Monday 24 April 2017

Comment: Good Friday pub ban was never about drink - it's about control

Image: Getty
Image: Getty
Cheers: Michael Noonan would like to be able to raise a glass on Good Friday
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, it's that time of the year again.

Yes, in the great Irish annual tradition, a debate will once more rage for the next few days about next Friday, when the pubs are shut and the city centre becomes a ghost town.

It also happens to be a Friday when many people will be paid but they won't be able to enjoy a well earned meal with a bottle of wine, or meet a few mates for a drink.

Should we even really care anymore?

After all, haven't we heard all the arguments before? In fact, I imagine even the most ardent supporter of the Good Friday ban is sick of talking about it at this stage.

Oh wait, hang on - are there even any ardent supporters of this ridiculous and archaic law left in Ireland?

After all, even the clergy seem either indifferent to the ban, or actively oppose it.

In the wake of Michael Noonan's interview with his local paper in Limerick a few weeks ago, when he came out against the ban, several priests in his area agreed with his views.

Fr Joe Young, chaplain with the city's Brothers of Charity, admits that the restriction is: "Completely and utterly pointless... People should be allowed to make up their own minds about whether they drink alcohol on the day."

This was a view echoed by several of is clerical colleagues.

When you look at it from the perspective that even the Church thinks the ban is pointless - you can get a drink in Vatican City next Friday, after all - then surely that is a screamingly obvious sign that this piece of legislation, from 1929, belongs in our dim and distant past.

The Vintners Federation, not surprisingly, is also against the ban, and a study from DCU last year estimated that the prohibition costs the publicans about €30m and leads to excise losses for the government of somewhere in the region of €6m. These are all moderately interesting points, but they aren't really crucial to the issue at hand.

Because this isn't about drink.

It was never about drink.

It's about control.

It's about our supposed elders and betters deciding that they know what's best for the little people and then forcing everyone else to conform to their whims - simply because they can.

It's an authoritarian impulse, a mixture of hubris, incompetence and a complete lack of understanding of human nature.

To put the burning issues of our society into some sort of rational context, we live in a country where a criminal gang have publicly announced that they are going to go all Keyser Soze on their rivals and wipe out the Hutch family and anyone close to them in one fell swoop.

There are swathes of the country where the elderly are literally - and justifiably - afraid for their lives while in their own homes.

So you might think our woefully inept Minister for Justice has more important things on her mind than enforcing a 90-year-old law which nobody seems to support or even want.

Well, if you thought that, you'd be wrong.

During a recent meeting with publicans, she dismissed the idea of revoking the legislation because, as she so primly put it, such a move would 'send out mixed signals' about the government's approach towards drinking.

According to Nanny Fitzgerald: "Removing the Good Friday prohibition risked being interpreted, and portrayed, as a lowering of the government's commitment to tackling a serious national problem."

It was classic Official Ireland arrogance.

Nobody cares about the government's 'commitment' to drinking because nobody cares about this government. They have failed, in so many ways. They are a lame duck.

But the devil is in the detail.

The only people you 'send a message to' are your kids.

That's exactly how the elite members of our society look on the rest of and that's how they have always looked on us - errant children who are too lumpen and dull, too stupid to make our own choices.

Basically, they think we're thick and only useful for a few votes every few years. They think we are not as smart, not as cultured, not as educated and, fundamentally, not as enlightened as they are.

They think that we can't be trusted to make our own decisions, so they will gladly accept the burden of making our decisions for us.

Does any of that sound familiar? Because it should.

Essentially, the likes of Fitzgerald and her smug, pursed-lipped brethren are the people who have replaced the Church as our self-appointed moral guardians; the oh-so-wise ones who have decided that while they may pay lip service to the autonomy of the adult, they don't mean it. Not really.

We have simply replaced the belt of the crozier for a secular simper. The faces may be different, but that disgusting authoritarian impulse runs deep in this country.

Let's put it this way, half the people we see wagging their fingers at us on a daily basis about what we drink or eat, or even say, would have been priests or nuns in a previous generation.

They've just modified their language. If Nanny Fitz is so concerned about our nation's drinking, why not just ban pubs?

Or, y'know, she could solve the gangland crisis?

Sorry, that was crazy talk. For a moment, I forgot what country we live in.

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