Thursday 14 December 2017

A little of what you like is good

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

It is rare to see an Irish health minister in the news over a series of proactive decisions that may actually change the way we live in a positive fashion. Last week's series of lifestyle initiatives by Leo Varadkar, however, represented a welcome break from the usual health politics of trying to manage the latest HSE disaster.

That is not to say that those who have expressed concerns that the clampdown on cheap alcohol and introduction of calorie counts on menus could represent a case of the 'nanny state gone mad' do not have a point. Just as economic ideologues believe the State should not run airports or shipping lines, there is a strong argument for ensuring governments stay out of people's lives as much as possible. This is particularly the case in our country where, after independence, the State appeared to take up permanent lodgings in people's bedrooms.

We would be in an unfortunate place indeed if a new breed of foodie advocates decided to turn their attention to the 'evils' of cakes and ale. Too much damage has already been done in too many arenas to the old easy-going way of Irish life. The problem with this argument, however, is that the line between an easy-going attitude to rules and irresponsible excess is a fine one. The pub or, more accurately these days, the supermarket off-licence or the fast-food takeaway is not a challenge to public order. But we have a generational problem of excessive consumption, which is now so endemic it is interfering with how the State governs itself.

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