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Column Yes, booze causes problems – but why tar us all with the same brush?

Proposals to hike the minimum price of alcohol are penalising moderate drinkers for the sins of those who have bigger problems, writes Aaron McKenna.

“WE’RE DRINKING TOO much as a country,” said junior minister Roisin Shortall during the week as she mooted government plans to introduce a minimum price floor for alcohol below which retailers cannot sell. The move follows on from a sustained campaign that has turned the very concept of ‘drinking’ into an altogether negative one. We have had to put up with ever tightening hours of sale and attempts to ban alcohol companies from advertising.

I think I missed the day in school where we learned that the government is the arbiter of what you or I do on our own time and with our own money. I musn’t tune in to RTÉ at the right hour to receive the latest updates from big brother on the acceptable activities for my weekend. I guess I just ignore junk mail to the extent that I lose the pamphlets on how much water, coca cola, tea and beer I’m allowed to imbibe over a defined period of time.

The sustained war on all those who want to have a drink has, in recent years, meant that you can hardly go to the cinema on a Friday night and come out to have a beer in a pub on a spur of the moment decision. You have to pre-plan the operation and zip into your supermarket between certain hours and feel even more the social pariah for having a constantly stocked fridge for those occasions you just feel like having one or two out of hours.

Our national nannies have tried to ban alcohol related companies from advertising and sponsoring things like sports events. For sure if you stop and think about it, most rugby players probably wouldn’t be at the top of their game after four pints of Guinness. But the sponsorship of the sport by that brand has enabled it to do a lot of good work in terms of promoting sports to youngsters, and if it gives us fans a craving every now and again for a pint of the black stuff so be it. We’re grown ups, and can make decisions for ourselves.

Drinking ourselves silly

The addition of minimum pricing to the mix in supermarkets is a nanny state kick in the teeth for everyone trying to get by in the recession. I’m not a fan of Tesco’s own brand gin, but I’d say I’m counted among the majority who are glad to be able to pick up a decent beer at €1 a bottle on special offer.

Unlike the conjured image of drinkers that Shortall and nanny staters like her would conjure, I’m not going home to drink myself silly and beat my dog with the bottle. Government spinsters have told us that pretty much every societal ill, from child abuse to accidents in the workplace, are alcohol caused.

I would suggest that child abuse, workplace accidents and brawls in the street are caused by people whose problems do not begin or end the moment they have a drink. These people are stupid, evil or both and the government doesn’t bother to show a proven link to causation as opposed to the correlation between these savages and their love of the sauce.

For every brute who kicks his wife and kids around after half a bottle of whiskey there is a social worker who can’t read the handwritten notes of his predecessor and lets the problem slip through the cracks. Maybe that, too, has something to do with the ills of the world. Somebody ought to do something about that, eh?

The truth is that there are people who abuse alcohol, but they are in the minority. This we can guess by the fact that we do not live in a dystopian and non-functioning society. You don’t get to be first world if everyone is a drunk. The approach government takes, and specifically the nannyite elements within it who just can’t help but see something they’d love to regulate in every facet of our lives, is a one size fits all jackboot.

Medical bills

Likely you and I enjoy alcohol responsibly, but we will pay the minimum (and heaven knows, because the taxman will be a net recipient of some of that new minimum, ever rising) price of alcohol. We may, for some unfathomable reason, have innocent reasons for wanting a beer at home after 11pm; but if we didn’t pre-plan it, we’ll go to the pub or we’ll go dry. All of this we do so that the abusers of alcohol, who will likely beg, borrow or steal to get it, can afford to feed themselves and their kids a little less to sate their appetite.

Maybe you and I will enjoy a little more alcohol than the doctors recommend, without it ending in a scene from Eastenders. Perhaps over our lifetimes this will cause us some problems and raise our medical bills. Fair point, that society shouldn’t shoulder this burden alone. So maybe people treated for alcohol related illnesses should receive a loading in their national or private health insurance. Same thing for those of us who enjoy chocolate and burgers too much and exercise too little.

A minimum price for alcohol will harm everyone. Individual loadings and pointed medicals from insurance companies will target the problem people. Better social services and work on things like poverty and poor education will deal with the real abusers, the alcoholics and the miscreants who will drink no matter if booze is outlawed.

The nanny state loves to regulate. It feels good spreading itself out into all kinds of different areas in ever more invasive ways. We ought to put a stop to it, because I didn’t sign on to live in some civil servants idea of utopia. There are problems with alcoholics, not with alcohol. Leave the majority of us who enjoy one but aren’t the other alone and take a nuanced approach.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna.

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