Back when I was a teenager, (about 10 years ago, no really, it was!!!) there was a group of men in our town who were known as the local wino’s. Now, I remember seeing them drinking down along the water wall, next to the river. I recall seeing them drunk but not falling down drunk. I never saw any of them passed out on the street or being sick, and they all lived into their sixties and seventies. Looking back now, these men almost seem like paragons of temperance and moderate drinking compared to what I see on the streets around me now. We Irish like to portray ourselves as the ‘easy-going, happy drinker, just out for the craic’, but the truth is, we are the world's drunk.
This is not the land of the ‘happy drinker’, it is the land of the serious alcoholic. It's hard to believe this country was once known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. (The saints are thin on the ground now and most of the scholars have emigrated). Alcoholism is endemic in our society and the fall out from it reverberates into every area of our lives whether through days lost at work, the cost to the public purse of medical treatment and court cases, not to mention the long term social problems it causes in families. The estimated cost of alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland in one year is - £900 million pounds – yes you read that correctly!...I’ll repeat it for you just to be sure, NINE HUNDRED MILLION POUNDS!! This is just in the six counties of the North, in a population of less than 2 million people...and what is the government solution to stem the cost of all this?
Well, this is the really fun bit, the first thing that our local minister is proposing in order to help curb the binge drinking culture, is to allow the pubs to open later! Yes, that’s right, in order to stop people drinking more, they are proposing to allow the pubs to open longer so that people will be able to drink more???!!! I kid you not! Ye cuddent mick it up (that’s Ulster Scots, by the way, oh sorry , I forgot, we did that already! See previous post - Belfast Riots)
The next proposal is to allow children to stay in the pub until 9.00pm so that their parents can drink longer!! This is also to make us more attractive to tourists, apparently?!! Yes, there’s nothing like watching the local clientele drink themselves into a state of emotional tiredness to make your holiday in Ireland complete. If you’re really lucky, a fight might break out and think how much more enjoyable this scene will be when the local steroid-inflated bouncers come charging in to ‘sort things out’ while a couple of children cringe terrified and crying in the corner. No holiday in Ireland would be complete without it!!
Third on the list, and you are going to love this one - they propose to put the alcohol behind a solid wall in the supermarket so that you have to buy it separately from your shopping!!!! Well, that should sort everything out now, shouldn’t it??
Yes I can see it now, picture the scene – two adults, who imbibe on a daily basis, find themselves at home on a Tuesday night and the drink has run out, the dilemma, what will they do now? Which of these do you think, is the most probable outcome??
A) Decide they’ve probably had enough and could do with an early night, so they go to bed and sleep it off.
B) Flip a coin to see who will go to the supermarket to check out the latest drink offer but decide the stress and inconvenience of having to buy it at a separate counter from the rest of the store puts them off so they call it a night and go to bed!
C) Phone their local taxi service to get them a carry out from the local off-licence?
Yes, for our inebriated friends, it’s really not much of a competition is it?? Because we all know addicts would walk through hell-fire to get their drug of choice and would quite happily sell their mother, soul, children into servitude, if it meant getting what they wanted. Oh, and meanwhile up the hill at Stormont (the NI Parliament), they are still debating minimum pricing!
Meanwhile, down here in the real world, the graveyards are steadily filling up and every day the social problems grow and grow, passing on a legacy of neglect and abuse from one generation to the next. There is hardly a family in this country that doesn’t have at least one alcoholic and several problem drinkers.
Now as I previously mentioned, the RAAD (Right (bunch of) Assh*les Against Democracy, I think that’s what it stands for...) are busy shooting and beating up young men for recreational drug use. Meanwhile, the country is rapidly disappearing into an alcoholic haze of dysfunction and depression. If they were really interested in ridding this country of it’s drug problem, then they should start with the most damaging and costly drug of all, ALCOHOL!!
So what could be done to curb the drinking problem? Well, here’s a few ideas that I would like to propose. Firstly, restrict the opening hours of off-licences and close them completely for two days a week, say Sunday and Monday. Better still, let’s close everything on a Sunday. I’ve been to many countries in Europe and it was a revelation to me that everything still closes down on a Sunday. Why can’t we do the same, allow the shops to open later during the week, if necessary, but couldn’t we all do with a day off from everything. I remember lazy, quiet Sunday’s when I was young, they were great, we wandered around town and out into the countryside, we had peace and time to explore.
Next, lower the tax on beer and hike it up on spirits, wine and alco-pops, and remove all tax and VAT from non-alcoholic drinks, like Becks Alcohol Free, which I drink myself and would highly recommend. (For the record, I'm not a reformed alcholic, I've just seen and experienced too many of the negative effects of alcohol, and I have better things to do with my time and money)
Next, they could try enforcing the law in relation to age and prohibit the sale of strong spirits to under 21’s. It wouldn’t do any harm to ban all advertising that glamorizes alcohol while they’re at it. So what do you think, not very drastic measures but worth consideration?
And then, maybe we could all start telling the truth about alcohol. We treat it as our best friend, no occasion is complete without this guest of honour but, in reality, it is our worst enemy, and who in their right mind would invite their worst enemy into their home and family? Alcohol destroys families, wastes lives, money and talent, and the long term damage to children is something that would be almost impossible to quantify. Alcohol needs to be treated with care because if you don't treat it with respect, it will strip you of yours. So, if you take a drink, enjoy it but remember that the view through the bottom of the glass is a false one and no problem was ever resolved by drinking yourself into a stupor. Life sober really isn't that bad, I still enjoy a night out but I can drive home at the end of it, I wake up with no 'morning after', my purse isn't empty, and I actually remember the nights events. So, try it sometime, who knows, you might even grow to like it.
As usual, comments are welcome.