3rd Jun 2019 in Food & Drink

The owner of a number of key hospitality businesses in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter says “education is vital” to improving Northern Ireland’s drinking culture.

Bill Wolsey, who owns the Beannchor Group which includes the Merchant and Bullitt Hotels, Cloth Ear, Dirty Onion and National Cafe.

Speaking to the BBC, he said anyone who would have boasted of drinking to excess around 15 years ago would be considered a “half wit” today.

His comments coincide with the Department of Health launching a consultation exercise on measures to address alcohol and drug abuse.

Mr Wolsey insists people are drinking less and pubs, hotels and restaurants have moved to adapt.

“When I started I was taught it was better to serve six people one pint than one person six pints. Pubs have changed to deal with social needs of people – and food has played a big part“ he said.

Mr Wolsey said his establishments were strict and would not serve anyone to the point they became drunk and stag and hen parties were barred.

“The vast majority of our customers come in and take one to two to three drinks and they go home in a sober state,” he continued.

He said people’s idea of a night out had changed pointing to a generational shift in attitudes.

“You no longer hear people say they are going out to get hammered. That just doesn’t happen,” he continued.

“It was only about 15 years ago somebody was drunk and staggering around the place and had some boastful story to tell. Now that person is looked on as some sort of half wit. It has absolutely changed.”

Mr Wolsey said education was the way forward on improving attitudes to drinking and he had no objection to warning labels on bottles of drink.

“As a publican of 40 years the changes have been dramatic. No doubt about it some young people are drinking a lot. In disadvantaged areas some kids absolutely do drink too much.

“But you see less and less people getting drunk.”

The Department of Health has launched a new consultation to get the public’s views on alcohol and drug abuse.

The department’s permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly, said: “I want to start the conversation about what a new or improved substance strategy might look like. The pre-consultation exercise gives the public the opportunity to have their say on the vision, focus and priorities of a strategy and to directly inform future developments in policy and practice.”

Mr Pengelly said a recent review of the current strategy had found some “encouraging signs” of reductions in binge drinking and drug misuse among youths.

“However, substance misuse is still an ongoing problem which is reflected in the tragic alcohol and drug related deaths we are still seeing,” he said.

But Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said drug and alcohol abuse is “still having a huge impact on society”.

“We need to look for new and innovative ideas and we want to have a wider conversation about substance misuse in society,” he added.

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