Saturday 7 December 2019

'Tis the season for stacks of cheap booze


Alcohol sales will be up this Christmas
Alcohol sales will be up this Christmas

Darragh Clifford - Straight Talking

I got my hair cut recently by a woman from Ukraine. Small talk was the order of the day and as it was a Friday, she asked was I heading out over the weekend.

I smiled politely and said no, telling her the combination of a young family and a busy schedule meant nights out in the pub were a rare treat. However, I told her my work Christmas party was on the horizon and hopefully I'd make it out for a few drinks for that.

She shook her head and looked me in the eye and said: 'I don't understand the Irish, you are crazy when it comes to alcohol.' My sheepish reply was pretty much along the lines of 'you don't say'.

She began to describe how it is back in her home in rural Ukraine. She was honest enough to say that alcohol plays a large part of social situations in Ukraine too, but that these are almost always centred around large amounts of food. In short, if the Ukrainians wanted to drink their fill, they made sure there was plenty of food around also.

As she expertly chopped my hair she continued in her baffled tone, wondering why it is that Irish people spend hours in the pub without eating as much as a bag of peanuts. Then she started on the supermarkets, and although my time in the barber's chair was up, I knew where her line of thinking was going.

If aliens were to land in this great country in the morning and stroll into any leading supermarket, they would think we mark Christmas by buying large amounts of cheap booze and enough chocolate to keep Willy Wonka's factory ticking over for the year.

Nothing says Christmas like a slab of beer for €20 and three tins of chocolates for a tenner, it seems.

Christmas is a funny old time. We think of loved ones who have passed, we assess our own lives and how the year has passed, we look to the New Year with increased optimism and we might even set out some personal goals for the year ahead. Throw kids in the mix and you have the wonderful magic of Santa Claus.

Yet in the middle of all this, we decide to dial the consumption up to the max. Food and drink is bought and consumed at ridiculous levels. Over-indulging on brussel sprouts and turkey sandwhiches is one thing, but going overboard on the alcohol is another thing entirely.

It would be tempting to just blame the supermarkets for pushing this on us, but in reality they have businesses to run and they wouldn't be adopting this approach if there wasn't a demand for it, they are simply giving the people what they want. And what we want is cheap alcohol, and lots of it.

It has been over a year since I have written about alcohol in Ireland on these pages. The last time I did so, I wrote about the government's Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which brought in a raft of measures aimed at improving the nation's relationship with alcohol.

I was in favour of the bill a year ago, and little has happened to change my view - the government needs to do something to address our complicated relationship with alcohol. Not surprisingly, I got some negative feedback from certain representatives of the drinks industry, while over on social media, I was called an idiot by a random keyboard warrior for suggesting Ireland has a drink problem.

(For anyone who thinks this country doesn't have a troubling relationship with drink, go spend a day in any district court or A&E department and come back to me).

The first round of measures from the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which became law last year, came into effect this month. These include a ban on alcohol advertising on public transport, at under-18 movies in cinemas and a ban on the promotion of alcohol on children's clothing or anywhere within 200 metres of schools, creches or playgrounds.

Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed he will be seeking Cabinet approval on one of the more controversial measures in the bill, the minimum unit price of alcohol, by the end of the year.

Too late for this Christmas, of course, but it will be interesting to see if the supermarket aisles will be packed with cheap alcohol come next December.

Enniscorthy Guardian