independent

Friday 20 September 2019

Stricter laws won't tackle drink problem

WE NEED new laws, tougher laws, more gardaí, stricter enforcement, it's a familiar refrain in Ireland and we hear it repeated every time our sensibilities are shocked by some outrage or another. It's all being replayed again following the dreadful scenes of drunken violence that erupted at an open air concert in Dublin a week ago- and yet again it won't get us any closer to dealing with the real problem.

The latest outrage, which has occupied a good deal of media attention for the past week, was truly appalling and shocking. At an open air concert in Dublin's Phoenix Park last Saturday week drunken debauchery and violence tipped into the realms of anarchy. Two people died, nine were stabbed and there were countless assaults after drink and drug fuelled thugs ran amok. There were well over 600 security personnel, including Gardaí, at the event which was attended by 45,000 people, but even though this was much more than the required security presence at such events, they clearly couldn't control the drunken hordes they faced.

In the wake of the chaos there have been calls for a ban on concerts in the Phoenix Park, calls for stricter security at concerts, renewed calls for minimum pricing for alcohol and so on. What they all have in common is that they seek to impose controls on our national drink problem. We should know by now that this doesn't work; we need to change our drink culture, not just control it.

We are all too well aware at this stage that the appalling scenes in Phoenix Park were exceptional only in their scale, not their nature, from what happens in towns throughout the country every weekend of the year. There is nothing unusual anymore in seeing gatherings of young teenagers swigging naggings of vodka in quiet laneways, or their slightly older peers fighting, vomiting and causing mayhem on the streets outside late opening pubs and clubs.

We have a national drink problem – but the problem isn't alcohol itself, its price or availability. It's what we do with alcohol. We can go down the road of trying to address the problems surrounding our relationship alcohol by introducing new and ever more restrictive laws, but this will never work. It will only mean that we have more laws that are ignored, not enforced or are simply unenforceable.

Our drink problem isn't something we can hand over to the Gardaí or the government and demand that they solve it. This is something only we can solve, as individuals and more importantly as families and communities. Setting boundaries on what is acceptable behaviour begins at home and is reinforced in the community. If it doesn't happen there no amount of laws and law enforcement is going to fill the moral void.

If our children are falling around the streets drunk and in danger of getting their heads kicked in – or doing that kind of violence to others – it isn't because their school teachers, gardaí or somebody, somewhere didn't stop them; it's because we didn't. The fault lies in what we teach our children and in what our communities consider acceptable behaviour and there, also, lies the solution.

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