Stop watering down drink debate

Of three deaths of Irish people I know of recently, alcohol was a factor in at least two of the cases, and arguably the third as well.

And when I say alcohol was a factor, I don’t mean the price of a cheeky Cabarnet Sauvignon.

But as Ireland ramped up a debate about minimum pricing levels, middle-class columnists were busy mis-framing the debate as being about the price of wine, rather than an issue of culture and excess.

The Journal, The Irish Independent, the Irish Times and the Irish Mirror all noticeably led with the effect that such a policy would have on the price of wine Рand not on the cheap beer and naggins that people young and old now tank up on before they go to the pub or club.

The Late Late Show had a fairly anodyne, ill-informed discussion on Friday (“people in northern Scandinavia drink because it’s dark and they are depressed…” being one nugget of non-wisdom dispensed by the two well-to-do women Ryan interviewed), all the while avoiding the elephant in the room.

And though there are undoubtedly middle-class homes where mummy necking the Pinot Grigio is a problem, the scaled of the national issue is deeper and wider than that.

Much deeper.

And much wider.

Irish people have a deep attachment to alcohol.

We see it as a human right.

We long for the day when we are old enough to drink in pubs, and many of us go on to exercise that right as often as possible for the rest of our lives.

We drink, on average, the equivalent of 468 pints of beer each per year.

Many of us will lie and say that we drink way below that, which brings us to another problem; sure, there are those who drink less than that, which means, that there are those who drink a lot more.

An awful lot more.

Ireland’s drink problem is not a glass of wine, although that is an ideal we will all gladly hide behind if it means we don’t have to confront the staggering level of alcohol abuse in our country.

Ireland’s real problem is the smell of drink off the fella marking you on a Sunday morning, stinking of stale beer and vodka and Red Bull during the only hour’s exercise he gets in the week.

And when he leaves a pitch surrounded by beer ads, he’ll go straight to the clubhouse for a curer.

Ireland’s real problem is every child shouted into silence this morning by a parent with bad breath and a worse headache.

It is every little girl watching a Frozen DVD and hoping that, sometime before lunch, a mother or father might struggle down the stairs to feed them before trudging back again.

It is every kid looking at an empty sideline as they line up for a soccer match, where the dad who promised to be there either couldn’t get out of bed, or was stopped by the police on the way to the park and found to be over the limit.

It is every teenager who gets a pay packet on a Thursday and heads to the pub, believing that the only real way to reward yourself for a week of labour is a feed of pints, and then make a show of yourself.

It is the fat guys and girls gathered in the pubs to watch the rugby team, Liverpool, the Dubs or whatever you’re having yourselves this weekend who, if they were honest, have little interest in sport, but a huge interest in finding another excuse to be in the boozer.

I don’t drink anymore, and haven’t for five or six years. Pretty much the last time I was out I had a great time, but suffered badly from a hangover for days afterwards.

What had an even greater effect was that a young man who was also out here in Stockholm that weekend never came home at all.

After that, I stopped drinking because I have two children that I wanted to come home to.

And when I was at home, I didn’t like the person I was after I had been drinking.

My children deserve better, and my “right” to a good time, as I perceived it back then, in no way trumps their right to a father that loves them and and cares for them and does things with them.

Ireland’s problem with alcohol will not be solved by minimum pricing.

It may never be solved at all.

But it won’t improve until we stop this fake narrative about the price of wine and start talking about the real problem.

We drink too much, and most of us won’t admit it.

We are too tolerant of people who drink too much, and those who make money out of them and their misery.

And while we are pretending to be responsible adults about it, we are hurting those who have done least to deserve it.





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