Sunday 26 January 2020

Ian O’Doherty: The issue is not drink -- it's being told you can't

Ian O’Doherty

SO there they are: forming a not particularly orderly queue outside my local off-licence. It's only a Thursday afternoon yet there are people standing in line outside waiting their turn to get in.

What the hell is going on? Has the Government decided to ration beer? Have they placed such a prohibitive tax on wine that people need to stock up before said tax is introduced?

No, because while either of the above scenarios aren't totally out of the picture given the increasingly desperate measures by Inda's regime to get a couple of quid into the coffers, I suddenly realised the reason. Ah yes, it's the annual Good Friday Beer Panic which goes something along the lines of: Feck, the pubs are closed tomorrow, we need to stock up and we need to stock up quick.

Good Friday is interesting -- in its own infuriating way -- in how it illustrates our collective relationship with booze, authority and religion, which historically have been the unofficial Holy Trinity of Irish society.

I've always been baffled not just by the ban on licensed premises on this day but also by the fact that I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of people I have ever met who actually agreed with this weird prohibition.

Ah, these tiny minority of people will say, would it kill you to go without a drink for just one day of the year?

And the answer to that? It's quite simple -- bugger off and mind your own business. The idea of people telling other people when they can and cannot have a drink is about as daft as telling people what they can read or when they can eat. The issue is not, ultimately, about drink. It's about being told that you can't.

That's the reason, I reckon, why so many people who might normally open a bottle of wine at home tonight or who, equally, might not bother, become so obsessed with stocking their fridge with as much booze as they can fit in -- because when you stop treating people as responsible adults, they will start to behave irresponsibly.

There's something almost unseemly about the way people obsess about drink on this day but it is also perfectly understandable. After all, there is an instinctive reaction against such blatant misuse of authority simply to provide a sop for some religious people.

I had lunch last Wednesday with a mate of mine who is a prominent Catholic commentator and when this issue came up he just sort of shrugged his shoulders and said that we should open the pubs only when today stops being seen as an unofficial day off for many people.

Well, fine. That sounds fair enough to me. After all, I'm a non-believer so I don't expect the day off anyway.

But not everyone shares this live and let live attitude.

A few years back, in a fit of journalistic mischief, I rang the Garda press office to see if the reason for the ban was actually enshrined in law or whether it was a just a tradition.

The answer was swift and decisive: it was a law and anyone found breaking it -- i.e. anyone found serving or drinking in a pub -- would be prosecuted to the full extent of that law.

I expressed bemusement at such stridency and pointed that there was a particular pub I go to every Good Friday where we congregate for a few naughty beers. This seemed to enrage the poor press officer who demanded to know the name of the establishment so they could come down and arrest all of us. Which was almost sweet in its naivety.

But behind the all too obvious sheer daftness of the ban -- after all, Spain and Italy and other nominally Catholic countries don't have this rule -- there is a deliciously typical Irish hypocrisy and duplicity to the whole thing.

We are a Catholic country and to honour the sacrifice made by Our Lord, goes the theory, we will not have a jar.

Unless you're in the RDS, that is. Or unless you happen to be staying in a hotel. Or unless you happen to be travelling by train which also allows you to have a drink -- let's put it this way, the only reason anyone ever voluntarily got the train to Drogheda was so they could have a pint. I mean, you wouldn't bother going there otherwise, would you?

Perhaps it is only this country where our lords and masters would bring in a rule like this -- and then promptly give us a load of ways to get around the rule they themselves have just brought in.

So, did I go down to my local off-licence yesterday to stock up on the much treasured amber nectar in advance of today?

No. Of course I didn't.

To do so is to admit to the State that they have an impact on my life and I refuse to behave like some sort of programmed sheep, hanging outside a shop like some queue we used to see in communist Russia.

No, I'm far to clever and noble for that.

Yup, you guessed it.

I got my wife to go instead.

A typically Irish solution to a typically Irish problem...

And the name of the pub that secretly opens every Good Friday?

Well, for the right price, I could be persuaded to tell you.

But don't tell the Garda press office, whatever you do.

Irish Independent

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