Late opening: the problem, or part of the solution?

Ibiza after dark. The island’s liberal licensing laws stand in stark contrast to those in Northern Ireland.

A few weeks since the last post, largely because I have been on holiday, paying my first visit for five years to Ibiza.

Although the primary purpose of the trip was to attend a friend’s wedding, as a huge house music fan it would have been very rude not to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the club scene that took me to the island almost every year between 2002 and 2007.

Belfast’s night time economy has recently been coming to terms with a new ‘voluntary’ agreement that restricts opening hours of virtually all venues to 2.00am. In contrast, many of Ibiza’s best known clubs only reach their capacity around that time, and few of the larger venues shut before 7.00am.

While the authorities here seem to think their citizens are not mature enough to be given the option of staying out until three, much less, all night, I would argue that relaxing opening hours would have the potential to address many of the social problems associated with our night life.

One thing quickly becomes apparent in a club that stays open until 7.00am – most people do not want to stay out until breakfast time, and of those who do, most do not want to keep drinking alcohol until then.

Instead, people gradually trickle out from about 4.00am onward, meaning there is no mad dash for taxis at a uniform closing time (Ibiza’s excellent night bus service further eases the pressure), while even those who may have had a bit too much to drink tend to have sobered up somewhat by the time they hit the streets – greatly reducing the potential for disorder.

As Belfast places further curbs on what were already the UK’s most restrictive opening hours and North Down agonises over whether its citizens are mature enough to handle a bit of strong language from cartoon hip-hop acts, local government in Ibiza embraces its night time economy, with the local authority for Ibiza town a prominent sponsor of the island’s International Music Summit and its open-air closing party.

The Ibiza model is not one Northern Ireland should be adopting wholesale – but we can and should learn lessons from how other countries handle their night-time economies.


About msimpsongpni

Mark Simpson is Environment spokesperson for the Green Party in Northern Ireland and Green Party coordinator in the Balmoral electoral area, Belfast.
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