The Sunday opening of bookmakers marks a complete transformation of social change

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Gary McDonald Editor-in-Chief

April 29, 2022 01:00

A DECISION earlier this week to give royal assent to laws allowing bookmakers and bingo halls to open on Sundays in Northern Ireland marks a complete transformation in social change over the past 40 years.

I’m from the vintage (I just celebrated a “big” birthday) to remember that the playground swings were chained together on Sundays. In case, woe to them, the children are tempted to go out and have fun on the Sabbath.

The closure of these parks and the banning of dancing, drinking or going to the cinema left towns and centers virtually abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s.

But since those (repressive hindsight) days, the north’s well-deserved reputation of “Never a Sunday” has eroded, as people can now do just about anything they can on Sunday. weekday Sabbath.

Religion is still important to many people. But while Northern Ireland remains busier than any other part of Britain or the Republic, the majority of people (often after church or chapel) can now work, shop, drink, play – and bet – on Sunday. It’s no different from the rest of the week anymore.

The mold broke for years anyway, starting with pubs opening on Sundays in 1987 (they hadn’t been allowed to pull pints on the Sabbath for 64 years, since just after partition).

In the years that followed, other changes followed.

European football governing body UEFA has ruled that Northern Ireland must play international matches on a Sunday. Rugby at Ravenhill had already taken place by this stage – as had race meetings at Down Royal and Downpatrick. Cinemas were also opening.

The Lord’s Day Observance Society believed that all of this was a violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath, and even in the new millennium they often held church services outside of various sporting or social venues to show the depth of their feeling on the matter.

But their influence gradually waned and there was no return to the desolation of the 1950s in the name of God and morality.

Last October, reform of liquor licensing laws in Northern Ireland was hailed as a significant step forward for the hospitality sector, with legislation allowing establishments to extend opening and drinking hours, and all additional restrictions on opening hours over the Easter weekend have also been removed.

Now comes the Sunday opening for the bookies (although approval came so quickly last Tuesday that it may still be a few weeks before the bigger chains can organize staff rotations and take bets from punters).

But while Northern Ireland has finally moved with the times, certain restrictions are still in place and prevent cities like Belfast and Derry from becoming proper weekend destinations like London, Paris or Rome, where you can travel the museums and galleries on a Sunday morning. , and also shopping in large supermarkets, which can usually only trade here from 1 p.m.

You imagine it’s only a matter of time before changes happen there too. . .

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