The battle over the future of Northern Ireland's licensing laws is heating up, with both sides aiming to sway the government's decision ahead of the publication of draft legislation in June.

Independent retailers in the province have been angered by recent tactics employed by representatives of the licensed trade, who want the current system to remain in place.

There are about 1,938 active licences, valued at about £140,000 each and covering bars and off licences. New licences cannot be granted without the surrender of an existing one. 

Under draft proposals released by the Northern Ireland Office last year, this 'surrender' rule would be scrapped, paving the way for more convenience stores to begin offering alcohol.

Official consultation closed in February but those opposed to change have been promoting the argument that convenience store retailers would not trade responsibly and create a rise in binge-drinking, under-age sales and anti-social behaviour.

Seamus McFadden, owner of McFadden's Super Shop in Derry, near the border with the Irish Republic, said that he has to direct visitors to a c-store in another country in order for them to buy wine. 

He added that he found the way retailers were being portrayed as upsetting. He said: "We are constantly referred to as corner shops as if it is a derogatory term, suggesting that we don't know what we are doing. We are as professional and responsible any anyone who currently has a licence."

Tom Uprichard, delivered business director at J&J Haslett, which runs the Mace symbol group in Northern Ireland, argued that it was important the issue was not turned into a political football.

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