Friday 20 April 2018

Temperance should be up to individual as Good Friday ban faces the axe

Editorial Comment

It's Holy Week which means the annual debate over Good Friday drinking laws is brewing again. Efforts to water down the 90-year old law are well progressed with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to ask the cabinet not to oppose the private members bill tabled by Billy Lawless. Mr Lawless is the Taoiseach's nominee to the Seanad and is a former president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

The law is one of the last vestiges of Catholic ritual to survive the wave of secularism and 'freedom of will' which has evolved in recent years. However, it is now under severe pressure by those who feel a 24-hour prohibition has no place in a modern society where individuals - and not a hierarchy - should decide whether or not they'd like to consume alcohol on Good Friday.

Many of our social circumstances seem to support such a change, as a fast-paced 21st Century lifestyle merges with fading religious observance. Add in an increased reliance on tourism, with visitors regularly expressing dismay at finding themselves unable to enjoy a glass or two on the Friday evening of their Easter vacation, and the result is a cocktail for change.

The latest Census reveals a serious decline in the number of Catholics declared in the State with a six per cent drop in terms of overall population. Meanwhile, citizens who describe themselves as having no religion are on the rise - from six per cent to 10 per cent - all of which would seem to strengthen support for the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 which has targeted Good Friday, 2018, as the date for change.

But the other side of the debate is equally as strong.

It suggests that temperance should always be based on respect for what is arguably the most significant date in the Christian calendar. Many people in Ireland would have grown up with the feeling that it's just one day and that it wouldn't harm people to stay out of the pub, a sentiment similar to the move to keep The Angelus on the State broadcaster. Others too would point out that levels of alcohol abuse continue to rise nationally and so the Good Friday ban is a perfect opportunity to promote sobriety.

But these views are under attack like never before from what many practising Catholics call 'trendy atheism', made popular by the advent of a diverse social media.

Each view has its merits but, perhaps, herein also lies the solution. We all make decisions based on free choice and therefore any consequences arising from decisions are the individual's own responsibility.

Is it so outlandish to assume that in 21st Ireland both sides of this argument can be easily accommodated?

The answer is surely 'each to their own' as one person's right to have a drink on Good Friday should be equal to someone's right not to and vice versa. In short, let's remove the law's obligation from the collective and place it with the individual.

How a person chooses to spend Good Friday should be down to themselves alone. In essence, whether or not alcohol should be sold on Good Friday isn't the question - but having the freedom of choice is.

Enniscorthy Guardian