By Paul Ainsworth

SOUTH Belfast bars and nightclubs should be allowed to operate later into the night, according to the Chairman of the Council’s Licensing Committee.

Balmoral rep Tom Ekin, an Alliance party councillor, spoke out following an agreement to extend the opening hours of one of South Belfast’s most popular nightclubs, the MClub in Bradbury Place.

Last week, members of Belfast City Council’s Licensing Committee agreed to extend the venue’s opening hours, allowing revellers to stay until 3am between Monday and Saturday. The decision will now be put before councillors at the November monthly meeting to be ratified.

The MClub’s owners, Wine Inns Ltd, had appealed for the extension in order to “remain competitive in today’s marketplace” due to people leaving home for nights out later in the evening. They also warned that the Bradbury Place/Shaftesbury Square entertainment area would suffer financially as partygoers deserted the ‘Golden Mile’ for other areas of Belfast, including the Cathedral Quarter, where a number of popular bars and clubs are located. No-one from Wine Inns was available for comment.

Speaking to the South Belfast News, Councillor Ekin said the Council should “offer what people want” in terms of opening hours, but stopped short of supporting calls for allowing alcohol to be served past 1am.

“We only had one objection to this, and it was about the possible noise of bottles and bins being emptied rather than revellers,” he said.

“We have to try and meet the market demand, and it looks like people do want to be able to stay out a bit later at night. Also, in terms of keeping trade in this area it seems to be a sensible idea. Our only concern is the PSNI being able to provide cover for the area and not neglect duties anywhere else.”

However, referring to proposals several years ago to extend the alcohol licence across the city, he continued: “I’ve heard people say it could make us more European, but until we learn to behave more like Europeans it’s not likely in the foreseeable future. There is still a worrying culture of binge drinking here, and being able to purchase and consume alcohol later than 1am might just encourage excessive drinking, adding pressure on areas like South Belfast, where there’s a large number of entertainment venues.”

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