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John Meagher: Don't blame social media for Ireland's drink problem

PAT Rabbitte and others who blame social media for the "neknominate" binge-drinking phenomenon are missing the point.

Drink-to-get-drunk culture in Ireland existed long before Facebook or Twitter came along, and our toxic relationship with alcohol will continue until enough of us call time on our behaviour.

In much the same way that it is futile to blame websites like Ask.fm for the suicides of bullied teenagers, we need to look beyond the bravado of those Facebook video posts.

We must confront the fact that as a nation with a dependence on alcohol for generations, there should be no surprise at the neknomination phenomenon.

Rather than indulge in a moral panic, we should ask what it is about us Irish that has made us glory in alcohol abuse since the first dram of poitin was distilled centuries ago.

Why were the excesses of celebrities like Brendan Behan celebrated over the years, and why did elected leaders like Bertie Ahern see nothing wrong with bringing visiting dignitaries to pubs for photo opportunities involving pints of Guinness?

When alcohol is so all-consuming in Irish culture, is it any wonder that teenagers or those in their first full flush of adulthood would see nothing wrong with a drinking game that would be considered reckless in any country that takes a decidedly less tolerant attitude to drinking?

The message that excessive alcohol consumption can be fatal, just isn't hitting home – just like it didn't 20 years ago when I had my own lucky escape.

I drank almost a full bottle of whiskey in a matter of hours at a house party and was found early the next morning lying unconscious among the rushes on the bank of the Grand Canal.

I've no idea how I wound up there and got such a fright when I had sobered up and got home that I never drank like that again.

Rather than ban a Facebook page, far tougher action needs to be taken – and Ireland's "normalisation" of alcohol abuse has to be tackled head on.

Alcohol prices have to be hiked-up, loss-leader drinks promotions in supermarkets and student night specials need to end, sponsorship of sport and cultural events have to be eradicated once and for all. The list goes on.

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It's a tough love approach that is unlikely to curry sufficient favour in the Dáil where a disproportionate number of members hail from the pub trade.

But it needs to happen – sooner rather than later.

Otherwise there will be more tragedies like that of Jonny Byrne and Ross Cummins, and more blame directed at the wrong places.


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