Sunday 17 December 2017

Time to reassess our relationship with alcohol

WHEN it comes to Ireland's relationship with alcohol this is a curious week.

Just days ago we celebrated St Patrick's Day - an occasion now more synonymous with drinking than religious celebrations - and in a few days we will mark Good Friday with 24 hours of, supposed, abstinence.

In many ways Good Friday and St Patrick's Day symbolise the dichotomy of our attitudes to drinking in this country.

This year, given the close proximity of the two very different feast days, the hypocrisy in our views on drinking has never been more stark.

While St Patrick's Day is supposed to be a celebration of faith and Irish identity it cannot be denied that the annual celebration of Ireland's patron saint now has more to do with alcoholic spirits than holy ones.

The traditional parades and early afternoon entertainment on St Patrick's Day are a tremendous family occasion and a chance to celebrate community life. However, by the time evening rolls in on March 17, drunkenness is rampant and the centres of many cities and towns have become grossly unpleasant 'no-go' areas for many.

It is a far cry from the twee, Darby O'Gill image of our nation that is peddled abroad on St Patrick's Day - for example Enda Kenny's cringe-inducing 'Bejaysus' remark in the White House last week.

The curious thing about St Patrick's Day is that while everyone in Ireland knows the day is intrinsically linked with drinking, we are loathe to admit it and actually take offence when someone else points it out.

Take, for example, the OECD.

On St Patrick's Day the influential global think tank - comprising of some of the world's leading minds - posted a tweet which combined a happy St Patrick's Day message with a link to figures on global alcohol abuse levels. The tweet caused outrage online and the OECD was forced to apologise and withdraw it.

While the timing of the tweet was arguably not the best, the message it contained - that Ireland ranks fifth in the world for alcohol abuse - is an important one that shouldn't be immediately dismissed as 'racism'. No one is suggesting that St Patricks Day is entirely about drinking but we can't blind ourselves to the obvious problems that accompany the day.

In stark contrast to the events of last Thursday, this Friday will see pubs across the nation shut their doors to observe Good Friday.

This is another Irish tradition that deserves to be re-examined. There are many people - particularly the growing ranks of non-religious - who have labelled the day as an archaic throwback that has no place in a modern multi-cultural Ireland.

Many publicans also want to see a change in the law, though this is more linked with business and profit than any particularly strong views on the church and state.

Most of those opposed to Good Friday closures argue - with justification - that anyone who wants to drink on Friday will be able to do so. Indeed, Good Friday binge drinking parties are now an annual phenomenon at which many people will drink far more than if they were actually in a bar.

In the case of both Good Friday and St Patrick's Day, there are many issues that need to be debated in relation to Ireland's dangerous, long lasting love affair with alcohol.

We won't find the answer overnight but surely some balance can be struck between binge boozing and total abstinence.

Wexford People

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