Alcohol in society - Hypocrisy ruins too many lives

A YOUNG Clareman, John McGovern, yesterday began a six-year jail sentence for the manslaughter of Michael Doherty who, at 14 years of age, was little more than a child when he was stabbed to death outside a chip shop on a June evening in 2007.

As long as he is in jail McGovern will spend 23 hours a day in protective custody because his father is a garda.

The fatal confrontation took place on the night McGovern — then just 16 — celebrated his leaving certificate results. He, like all of our children do, was taking part in a rite of passage.

The court heard that McGovern had admitted he had drank “about four cans” of lager. These were probably enough to trigger what his mother described as “40 seconds of out-of-character behaviour that had ruined the lives of two families”.

The convicted man’s grandparents may feel an unjustified, inordinate degree of responsibility too as they gave McGovern the knife he used to kill Doherty. Such are the terrible twists of fate that a gesture of love becomes a heavy and unshakeable burden.

Nora and John Doherty told the court of their burden too, of the great anguish that has come to dominate their lives. “We cannot rest at night until we make the sad journey to Michael’s grave,” said his mother Nora.

If this was the first saga of lost and ruined lives, of heartbroken families, of squandered potential and opportunity rooted in drink we might be outraged.

However, that response is rendered threadbare and hypocritical because the tragedy of Michael Doherty’s death and John McGovern’s new reality are just the latest episode in a national tragedy seemingly without end.

There have been many, many more cases like this. Many lead to violence, frightening aggression. Others to deaths on our roads. How many of those fine young people lost to suicide would have taken the final step had they not been drinking?

We all know the toll drink takes on this society. We all worry that our children will endanger themselves or others because they do not understand the absolute power of intoxication.

It is almost too easy to be sanctimonious and hypocritical about this. Drink is a pleasurable part of many lives even if it ruins many more.

But one thing we do know is that in a few short months the class of 2009 will hit the town to celebrate their exam results. We know there is a good chance that there will be another Michael Doherty and another John McGovern. Yet we do little to change the circumstances that lead to these tragedies. Hypocrisy is not often fatal but in this instance it can be and far too often is.

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