Police in Mid Ulster have taken the drastic step of objecting to every single late-night entertainment licence sought in the district - whether the applicant is a pub, club, church or theatre.
That means, around 100 locales, whether they hold a liquor licence or not, received a letter telling them the PSNI opposes their application to hold concerts, musical events, discos or even church entertainment after 1am Monday to Saturday, and midnight on Sundays.
The Mid Ulster Mail learned of the move from a confidential source.
Up for discussion at this month’s Environment Committee meeting, the issue was moved to confidential business - meaning reporters are not allowed to be present when councillors discuss it.
Asked why they had taken such a drastic step - which has happened only Mid Ulster - Inspector Daniel Walsh said on behalf of the PSNI: “Police in Mid Ulster are not objecting to the issue of entertainment licences, but rather objections have been made to any and all licences which seek to allow entertainment past 1am Monday to Saturday and after midnight on Sunday.
“This is as a result of numerous complaints received by members of the public living close to licenced premises regarding noise, nuisance and anti-social behaviour across the district.”
But councillors on the Environment Committee said they have received numerous complaints from venues that have never been at the centre of such complaints.
Environment Committee and PCSP member Cllr Mark Glasgow said: “I have had a number of businesses come to me and to my party colleague - businesses within Cookstown and rural businesses as well.
“They are concerned because they had never, from previous applications, had an objection.
“They are angry and they are worried. This is their sole income - without an entertainment licence, they don’t have a business.
“It’s quite pety and it’s quite unrealistic,” he continued. “There’s no anti-social behaviour at church halls or community halls.”
Asked if it had been discussed or agreed by the PCSP - which police said in their letter to council on the issue - Mark added: “The first time this came up was when a letter had been submitted to the Environment Committee to say that there would be objections all over Mid Ulster.
“We discussed it at Environment Committee and I then discussed it again at the night time economy at the PCSP
“I know there have been issues with a number of locations where there have been objections, but every application is different. This is now branding every single applicant with the one title.”
Environment Committee member, Sinn Fein’s John McNamee said he could “understand why people are angry”.
“Some of the people that have contacted me, their business or their club is not even in town and they don’t even hold liquor licences - some have been renewing their licences 15 or 20 years without any issue,” he continued.
We asked police why a blanket approach was being taken in relation to anti-social reports outside a few venues - but got no response to that question.
We also raised the issue of Stormont’s intention to further relax licencing laws, asking if this move was in contradiction to government’s, to which they responded: “Our guidance is currently in line with what we believe is being considered by Stormont regarding the aligning of Licencing hours and Entertainment Licences and our response is a demonstration to those members of the public who are victims of the noise, nuisance and anti-social behaviour, that police are listening to their concerns and acting on their behalf.
“These objections are our recommendation to the council who have the final decision on the matter as to the timings permitted.”
Cllr McNamee has also questioned why venues in Mid Ulster are being treated differently than those throughout the rest of the north.
“While they are objecting here in Mid Ulster, they are not objecting in other areas,” he said. “You take in Belfast and Derry with antisocial issues with the night-time economy.”