EVERY YEAR IN Ireland, the same debate consumes the country coming up to Easter. Should people in Ireland, above the legal age to consume alcohol, be allowed to do so on Good Friday?
It is my firm belief that yes, we should and that the Intoxicating Liquor Act (1927), which governs this area is simply outdated, inconsistent and anti-enterprise.
The law is already flawed with a number of holes that provide exemptions for numerous different circumstances. It is therefore inconsistent with the original intention of the ban, to keep Ireland in line with Christian ideals and traditions.
Provided for within the legislation, exemptions exist for members of the public in licenced premises when they are travelling by rail, ferry or air or served within a cultural institution.
If the purpose of the Good Friday alcohol ban is to prevent people from consuming alcohol on this one specific day of the year, then why do so many exemptions exist? Another example of how selective Ireland has been with regards to this law was when an exemption was allowed in Limerick specifically for the Leinster versus Munster rugby match in Thomond Park.
Our moral stance on this issue collapsed in spectacular fashion.
It is also very much anti-enterprise. Along with the above exemptions, a customer may also be served alcohol in a hotel, as long as it is served with a meal, but why not restaurants? Serving beverages, including alcoholic beverages, are essential to any restaurant business. For many of these restaurants across Ireland, Good Friday becomes bad Friday and they have to close their doors, leading to a significant loss of revenue at the start of a very important long weekend.
The restaurant industry in Ireland employs tens of thousands of people and contributes €2 billion to the Irish economy every year, or €5.5 million every day and in 2011, Judge Mary Fahy described the ban as ‘ludicrous’ in today’s modern world. Legislation needs to be reflective of the Ireland we live in today, not a century ago.
There was a time when it was considered a social taboo to order meat on a Friday, but Ireland has changed and people have moved on. The government cannot allow this anti-enterprise law to continue and prevent much needed revenue from being realised.
I know the arguments that people will put up against this change. They will bring up the fact that Ireland’s corrosive relationship with alcohol does not need to be induced any further by further relaxing alcohol consumption laws. Doing without drink for one day is often cited as a reason in itself to keep the status quo. In effect, it is a legal break for the country and its addiction to alcohol.
Our break from alcohol
While I understand the intention behind this argument, it is deeply flawed, short-sighted and just wrong.
Firstly, just because there are a number of people in our country who can’t consume alcohol without doing so to excess, does not mean that this should prevent the many people in Ireland, including those who visit during the Easter break, from enjoying a nice glass of wine with their dinner on a Friday evening in one of our many beautiful restaurants.
This is a crucial time of the year for tourism, with many people deciding to visit Ireland for the weekend only to find that normal bustling streets of our cities are closed because of our outdated legislation. It seems to be the case in Ireland that the many must pander to the few and accept that their problems should control our lives. Because someone cannot drink responsibly is not reason to prevent me from doing so too.
Imagine, due to our current extreme obesity problem, the government decided to ban all sugary foods for a day, maybe even for a week considering how bad it is getting. I’m sure we can all agree that it wouldn’t even begin to address the problem and would merely be equivalent to applying a plaster over a gaping wound, so why would the same treatment work for alcohol? It doesn’t.
Our alcohol problem still remains on Holy Saturday, despite our one day legal break. It is legal to purchase alcohol on Holy Thursday and in recent years, off-licences have reported record sales in their alcohol stock, therefore again proving that the ban has zero effect in addressing our alcohol problem and it still remains.
Our relationship with booze
When it comes to our relationship with alcohol, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we think banning alcohol for one day will help our dependency is any justified reason for keeping it in place, we are totally fooling ourselves.
This isn’t Ireland being anti-religion and people should of course allow people to practice the traditions of Good Friday and abstain from alcohol consumption if they so wish. But it is imperative that this law does not prevent the many businesses who are still struggling in the sector from trading.
It is time for Ireland to be mature about this issue and realise that banning alcohol on Good Friday is merely paying lip service to those who believe it really prevents people from consuming it on this specific day.
The reality is that despite its original intentions, the law has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese and if I want to drink on Good Friday, all I have to do is travel, check into a hotel or pray to God that Leinster and Munster are playing.
Dale McDermott is a Management Consultant and graduate in Accounting and Finance from the Dublin Institute of Technology. He is also a former president of Young Fine Gael.