Declan Lynch: We're a nation consumed by martyrdom that never ends
No slogan or leaflet can begin to tackle our long-standing relationship with alcohol,
THE opening sentence of the piece by Caroline O'Doherty in the Irish Examiner went like this: "The much-delayed national alcohol strategy has been shelved until next year despite pledges that the Cabinet would meet to sign off on it before Christmas."
Somewhere deep down in that plain statement of fact, we can hear echoes which have come all the way down to us through the centuries – echoes of our struggles with the same old scourge that has done us down so many times, this martyrdom that never ends.
Of course, some of you may have thought that we already had a national alcohol strategy that had been "rolled out" a long time ago, a strategy that can be summed up in one line – our strategy is, we're going to drink as much of it as we can.
But that's not the one we're talking about here. This new one, which Minister James Reilly is still working on, and which will be brought to Cabinet "at the earliest opportunity", is more aspirational.
It's the sort of stuff that Roisin Shortall used to be going on about when Minister Reilly had more important matters on his desk, when he looked, indeed, like a man more in need of a drink than a drink strategy.
Stuff like minimum pricing, which the Examiner report suggests could be "long-fingered indefinitely", with the minister explaining that a joint tender was being prepared with the authorities in the North for a "health impact assessment" to be made.
Ah yes... a health impact assessment. If the story of Paddy was a play, and it was given a full theatre production, I think we could say that in relation to the drink and its impact on every conceivable aspect of Paddy's health, the reviews are in. That no further assessment is required
there. Moreover, as we look back over the centuries of our sickness, we have to wonder if a "health impact assessment" would at any time have served as a wake-up call.
Might it have worked in, say, 1956, when Paddy was a more impressionable sort? I don't think so. And sadly, the same might be said for 1856. Certainly it has no function in 2012 other than to add yet another rich layer of bullshit to the great steaming pile of it which stands there already as a monument to our enslavement.
Not that this will come as a surprise to regular readers of these pages. A few months ago I pointed out that the by-now traditional features on Prime Time usually spend far too much time trying to establish "facts" which have already been established for aeons. That they are essentially starting in the wrong place, far too early in the drama, and that they should be opening instead on this note: "We have a catastrophic problem of alcoholism in this country, and we are going to do absolutely nothing about it. What do you think of that?"
And take it from there.
Instead of PR people from the drinks industry debating the issue with someone who says roughly the opposite, and then a word from The Minister, maybe next time an actual alcoholic might be allowed to say a few words – crazy as it may sound – on the subject of alcohol.
An alcoholic might just have something to contribute, if only a sense of what time it is – if indeed there is any time left at all, for us to realise that our entire relationship with alcohol is wrong.
That we can swing from a sense of outrage about the drunkenness of the crowd at the Swedish House Mafia gig, to a celebration of the drunkenness of the crowd at Euro 2012, as if we had any judgement in this area. As if all these matters can be adequately addressed by reading a leaflet from drinkaware.ie, urging Paddy to Drink Responsibly.
Unfortunately that will not work. Indeed, it is not meant to work.
What is needed is a fundamental reversal of every practice that Paddy has engaged in for ever, in this domain.
It would take wisdom and courage to do it right. Hence the "health impact assessments" and other such manifestations of chronic denial, the national drink strategies that will be brought to Cabinet "at the earliest opportunity", which is not before Christmas.
And sure then, after Christmas and the New Year we'll be looking at St Patrick's Day, so we couldn't be signing off on anything before that, for... eh... operational reasons. By which time we're looking at the summer, when everyone is away, entitled to the few pints. And then if you manage to throw together a few ideas about minimum pricing before next Christmas, you will be anticipating a legal challenge. You don't want that, do you?
And then there will be the usual strident voices raised against the whole idea of lavishly advertising alcohol on TV in a country with one of the biggest drink problems in human history. So you'll need a task force or a standing committee or a working party to look into that one – again, at the earliest opportunity.
Meanwhile, life goes on. And the traditional old-style national drink strategy – to drink as much of it as we can – remains in place.
We have now reached the part of the year when all aspects of that strategy are set to be implemented.