Derry hoteliers have called on MLAs to legislate so they can host school formals and weddings - hugely important trade for them - without running the risk of prosecution.
Janice Gault, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and Ciaran O’Neill of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel, who is President of the NIHF, briefed MLAs as new licensing legislation was going through the committee stage at Stormont.
Ms Gault and Mr O’Neill told members school formals will bring in over a hundred thousand pounds for Derry hotels this winter.
They said a sensible approach is needed to allow hotels carry on this important trade while also safeguarding young people.
Ms Gault said: “For underage events - formals and other events of that nature - we would like a code of practice put in place that is workable, not bureaucratic, and cost-effective.
“Our members face a situation at the moment in which they are, effectively, breaking the law.”
She went on to state: “Being from Derry, I know that about £120,000 is tied up in formals over the winter.
“The current situation is that people go to their formal at 3pm, leave the hotel at 9pm and then go to other premises.
“Alternatively, they have the event across the border.”
She added: “For us, there is a larger, emotive part of this: a lot of people form an emotional relationship with a hotel at their formal.
“It is the first place they go to as an adult, and a number of them meet their future husband there, although that may not be the person whom they took to the formal.
“They form a relationship. If that does not happen when they are aged 17 or 18, we may miss out.”
Mr O’Neill said uncertainty is unhelpful and damaging for local hoteliers.
“It is a difficulty for our members, the hotel owners who have been running those events for 12 or 13 years while the message was grey.
“Then, in April, the message came out that they cannot run them. If you budget for a bank, you budget for cash flow. Our members have had a severe chunk of their revenue in an off-peak period removed.”
The Derry hotel experts also complained that the law is currently not reflective of the needs and wishes of society in that hotels are effectively breaking the law if they have children on their premises after 9.30pm at a family wedding or event.
Ms Gault said: “Come 9.30pm, it is currently illegal for children to be at weddings. If the PSNI were to police that, it could charge most hotels every weekend with having children at a wedding after 9.30pm.
“I do not think that any parent wants to put their children in a bedroom and leave them there. We are not talking about children running around a bar; the events are in the function area.
“Some way of facilitating children until a specific time would certainly make things easier.
“We have looked at other jurisdictions where children seem to be encouraged to remain in that sort of environment. We are left in a position where they are not, so putting in place a code of practice that is specific to a family event or a family celebration would be one way around the problem.”