independent

Saturday 22 September 2018

Good Friday and the Irish love affair with the demon bottle

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There has, to put it mildly, been a decidedly mixed reception to the news that, for the first time in over 70 years, pubs in Ireland will once again be allowed sell alcohol on Good Friday.

While the news has been received with considerable delight by most publicans, atheists and many drinkers, it has been met with horror by religious groups and, very understandably, by those trying to deal with Ireland's lethal love affair with the bottle.

What the debate over Good Friday does is highlight two very different issues in modern Irish society.

For many members of what is an increasingly secular nation that is now far less in thrall to and bound by the edicts of the Catholic Church, the Good Friday alcohol ban seemed like an arcane throwback to the days when the Church wielded unparalleled power over the lives of every community in Ireland.

As such, they would likely argue, it needed to be removed as do other remnants of our old Catholic-oriented society, like the Angelus on RTÉ.

There was also the impact on tourism with many visitors to our fair isle shocked, and not a little disappointed, to find they couldn't immediately enjoy one of Ireland's famous pubs when they arrived in the country for an Easter break.

To be fair the second point is of little real importance and there will be few Irish who didn't secretly enjoy the bemused and disbelieving reaction from a foreign visitor when they were told every bar in the country was, supposedly, shut for the day.

The argument against the religious connotations of the ban has merit but so too do the forceful arguments of the many groups trying to wean Ireland off its appalling dependency on the bottle.

Binge drinking and alcoholism are an epidemic in Ireland and they have been the ruination of the lives of many.

Whether it is through drink-fuelled domestic abuse or the rampant violence we see and hear of on our streets every single night, there can be no doubt that drink is a major problem for the Irish.

The characature of the Irish drunk - one most people despise but which we peddle internationally to draw in tourists - is sadly very real and one that it will take a long time to shed.

Reopening the pubs on Good Friday is unlikely to be an apocalyptic event and, despite claims to the contrary, every pub in Ireland probably won't be packed to the rafters with roaring drunks when Good Friday rolls around. Those who doubt that claim should look at the small numbers who have attended dog tracks and other venues where alcohol has been on sale on Good Friday in recent years.

In all likelihood, this year at least, people will probably treat a Good Friday pint in the pub as one of novelty and nothing more. How many people actually remember when pubs used to close for two hours on a Sunday?

Ironically, in recent years, Good Friday actually became one of the worst example of Ireland's chronic alcoholism with thousands of people using it as an excuse to host a party and drink copious amounts well into the small hours.

Maybe the publicans are correct and opening the pubs will reduce binge drinking, for one day a year at least.

One feels the vintners' argument is based far more on the health of their bank accounts rather than the health of the public but maybe they will be proved right eventually. Only time will tell.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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