Are we encouraging our youth to drink?
THERE HAS been a lot of talk over the past number of weeks about the drinking culture that exists among young people in Ireland. We had the embarrassing scenes from the Euro 2012 tournament where Irish supporters were regularly appearing on YouTube in various states of drunkenness, singing ballads and football songs into the early hours of the morning. And then just over a week ago we had the Phoenix Park concerts, particularly the Swedish House Mafia concert on the Saturday night, which apparently ended up with three tragic deaths, and numerous injuries and hospitalisations.
One part of the problem that exists as regards Ireland's drinking culture is who is involved. A lot of the supporters who went to the Euros were younger people, possibly a lot of them college students on summer holidays, who went out to enjoy the soccer and support their country. In doing so, they ate, drank and got merry, and that's ok.
Unlike their English counterparts who have a terrible reputation for rioting and public disorder, the Irish fans don't tend to be destructive or abusive when they are drunk. We're not a nation of prudes, and we certainly don't live in 'Prohibition America' of the 1920's, but I wonder have we lost the run of ourselves when it comes to encouraging young people to drink more and more?
Just like Oxegen and Electric Picnic, the Phoenix Park concerts attracted a lot of younger people, and a sizeable amount of them it seems were under the age of 18. Callers to radio phone-ins last week recounted seeing thousands of teenagers drinking on the streets on the way to the concert.
So even though the law states the legal drinking age, society generally turns a blind eye to it, and people under the age are able to buy alcohol quite easily in pubs and offlicences. For €20 you can buy 20 bottles of beer.
Do their parents know that they drink? Of course they do. A lot of parents of teenagers nowadays are happy enough that their son or daughter has a few drinks, and they even allow them to have house parties at home. A lot of parents allow their teenage children to go out on Friday and Saturday nights, knowing full well that they are going to pubs and nightclubs, where they aren't supposed to be allowed in.
Gone are the days when school-goers got to go out only during school holidays. Of course, it has to be said that not all young people are that bad, and to tar them all with the one brush would be unfair. The vast majority of people attending the concerts didn't cause any trouble, had a good time and got home safely, just as they do every weekend in nightclubs up and down the country. And yet, there are problems. It wasn't an isolated incident or a onceoff. It's becoming more frequent, and more prevalent.
But we need to look at the real underlying issue, and we need to ask the question: why is this happening, and why this generation? Why is it that ending up in an ambulance, or getting kicked out of a club, or not remembering anything of the previous night, or just getting completely wasted on drink or drugs is considered normal enough nowadays. Why are our young people acting like this, and why is it being allowed to happen?
I know of a case where a county minor GAA team lost a match recently, and the manager of the team made a phone call to make sure the players could get into the nightclub when they returned from the match that night. Of course those young lads weren't all under age, and they wanted to go out to 'drown their sorrows' and blow off some steam before regrouping for the next match, but for the team manager to actually make a phone call to facilitate it, to organise it so that they would get into the nightclub is ridiculous.
In the Phoenix Park case, the concert organisers knew full well that underage drinking went on before, during and after the concert. Parents know full well that their children are drinking to excess regularly. The Gardai know full well that young people are drinking underage. Whatever about questioning the craziness of what happened in the Phoenix Park a week ago, there are other obvious questions that we need to ask ourselves as a society first.