News Comment

Friday 28 October 2016

Donal Lynch: A lesson in manners from lollipops

Authorities hope sweet treats can have a pacifying effect on post-club marauders but there might be a better way, writes Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

KEEPING THEM SWEET: Giving out lollipops has had a calming effect on post-club revellers in the UK and Canada
KEEPING THEM SWEET: Giving out lollipops has had a calming effect on post-club revellers in the UK and Canada

Picture the scene: it's late night and the clubs have just closed. The air is thick with violent tension and cheap aftershave. Mini-skirted girls are staggering into moving traffic like newborn foals. Takeaway staff are bracing themselves for the usual barrage of racist abuse. Half the crowd want a burger and a ride, the other half want a fight. It looks like things might be about to kick off.

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Then a Garda superintendent gives the discreet nod: "Deploy the lollipops."

It could be a scenario from a Waterford Whispers story but this tactic is now being rolled out in Mayo in the hope that the post-club crowds will be "too busy enjoying the sweet treats to get up to no good". The tactic has already been used in Canada and the UK, where it has been proven to work and, while the reasons for this pacifying effect remain mysterious, some of those implementing the programme here have their theories. A road safety officer quoted by RTE elaborated on the tactic: "Like giving candy to a grumpy baby, lollipops are said to have similar effects on grown men and women. Moreover, arguments fuelled by drunken bravado and macho attitudes often escalate following verbal exchanges."

The scheme is reportedly being supported by gardai and publicans across the county. So if you're very good, you might still be in with a chance of a State-sponsored lollipop.

The idea that sweets are so redolent of childhood that they turn hostile revellers into biddable babies is one theory. But another might be that for a large part of the current generation of club-goers lollipops, like whistles and glo-sticks, are part of an almost extinct rave culture that, while demonised in the press, was always notable for its total lack of violence.

Two years ago, around this time of year, I spent a morning at an after-party where the crowd was a mixture of fairly rough Dublin guys and girls, gays and lesbians and a smattering of Eastern Europeans and Brazilians. A friend of mine commented that the room was infinitely more peaceful than you would find in most of the big Dublin pubs and clubs. It was like a friendly living room.

This undoubtedly owed itself partly to the fact that some of the crowd were on ecstasy - which induces a radically different brain chemistry to the coked-up-and-drunk hostility that drives a weekend in Dublin's mainstream clubland. But it was also down to the fact that the party itself was technically illegal - the modern equivalent of a prohibition-era speakeasy - and we were bound by the satisfying knowledge that we were all breaking the law together. Like a peaceful lollipop guild, we kept the last fires of Bohemia burning. We had no other choice. Arriving quietly, leaving quietly and causing no trouble is built into the unspoken contract of these things. Anything else means the party is over.

It might be over now anyway. In the last few months, there has been a ferocious crackdown on these after-parties. This has been driven partly by competition between promoters, who would rather grass each other to the guards than see a rival succeed.

But it has also been driven partly by press attention; eager young journalists penning "exposes" under the misapprehension that they are tackling one of society's gravest ills.

The guards, who had mostly turned a blind eye, were spurred into action and the overall result has been that the grimy, alluring underbelly of Dublin's nightlife has been all but scrubbed clean.

But clean of what, exactly? The night-and-day difference between the revellers of rave culture and the rowdy mobs of the mainstream is that the former might - might - be a danger to themselves whereas the latter are a danger to everyone, including themselves. The city centre marauders might seem respectable in their collared shirts, but they leave the streets looking like a post apocalyptic, rubbish-strewn nightmare and the clubs themselves are as hostile and testosterone-fuelled as a break time corridor in a rugby school.

The after-partiers, by contrast, are discreet interlopers, quietly nudging their way toward dawn, like Sylvia Plath's mushrooms: ("Overnight, very/Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly, Our toes, our noses/ Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air".) No punches are thrown. There is no "drunken bravado and macho attitudes." They harm no one. They bother no one.

By morning, their foot's in the door.

Throwing lollipops at drunken clubbers in the hope that they'll take heed of the drink-driving messages on the wrapper is like putting a plaster on a severed head. The countdown begins until the novelty wears off, someone chokes on a stick and there's a court case.

What instead needs to happen is that we - society at large - need to accept that all drugs exist on a continuum of dangerousness and that alcohol is the most lethal, violence-inducing drug of all. It's the most abused, it's a factor in more crimes than any other. It affects people who are not drunk or don't drink. And it gets to wreak its damage in plain sight. When combined with cocaine, as it often is in Dublin, it is perhaps the most horrifically dangerous rage-inducing cocktail of all. The boom is back and so are the worst excesses of that time. The love-and-hugs rave scene, which flourished in the Nineties and more recently, is meanwhile being slowly asphyxiated.

It's not too late to turn back the clock on this. If, instead of co-opting the sugary jaw stoppers of rave culture, we allowed it to flourish and copied its more desirable elements; the peacefulness, the camaraderie, the copious water drinking, maybe we wouldn't need, en masse, to get out of our minds every weekend. Perhaps if we still did need to do so, we'd be a bit more imaginative than getting violently drunk. And the garda who can get his head around that surely deserves a lollipop.

Sunday Independent

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