Time to sober up: our drink problem is a crisis

SURPRISE, surprise, St Patrick’s Day turned into an alcohol-fuelled binge of violence. Now there’s a shock. Didn’t see that coming.

Strolling down the capital city’s most fashionable shopping district around Grafton Street, innocent passers-by saw punch-ups breaking out while a woman and her children distressingly witnessed a teenaged couple performing a sexual act in broad daylight.

While not occurring in quite as high-profile locations, the general pattern of public disorder was repeated across the country.

Céad Míle Fáilte to the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint.

The combination of the sunshine and the mid-week day off led to a cocktail of drink and brawling.

The efforts of officialdom to provide safe and alcohol-free entertainment in an age when it is ever more difficult to impress the public deserves to be acknowledged.

According to Maire Moynihan, the chief executive of the St Patrick’s Day Festival, a change of culture is coming about, with the public embracing the alternative to spending the national holiday in the pub.

Rather than merely filming footage of the parades across the country, perhaps the TV cameras would be better served sticking around to bear witness to what happens after the parades finish.

The floats are replaced by a menacing air once the formalities of the parades are concluded and the real celebration of being Irish commences.

In Cork, gardaí arrested more than 40 people after a number of fights broke out in the city centre, but that doesn’t count as major trouble. In Dublin, mini-riots and mass brawls occurred and still it doesn’t register as a problem.

The fact the Garda Síochána in numerous parts of the country wrote off drunken brawls and a string of disturbances as just being “similar to a weekend night” speaks volumes about what has become acceptable behaviour these days.

Despite receiving 2,500 calls in Dublin alone on St Patrick’s Day, gardaí were strangely reluctant to acknowledge the habit of ‘all hell breaking loose’ every time an excuse is granted for a drinking-fest.

Yet this time it was supposed to be different. In this day and age the nation is supposed to be more reticent.

This is the post-Brian Murphy trial Ireland. The penny is supposed to have dropped. Word of the public examination of drinking culture has even reached foreign shores.

The prestigious New York Times featured an article entitled ‘Anxiety Over Alcohol Rises in Ireland After Manslaughter Trial’ on St Patrick’s Day.

Taking up the themes emerging as a result of the convictions from the Brian Murphy manslaughter trial, Brian Lavery wondered about the impact of the outcome.

“At home and abroad, the Irish traditionally celebrate their patron saint by ‘drowning the shamrock’ with whiskey and beer. But this St Patrick’s Day, Ireland is in the midst of an extraordinary bout of hand-wringing about the nation’s collective drinking problem,” he wrote.

On Monday, three young men in the prime of their lives were sentenced to prison terms for their involvement in an incident which resulted in the death of Brian Murphy.

Within 48 hours, scenes along the same lines as those outside Anabels nightclub on that fateful night four years ago were being repeated.

Forget about the inquisition: there’s pints to be downed.

The expressions of shock over the exposure of the teenage drinking culture in this country from the trial have dulled.

Remember the run-down of a naggin of vodka, five pints of beer, two shots and five alco-pops consumed by just one witness.

In cities and towns up and down the country, teenagers went out again and bought alcohol unimpeded to get sloshed in honour of St Patrick.

Not that it can all be blamed on underage drinkers. Their older counterparts hardly covered themselves in glory either.

Isn’t this also the country where so-called Draconian measures have been introduced to crack down on the alcohol culture?

Where are the closure orders for the off-licenses selling alcohol to underage drinkers and the pubs still serving drink to clearly inebriated customers?

While on the subject, where are the night courts, the enforced curfews for thugs and the exclusion orders for gurriers from town centres as promised before the last general election?

But this opens up the entire debate about the rescinding of the commitment to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí and that argument just goes around in circles.

No matter what way it is examined, the nation’s worsening addition to alcohol is a real crisis requiring actual action rather than worthless platitudes about clampdowns.

If the legislation is in place, then the rule of law needs to be enforced.

Just because no one ended up in a coma, or worse, on St Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean it can be just swept under the carpet as another regular day.

Clearly the lessons to society of the most intensely scrutinised trial in recent times have not been learned.

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