HOTELIERS, publicans and restaurateurs in South Down are excited about the weekend ahead as they are set to experience their first Easter under new licensing laws. Prior to 2022 in Northern Ireland the hours when alcohol could be served was restricted for pubs, restaurants and hotels during the Easter period. Last year it was announced that new licensing laws would be implemented, which would mean bars and restaurants can serve alcohol for the same amount of time at Easter as they do during any other weekend of the year. Pat Maginn, owner of Quinns Bar in Newcastle, says the changes are seismic. He told the Mourne Observer: “It is going to be massive. Things have changed forever. It’s thƒe way forward.” Pat added that the weekend promises to be a busy one for their business. “Newcastle is going to a different level of numbers. If they have 30,000 to 40,000 that could rise to 50,000 to 60,000 people. Especially if it is good weather. “We are expecting a massive influx. There has been no Easter for the past two years because of Covid. Easter is a busy period of the year in Newcastle. You have people off for the bank holidays, the caravan parks are reopened, schools are off, universities are off, foreign visitors arrive, golf courses are open. It is the opening of a brand-new season. “We have 60-70 staff organised for every day of Easter. It is massive for us. We double our staff during the period. “We have live bands and DJs every night from Holy Thursday to Easter Wednesday. We have food on three floors in our bistro, our restaurant and our main bars from 12 to 9 every day. We are gearing up to do large numbers every day.” Pat said the changes to the laws are long overdue. “I was delighted (when the changes were announced), because we have been campaigning for years and years to get people from around the world to come to Newcastle on Easter week. Newcastle is a premium tourism resort. “But the licensing laws are so strict you can’t even have a glass of wine with a meal on Good Friday afternoon. You had to close at 10.15pm on Easter Sunday night. People don’t understand those draconian laws from a bygone age. “It (the law) changed in the south of Ireland a few years ago, and now it has changed here and it is absolutely terrific. “People from England, Scotland, France, and further afield cannot understand why you cannot get a glass of beer on Good Friday afternoon with their fish and chips meal in Quinns Bar or in our bistro. “We had to clear the bar at midnight on Easter Saturday night. People just don’t understand the logic in that.” Chrissie McKinley is the General Manager of the Donard Hotel. The new Easter licensing laws coincide with the opening of their restaurant for the first time in the season. “Our restaurant has been closed since December for the winter, and this is the first weekend that we will be opening. We are delighted. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend to open (the restaurant). “I am expecting to see a lot of trade. I think there is excitement among people about the change in the licensing. Even outside of the trade.” Easter is usually a busy time for the hotel, however Chrissie explained that the old Easter licensing laws were a problem, particularly when 40 per cent of their trade is from outside of Ireland and the UK. “We get a lot of business from Royal County Down Golf Club and the Americans couldn’t really wrap their head around why we couldn’t serve them alcohol at certain times. It lost us trade down the years. “People said that they found the laws strange, those were their words. “It lost us revenue and it causes confusion. We have had private events and people have asked to have the bar open. We couldn’t open it until a said time, then we had to close it early. “They would be unhappy with the product we were offering, so it affected us as a hotel. If you are offering a product to a guest and you can only give it halfheartedly at certain times in the year then it was coming back on us as a property and our product.” But now, with the introduction of new licensing laws, along with life gradually returning to how it was before the pandemic, there is a feeling that business could take a turn for the better. Chrissie said: “It has been a struggle for all in the industry. “We have had a hard time during the pandemic. Our business took a massive blow. It has been a difficult time for people working in hospitality. It has been difficult for customers because there has been a lot of confusion. “I am looking forward to moving forward on a positive note. “It feels like we are stepping into a modern era. It is a really positive step. “It means we can be more flexible and we can offer our full product.” Phil Patterson from the Dundrum Inn said that it may take longer than people think for business to improve. He told the Mourne Observer how he felt when he heard that the Easter licensing laws were to change. “Optimism was my first thought, then some reality kicked in. It will take a few years to bed in for guests, we are moving in the right direction.” Phil said that Easter has not usually been as busy as it could be because of those laws. “Traditionally Easter has been condensed into a short trading period, that put pressure on our kitchens and front of house, some consumers just gave up and stayed away from hospitality due to the complex laws around trading hours.” He described the changes to the laws as sensible, and he expects a positive weekend ahead. “This year in Dundrum we expect to be buoyant, a sensible extension of trading allows us to deliver a better customer experience, we are now famous for our welcome and creamy Guinness. “We look forward to welcoming our locals and visitors this Easter at Dundrum Inn, whilst respecting this very precious Christian time of year.” Phil added that the positives to the law changes are obvious. “We can all consume food and drinks leisurely and responsibly without early closing or binge drinking.” If there is a negative, according to Phil, it might be how we get a taxi when so many more people are out and about.