No half measures with big drinks companies

Posted By: October 07, 2016

Denis Bradley. Irish News (Belfast). Friday, October 7, 2016
Paul Givan was howling at the moon – well, howling might be too strong. An extra hour or so for drinking up and a bit longer opening on a Holy Thursday is as relevant to the issue as the proverbial ashtray on a motorbike.

Tinkering around with a few changes to the opening times of pubs is not where the game’s at,  and,  to be fair to Paul, he is not the only one who is off the pace; the whole political establishment is showing no sign of knowing where the game’s at.

The game is down the road at Queen’s with a whole bunch of teenagers out of their minds with drink; it is at the MTV concert in Derry with a crowd of wains so drunk that they can’t even stagger into the concert. The game is Irish adults drinking in a far more dangerous way than nearly any other country in the world and nearly one and a half million people on this small island having a problem with their drinking.

The game is the frightening numbers committing suicide and self-harm under the influence and the thousands of acute hospital beds and prison cells that are constantly being occupied with problem drinkers.

The game is in the European Court of Justice and the Scottish Supreme Court where the big drinks companies such as Diageo and 10 big wine producing countries have hired top lawyers to stop Scotland and the Irish government from introducing minimum pricing so that alcohol can’t be sold below a certain price.

The game is the battle for the hearts and minds of a public who don’t want their fathers and mothers, their sons or their daughters to be lying drunk up in their homes or down in the back alleyways of Queen’s but who want to be able to continue to buy cheap drink in every supermarket and petrol station on the island.

Howl at those realities, Paul, and I will howl with you.

It’s a big moon and long in the making. Drink and the Irish have always had a love/hate relationship but in the last 30 or so years, we have done everything to make it inevitable that we would end up mostly on the dark side of this moon.

We loved the craic, the image of ourselves as the best talkers, singers, drinkers in Europe and maybe the world. We loved the warmth and the intimacy of the pub but when that became a bit sore on the pocket we abandoned it for the house parties and the cans and bottles that were dirt cheap in the supermarkets. We liked to ‘mark’ things, so every birthday and anniversary and birth and death and everything in between entered into the ‘spirit’.

We don’t do half measures. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. My age group did it well and the next generation did it even better.

Twenty percent of us don’t drink at all but the 80 percent of us that do, drink between 12 and 14 liters of pure alcohol every year. That is roughly 500 pints of beer, 130 bottles of wine or 50 bottles of vodka. Over the water in Scotland, they match and even outdo us. Since the Scottish National Party came to power they have been trying to bring down the amount of alcohol drunk. They want to bring it down to about nine liters of pure alcohol, still a lot but enough to save thousands of lives and free up a vast number of hospital beds and prison cells.

The Irish government has belatedly come on board on the side of the Scottish and both are being fought tooth and nail by the big producers. They are dragging the governments into every law court that will give them a hearing and they are spending a fortune of money convincing the public that alcohol problems are the sole responsibility of the individual drinker and have nothing to do with marketing and pricing. Keep the spotlight on the drinker and as far away as possible from the amounts drunk. The exact same tactic that was once used by the tobacco industry.

This is one of the biggest social and economic issues facing every government on these islands. To bring about any change will take a lot of heavy political lifting.

Don’t think tinkering with pub hours is going to cut it, Paul.