Drinking

Dick over at Back Seat Drivers has brought up the alcohol debate over the last few days. The topic has also featured on Samizdata

I wrote an article (June 23) for the New Statesman back in June on the subject so I think I will publish the entire unedited version here.

I have a fairly extensive amount of work done on the subject, and a number of links that are worth following.

A week following my article in the New Statesman there was a feature on Newsnight covering the self-same issue, myself and Liz MacKean largely agreed on the subject, after communicating briefly by email. After her report Paxo took on Richard Caborn in an hilarious interview – very well worth reading. Most notable:

CABORN:
Jeremy, when you’re walking in Derbyshire and you can’t get a drink at 4pm in the afternoon, because of the licensing laws, you get a little annoyed.

PAXMAN:
So we’re doing it to placate French and German tourists and walkers in Derbyshire?

It is a somewhat uncontroversial feature on drinking in Ireland, but let me know what you think. Incidentally I worked as a barman, senior barman and head barman in Cork and Dublin for about 4 years.

In vino veritas the saying goes, and when applied to the Irish there is a veritable ocean of truth. The Irish are perhaps a people more associated with alcohol than any other nation and their fondness for drink has been the butt of countless jokes.

Advertisements for visiting Ireland almost always figure a pint or two as part of the campaign. A country with such a reputation, one might expect, would have the most liberal of laws for the consumption of alcohol. Not so, and it seems that the laws are about to become more draconian.

Ireland has a love-hate relationship with alcohol. On the one hand Irish people are known for their joviality, the pub culture is unlike any other—being the centre of Irish social life. Depending on the report you read, Ireland is one of the biggest consumers of alcohol per capita in Europe, and according to a 1996 WTO report, the second highest consumer of beer in the world.

On the other hand, alcohol related assaults have increased exponentially in recent years and up to 25% of cases in Accident and Emergency wards in Ireland are alcohol related. The Irish President, Mary McAleese, recently went as far as to say that Irish people have an ‘unhealthy’ and ‘sinister’ attitude to drink. In 2000 there were almost 15,000 reported cases of intoxication in a public place and a similar number of cases of abusive or insulting behaviour.

In an attempt to stem the huge growth of these offences the government updated the existing legislation, the Intoxicating Liquor Act, in 2000. Believing that by extending opening hours and liberalising the drinking regime Irish people would respond by moderating their alcohol consumption, the government underestimated how ingrained in Irish culture alcohol is.

The situation has since worsened, with alcohol consumption increasing yet more and incidences of violent behaviour growing. In response to the spiralling problem the government established a Commission to look into the problem, taking submissions from all sectors related to the drinks industry.

Released recently, the final report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing has made a number of recommendations that the government intends to implement. In order to combat endemic underage drinking the government is proposing that every person under the age of 21 be required to hold proof of age on licensed premises and that those under 15 be banned from pubs after 8pm.

The legal age of consumption shall remain at 18, but by making ID mandatory above that age to 21 the government believes it can cut down on those drinking who might look older than they actually are.

The government has also decided to back-pedal on laws introduced in 2000 whereby premises could remain open on Thursday nights until 12.30am, it will now be reverted to 11.30pm. It is believed alcohol abuse costs the Irish economy up to €2 billion in lost productivity, due in part the government believe, to people drinking on those late Thursday nights.

But some of the more controversial aspects of the proposals have caused widespread anger from the publicans lobby group, the Vintners Federation of Ireland. These plans include allowing plain-clothes police onto premises in order to enforce drinks legislation.

It is illegal for publicans to serve people that are ‘drunk’, but the law has been all but unenforceable. Previously small fines could be levied, but now the Irish Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, believes that pubs should “face closure if they serve drink to the point where they are turning people out on the street plastered.”

But how does a publican define when a person is ‘drunk’? As one publican from Co. Wexford noted on Irish radio “At what point does the person who gets quietly plastered and ‘out of their tree’, at what point do you hold them responsible?”

Another controversial measure is that police may start using video cameras to record people leaving premises to be used as evidence if they are, in fact, drunk. A bit extreme one might say, but where 40% of fatal road accidents are drink related and an average of 25 alcohol related assaults occur every night, the government believes that enforcement is the solution.

Many do not agree. They believe a sea-change is required in the mentality of Irish people with regard to, as Irish people put it, the ‘demon drink’. Education from an early age is the solution, with a view to adopting a more mature, Mediterranean view of alcohol.

Green party MEP Patricia McKenna noted “In Mediterranean countries young people actually have access to alcohol from a very early age. In the European Parliament I never see Mediterraneans’ sloshed and out of their minds, unfortunately, closer to home, I do see it.”

It is also believed that an outright ban on alcohol advertising is in order. Currently some Gaelic games are heavily promoted by the drinks industry, and while there is a voluntary ban on the national television station, the fact remains that drinking is heavily promoted through other media.

If the Irish government could strike a balance between a national alcohol strategy, and proper enforcement of current legislation then perhaps in the future we would see a more mature attitude in Ireland towards alcohol consumption.

Unfortunately the effects of any such strategy could take up to a generation to show results, and few governments will commit to such a long-term strategy. It is a difficult cultural trait to overcome, but with time we may see an Ireland not so keen to find answers to its problems at the bottom of a glass.

Comments are closed.