Three pieces in the morning papers got a rise out of me today. First and foremost, an excellent opinion piece in the Irish Times by Brian O’Connell about the appalling situation regarding cut-price or below-cost alcohol sales; then, a shocking (to my eyes) report on how the Irish are apparently at odds with the rest of the EU’s views on drink-driving; and finally, the depressing story of a gang of young arseholes who put their infantile driving ‘antics’ on YouTube, complete with their Toyota car registrations and ‘crazy’ nicknames.
All of them make frustrating reading in their own ways. Both drink and driving are clearly major problems in Ireland, never minding the horror of what can happen when the two go together. But I have too many questions about what constitutes common sense in these situations. What is the problem with drink-driving?
It depresses me beyond words that such a swell of Irish residents (31% of those surveyed) believe it’s a ‘minor road safety issue’. What is this mindset to do with? Is this really a mentality issue? Is it due to the slack attitude of the successive governments who allowed people to drive by themselves without a full licence for so many years? Is it really to do with the preservation of the mythical ‘rural way of life’, where drink-driving is actually considered ‘a way of life’ and not of potential death? Or is the drinks industry’s relentless whingeing about pub closures actually an influential factor here?
Predictably, the trade are dismayed by the forthcoming 50mg limit, which is due to come into law by the end of the summer. The likes of Vinters Federation Ireland, along with many rural TDs, have consistently argued against it, citing the imminent closure of many countryside pubs – as if this is some form of excuse for drink-driving to continue as normal. Do they seriously believe drink-driving is a shruggably acceptable risk? Are they canvassing the opinions of anyone other than publicans and selfish drinkers here? Are the heartbroken families of those killed by drink-drivers part of their way of thinking? What about the crippled or disfigured survivors of drink-drive crashes, did they give their wholehearted backing?
I’ve long been of the opinion that attitudes towards alcohol need to change and change quickly here – and by ‘here’, I mean Ireland AND the UK. It’s something that seriously ought to be taught in schools, instead of via horror-film TV advertising. It used to be the case that people would suggest going out for ‘a pint’, even if they knew it’d be more than one; now you’re actually told people are meeting for the unequivocal plural, ‘pints’. A small issue, perhaps, but it seems the more we know, the less we seem to mind.
It’s a few years now since former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell made a rare suggestion for the actual improvement of Irish society, with his proposal to grant licences for café-bars who would have sold meals as well as alcohol, which he hoped would cut down on binge-drinking by introducing a more European “café culture”. Of course, his initiative hit the skids because of objections from those same publicans who were happy to rip us off as cheaply as possible – and, of course, from the the ultra-conservative, by-God-we-cannot-be-seen-to-change ruling party, Fianna Fáil.
Much as I never like to see anyone losing their jobs or livelihoods, I have little sympathy for those despairing publicans and their breweries following the café-bar objection. They show little else but contempt, not only for our health and well-being, but for our pockets – never mind during the ‘boom’ years, when pubs themselves were selling for stupid Monopoly money sums, even now in the midst of recession, their products are over-priced beyond any reasoning. I never understand why consumers moan and groan about the price of petrol – a precious, finite resource that costs billions to produce – and yet never think anything of paying the best part of a fiver for a pint of beer or stout, knowing it’s almost entirely made out of water.
Maybe that’s one of the many side-effects of drinking culture. Like with those who don’t see drink-driving as a major road safety problem, there’s little sense of proportion after a couple of pints.