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Counter Culture / June 17, 2021

Northern Ireland based creatives launch not-for-profit organisation ‘Free The Night’

Free The Night - Credit: Gregg Reid @hundredstudio
Counter Culture / June 17, 2021

Northern Ireland based creatives launch not-for-profit organisation ‘Free The Night’

Words: Dylan Murphy

The group was born out of the intention to campaign for progressive entertainment licensing and a stronger night time economy.

Today, Northern Ireland based group Free The Night launch their campaign for a more progressive nighttime economy.

Made up of volunteers determined to create a safe, progressive and culturally rich environment for nightlife in Northern Ireland including Give Us The Night Founder Sunil Sharpe and Holly Lester.

Created in response to restrictive licencing laws and ineffective amendments to the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill, Free The Night want Northern Ireland to be a safe, culturally rich environment with a thriving nighttime economy in line with other countries across the UK and Europe.

You can read more about Free The Night’s objections to the proposals here.

In Northern Ireland licensing laws permit pubs, bars and nightclubs that have licenses to serve alcohol until 11pm, 12am or 1am. Most venues have a 30-minute drinking up time. Some venues can apply for a 3am entertainment license. The proposed amendments will now permit all bars and pubs, which previously served alcohol until 11am or 1am, to sell alcohol until 2am. Nightclubs and other entertainment venues must still finish by 3am and must now only operate until this time for 104 nights per year.

Though the government in Northern Ireland has been reviewing the entertainment licensing laws since 1996, the country has seen a reduction of opening times, more restrictions on venues and a lack of clarity on why since then.

The opportunity to rebuild and grow the economy in the aftermath of the ongoing pandemic appears to be a pipedream right now. Opening times remain the most restrictive across the UK and Europe and the lack of progressive action within Northern Ireland’s night time economy could lead to further venue closures, job losses and continued ‘creative drain’, as many natives move away to experience more rich, diverse creative cultures in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, London, Amsterdam and Berlin.

Speaking on the Northern Ireland Licensing Laws, homegrown artist duo Bicep say,  

“Having lived in London for 10 years, we’ve had a chance to experience 24 hour nightlife which we feel has been a massive improvement on what we experienced growing up in NI. It personally seems crazy to eject the entire city at the same time causing mass bottlenecking of everything from taxis to emergency services.”


  • To extend entertainment licensing and improve licensing structures.
  • A comprehensive review of licensing which will allow the creative industry to bounce back post-pandemic and grow the night time economy. 
  • To remove any licensing restrictions which negatively impact the growth of the night time economy.
  • A safe environment for all members of society in our towns and cities at night.
  • A better infrastructure for those who work and go out at night.
  • The creation of safe, inclusive, multi-purpose spaces for communities and the protection of existing spaces. 

Speaking on the Free the Night Campaign, Holly Lester says: 

“We have waited 25 long years for some progression with licensing laws here in NI – the recent proposals just aren’t good enough. Given what has happened during the last fifteen months, these reviews should have been seen as an opportunity to help the entertainment and creative sector bounce back. Instead, we remain firmly behind the rest of the UK when it comes to progression and modernisation of the night time economy. We want to highlight the cultural value of these sectors and provide a better infrastructure long-term for those who work in the night time economy. We are tired of worrying about the career impacts that come with choosing to live in Northern Ireland and of losing our friends and colleagues to other more progressive cities. It’s time for some change.”

If you’d like to read more about their plans, download their mandate here.

Alternatively, become a supporter by signing up to our mailing list here.