Friday 21 October 2016

'Nanny state' politicians a much bigger problem for us than just enjoying a drink

Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

'The idea that you can set minimum prices and so stop people drinking to excess is plain, absolute nonsense
'The idea that you can set minimum prices and so stop people drinking to excess is plain, absolute nonsense

The Irish don't have a problem with drink as much as they have a problem with politicians and special interest groups who want to regulate every aspect of their lives.

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The latest daft proposals, unveiled by Jerry Buttimer TD, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health & Children, advocate a €10 minimum price for a bottle of wine and trot out the old and tired cliché about the Irish and drink.

It is the crazy belief that politicians can 'regulate' the market that has got us to where we are today - a place where a minority have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.

But like everything else in this country, the politicians legislate for the minority, not the majority.

I was in Marbella, Spain, last week for a few days. You can buy wine and beer in the supermarkets and pubs at a fraction of the price of even the lowest discount stores in Ireland. You can buy alcohol any time of the day or night. You can buy a whiskey or beer in McDonald's.

The Spanish treat alcohol as normal, not as some sort of strange Class A liquid that the population must be protected from. It is precisely the non-normalisation of alcohol that has left Ireland where it is today.

The Italians are the same. Go to Florence and you will see men in suits, they could be professionals or civil servants, having a Prosecco at 11am. They sip their drinks, chat and return to work. They know that they can get another one any time they want to, so they don't have to do like the Irish who have been conditioned by over-regulation to believe that you can never have just the one.

The idea that you can set minimum prices and so stop people drinking to excess is plain, absolute nonsense.

It will lead to a black market, smuggling or, as happened years ago, people voting with their feet and going to Belfast or Holyhead to buy their booze. It will just swell the profits of the drink companies who will always maintain their margin and extract more money from an already overtaxed population.

Jerry Buttimer is right in saying alcohol is a health issue - for a small minority of people who are either alcoholics or heavy drinkers. But our lifestyle has led to all sorts of 'health issues' - sugar-steeped drinks, salt-laden food, too much red meat, lack of exercise.

Does the nanny state intend to regulate all these health issues, and what for?

Ivan Yates recently posed the question - do we all think we are going to live forever? Are we going to become a nation of zombies where people's bodies outlive their minds and running care homes has become the country's biggest industry?

People argue that alcohol and tobacco cost billions to the health service. But look at the billions that are saved by not having to pay out pensions to tens of thousands of people who lived ordinary lives, smoking and drinking because they felt like it and they enjoyed life's little pleasures doing no harm to anyone.

Of course, the real agenda is that people like Jerry Buttimer and his Dáil committee have nothing better to do than stick their oar into the lives of law-abiding citizens who enjoy a recreational drink - people who like to sit in a pub having a conversation, or listening to a song, people who want to drink a few bottles of wine over an animated dinner; people who want to sit drinking a couple of cans of beer in their living room watching a football or hurling match.

The killjoys don't want such people to enjoy themselves.

A recent survey found that the Irish are living longer but spending more years in bad health, from depression and back-pain. Why are the health committee doing nothing about these issues?

The real problem with alcohol is that some people, particularly the young and the yobs, can't handle it.

So now the rest of us have to suffer.

The solution to those who can't handle their drink is to take it off them, to throw them into the back of a paddywagon and leave them in the drunk tank over night and then punish them with a community service order. But it's like the speeding fines - it's much easier to catch the normally law-abiding doing a couple of miles over a quirky speed limit than it is to go after those who are really dangerous on the roads.

The State likes to shoot fish in a barrel, because it's easy and it makes money and you can have Jerry Buttimer and his committee trotting out the usual platitudes about the Irish "having a problem with alcohol" which is patently untrue.

Do we have gardaí walking up and down the main streets of towns and cities at closing time? No. Go to Paris and you will see the armed police at the street corners and the wagons lined up to take away anyone causing trouble. That's the only solution to anti-social behaviour.

Jerry Buttimer says we need to have a "conversation" about alcohol.

What about a national conversation about politicians who have nothing better to do than try to regulate every aspect of Irish life?

Next time I'll vote for a politician who wants to leave things as they are and stop trying to make the simple things in life more complicated and more expensive.

Irish Independent

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