Thursday 23 November 2017

People can make their own choices about Arthur's Day

Last Thursday evening as I was driving along in my car I was listening to 2FM on the radio. The show was broadcasting highlights from the evening's gigs and entertainment which were being held all over Ireland to celebrate the new national feast day, Arthur's Day.

One of the station's reporters came on the line from a pub in Ballsbridge in Dublin to report that in the corner of the pub, Emeli Sandé was singing and having a few pints of Guinness. He held up his mobile phone in the crowd, and amidst the din you could hear the song 'Next to Me' being blasted out.

Many other famous artists and entertainers were having impromptu appearances on the same evening, all to celebrate our new holiday in honour of that great Irishman, Arthur Guinness. One famous Irish entertainer wasn't quite as ebullient and instead he bemoaned the idea of such a ridiculous concept as a feast day for alcohol being given such prominence.

Despite Christy Moore's objections however, it seems that the Irish public were happy to go along with Diageo, the company that now owns the Guinness brand, and Arthur's Day was a roaring success.

But does Christy have a point, and is it simply wrong? Certainly there are reasons why such a 'feast day' shouldn't be allowed to define us as Irish people, and certainly it's not a good thing to encourage excessive drinking especially where we already have a problem with underage drinking.

There are many associated health risks with alcohol abuse, and many lives have been destroyed because of it. But there are positives to having a day like Arthur's Day - the benefits to tourism and the hospitality industry are obvious - and other similar festivals take place in other parts of the world, such as 'Oktoberfest' in Germany.

People have a right to enjoy themselves and to drink alcohol if they so, and a reasonable person would have to accept that drinking responsibly and socialising with friends is fine. Indeed, there is enough hardship and sadness in people's lives, there are way too many people struggling under the weight of the government's perpetual austerity policies, that it's only right people should be allowed to relax and enjoy themselves once in a while.

But there is also a very strong case to be made for the theory that Arthur's Day is a blatant exploitation of a nation's weakness for alcohol by a multinational corporation profiting substantially from products linked to some of our society's gravest ills.

Because ultimately alcohol is addictive, and like most things that are addictive, it is expensive. Somebody somewhere, is going to make money out of it. Multinational corporations who produce alcohol and tobacco and other addictive things like pornography, are all too happy that people get addicted to their products. They rub their hands in glee with the prospect of people being addicted to what they sell, and they can then hike the prices up so that they make even greater profits.

Make no mistake, Diageo isn't promoting Arthur's Day to benefit the Irish people or the Irish economy, they're doing it to line the pockets of their shareholders. Nonetheless they don't force people to get hammered, and they don't hold people down and pour alcohol down their necks. People choose freely to go along with the marketing miracle that is Arthur's Day. Diageo have been promoting their products just as any other multinational corporation promote theirs, and we as adults are given the choice to buy them or not.

Christy Moore uses advertising to sell his music and his shows, because that's how you generate business and profit. In a few weeks we'll have the 'Late Late Toy Show', and behind the wonder and fun of that particular annual institution, is the reality that those who make the toys want to sell them. Is Arthur's Day really any different?

Enniscorthy Guardian

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