Tuesday 21 November 2017

Bill is hard to swallow - but we might just think before we drink

Lidl recently sold Prosecco for just €5 per bottle. Stock picture
Lidl recently sold Prosecco for just €5 per bottle. Stock picture
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The cost of a bottle of Prosecco - the preferred beverage at boozy brunches - was just over a fiver in Lidl last month.

Predictably, the queues were out the door and around the building.

In terms of alco-nomics this was a brilliant bargain; a glass in a pub was more expensive than an entire bottle of the stuff at home.

Beer is cheaper still - with cans costing less than €1. That's less than a packet of chewing gum in some newsagents.

We have been surrounded by pocket-money-priced booze for years.

But those days seem numbered as the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill aims to outlaw cheap drink.

A standard bottle of 12.5pc wine will soon cost a minimum of €7.50.

I mean, it's hardly going to break the bank, but it's a definite bump up.

According to Health Minister Simon Harris, "price matters". And "if it goes up, consumption goes down".

But is it that simple? Ireland's relationship with drink is, to say the least, somewhat complicated.

Pub culture is continually pitched as an integral part of our national identity, and our drinking stamina is something we seem to take a perverse pride in.

Will banning the sale of bargain-basement booze really alter our national perspective radically?

Plus, when it comes to drinking, it's amazing how inventive people can be.

We've all heard of people heading to train carriages and barracks for an elusive Good Friday pint.

Brendan Behan joined the Irish Kennel Club simply in order to booze on Paddy's Day, back when it was illegal to drink on that holiday.

And, during the Prohibition era in the USA, women poured gin into hollow walking canes and hid beer in fake torpedoes.

Eunan McKinney of Alcohol Action Ireland said the aim of the bill is to tweak our drink culture over the course of several years.

"We want to collectively and gradually change the culture. This is not rocket science - it's basic economics," he said.

"Increasing prices results in a modest reduction in consumption, and that's what we are aiming for."

Most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when we hear about price hikes.

We all like a bargain and knowing that we are going to have to pony up more for pints and Prosecco may be, well, difficult to swallow.

On top of this, we know that booze is bad for us. Really, really bad for us.

And this adds another layer of guilt to everything.

This price hike may not change our underlying attitude to alcohol.

But maybe it will tilt things slightly in the right direction.

It might even make us less inclined to spend Saturday mornings waiting outside Lidl to stock up on bargain Prosecco.

Irish Independent

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