Leaving aside our massive drink problem, we’re the best in the world
Since we’re the number one country now, maybe it’s time to sort out our boozing issue, writes Declan Lynch
If poor Paddy was a bit confused last week, you could hardly blame him.
On the one hand, we were looking at a headline which declared simply: "Ireland is the best country in the world, new survey suggests".
And then came another survey, and another headline: "More than 1.3 million Irish people are harmful drinkers".
When you put it all together, one possible conclusion to be drawn here, is that Ireland is the best country in the world in which to be drunk.
Or perhaps that it's the best country in the world with an aste risk and a disclaimer in small print that says, "this surveys does not take into account issues of addiction, lack of self-esteem, self-destructive tendencies, and deep personal unhappiness on a large scale."
A clue may be found in the provenance of the two surveys. The one that named us the best country in the world came from an outside agency called the Good Country Index which assesses a country's overall contribution to humanity, essentially what it gives to the world, and what it takes away.
The one about the 1.3 million "harmful" drinkers, the 150,000 "dependent" drinkers, the large number of "binge-drinkers" and the fact that we underestimate what we drink by about 60pc, came from a source which is perhaps more aware of the full complexity of the Irish experience - it came from ourselves. From the National Alcohol Diary Survey, to be precise, the work of which was presumably made more complicated by the fact that we "underestimate" - or, "lie" - about our drinking so that we drink more than twice what we claim.
Further complications arise in the use of the word "binge" which these official bodies tend to define as about three pints consumed one after the other.
For many of us this is an outrage, an appalling corruption of the English language to which we have brought our genius (see that other survey), a sinister manouevre and a sure sign of a miserable attitude to life. And you know, we are right about that, but as is so often the case in the affairs of Paddy, we are also wrong.
Without doubt the misuse of the word "binge", which used to involve at least a very long weekend of orgiastic drinking, and is now diminished to three drinks in a row, has been an appalling error on the part of the authorities. It may well be the single most stupid move since Prohibition.
We're right about that, and indeed we are so right we speak of nothing else whenever these surveys arrive, with their ludicrous definition of a binge. We are prepared to ignore everything else that we know about our weakness for the drink, in order to concentrate all our energy on this one word, and what it means. You'd nearly think we were using is as a get-out-of-jail card.
And indeed as we have pointed out in many articles over the years, terminology in this area is no small thing. It may indeed be of the essence, due to the profundity of the moment when a person says, "I am an alcoholic", and not just someone who's "a bit fond of it".
But still, affronted as we are by the carelessness of the bureaucrats, we've just got to get over it, and to concentrate our efforts instead on the truth that they are trying to tell us in their fashion.
Paddy knows the truth. He knows that there is some ancient anxiety deep within his restless soul, that he tries to treat with drink, only to find that it's still there the next day, only worse.
But there is a real incentive now, a sense that if we can't address this situation for ourselves, maybe we can do it to please others.
We are officially the best country in the world.
They're all looking at us.