| 8.7°C Dublin

Anna Nolan: There are still tough questions that need to be asked about politicians and drink

NELL McCafferty should never have made the unfounded and by now infamous accusations on Newstalk about Mary Harney being 'an alcoholic'. The comments were inappropriate and unfounded and should never have been broadcast.

But there is no reason why we should not still have strong debate in this country about our culture of drinking and the impact it may have on politicians who make the big decisions.

What if a politician is in fact an alcoholic? Do we, the public, have the right to know this and should a politician's personal battle with drink be up for discussion and debate? Of course it should. People drink too much in Ireland -- this we know. And if our politicians drink too much, we need to hear about it.

Stories abound of Dail bar drinking down the years -- the kind of drinking that might go beyond the level of a post-work gin and tonic. Now, I don't believe for a minute that politicians shouldn't have the odd pint after a hard day's work.


But drinking 'crews' can lead to a certain mindset -- they can become arrogant, self-serving cliques in which, arguably, it might become difficult to differentiate between who is good for the job and who is good craic down the Dail bar.

Loyalties built on lager only lead to cloudy judgment.

Brian Cowen was questioned on Ryan Tubridy's first Late Late Show as to the amount of alcohol he drank. It was uncomfortable television and I thought long and hard about whether I considered it even appropriate for Ryan to push our leader on the topic. But I decided Tubridy was absolutely in the right.

The fact is, as taxpayers, we have a right to know whether the leader of this country has a clear head when he goes to the Dail.

In fact, I'd like to go even further than Tubridy and ask ALL politicians how much they drink. In 2006 Charles Kennedy, then leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, admitted to receiving treatment for a drink problem only after ITN informed him that they were about to break the story. He resigned two days later.

Would we react the same way here? I doubt it. I believe we would support anyone who told us that they had a problem with alcohol if they said they were now getting treatment and on the road to recovery.

The fact is, we have a terrible attitude to drinking. We tend to accept without question that there may be big drinkers in positions of authority. We seem scared to tell them that it is not acceptable.

St Patrick's Day is tomorrow and, as a nation, we will traditionally go out at midday and try to get in as many hours of drinking as possible.

And, in different cities around the world, many of our politicians will be showing why you don't have to be Irish to be Irish, by knocking back pints of the black stuff with the locals. Sure it would be rude not to ...

No one expects our politicians to be saints. But allowing without question the possibility of heroic drinking at high level makes sinners of us all.

Why was this weirdo allowed to walk free after stalking a girl aged eight?

What a creepy and outrageous case, that of Hubert Noditza and an eight-year-old girl in Killarney. In the District Court there, the 33- year-old French man was found guilty of trespassing at the girl's home and assaulting her father.

He was essentially besotted by this young girl. He sent texts to the child's mother telling her how much he loved her and at one stage set up a tent near the house so as to be close to the girl. One text explained to the mother that his feelings were so strong for the young girl that she "was the only one with whom I felt like living with forever".

While giving evidence, Noditza said he "loved the child -- but not in a bad way". But another text to the girl's mother accused the parents of seeking to make him "go away before [name of child] and I are really married forever".

His outrageous behaviour could only have frightened the parents beyond belief.

But the strangest element of this case is that the judge suspended the 16-month jail sentence because Noditza voluntarily agreed to leave the country in the next 24 hours and not return to Ireland until March 2019, when the girl would be 18. Well, that's grand, so.

This girl now has to deal with the idea that this oddball could return to these shores when she is 18.

Well there's something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Noditza is free to roam around France, doubtless dreaming of the day he will be reunited with the child he has said he wants to marry.

Sorry, but when a grown man expresses the sort of patently inappropriate feelings towards a young child as this basketcase did, you would think he would be open to more than scrutiny.

His home here, his computer if he had one, and his entire background should have been turned upside down and inside out with a fine-tooth comb.

But the fact that he was actually set free just because he said he would leave the country until the youngster is older is worse than appalling.

It's sick -- and I thought that was what psychiatric hospitals were for.

Enjoy the mayhem, I'm off

I am off to the Canaries for a cheap and cheerful break. I will be celebrating my least favourite day of the year, St Patrick's Day, in a little Irish local there. I have not been home for Paddy's Day for as long as I care to remember.

When I did stay home, I'd refuse to leave the house. I'd watch the parade on TV and reminisce about how my father would carry us on his shoulders to see it in the pouring rain and we'd wave at the alarm company float. He still has nightmares.

This year I will have some tapas and a glass of watery Guinness and praise the gods that I am not in Dublin to witness the annual scene from Apocalypse Now as dusk descends and the pubs spill out on to the city streets.