what action we can take and what changes could be made.  Certainly if you have any further information for me in regard to this I am more than happy to consider it and will certainly ensure this is an issue that is considered at the start of the next Assembly term, should I be returned.
I hope this information is helpful to you.  If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to get in contact with me.

Gordon Lyons – DUP

(Updated response 25 April)
I can not say I am an expert in Licensing laws myself but I have been committed to learning more about them. 

It is in my best interests to support all small businesses as best I can & listen to what they want. Therefore I would support change to licensing laws that includes changes to licensing laws at Easter to bring them into line with the rest of the UK. 
However I stress that incentives must be offered to workers i.e triple pay, Their rights must be protected and they shouldn’t feel obliged to work on Easter. 
A concern that I have heard frequently is helping Draught beer access the market; this is a big concern that needs addressed; Diageo & Tennants won’t permit it, only their own brands. As a possible public representative, I will raise this concern & I will do my best to address this concern.

To help do as much as we can for small N.I breweries: myself, party colleagues & some local bar owners from East Antrim, would love to have the opportunity to meet the owners & workers to discuss what we can potentially do for small Ni breweries.  

Conor Sheridan – Labour Alternative 

Thanks to all who took the time to reply.

15 candidates are standing.

East Antrim 2016 Assembly election
Party Candidate
UUP Roy Beggs Jr
Alliance Stewart Dickson
Alliance Danny Donnelly
DUP David Hilditch
UKIP Noel Jordan
DUP Gordon Lyons
PUP Jim McCaw
SDLP Margaret Anne McKillop
Sinn Féin Oliver McMullan
UUP Maureen Morrow
Green (NI) Dawn Patterson
DUP Alastair Ross
Labour Alternative Conor Sheridan
UUP John Stewart
TUV Ruth Wilson

2 thoughts on “When Beer and Politics Collide

  1. Good work, though you can see from Conor's reply that this is really best led by industry rather than consumers. Politicians listen more when it's about job creation and revenue raising rather than punters wanting something nicer to drink.

    One question though: “Diageo (Guinness) and Tennent's (who both own the vast majority of NI pubs)” Where did you get this from? The notion of a “tie” in Northern Ireland's pubs comes up again and again from pub and beer campaigners. What is the nature of this tie? It's not ownership, surely?


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