A report was released by the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group this week containing a number of recommendations to the Government concerning the sale, advertisement and legislation of alcohol in this country.
As would be expected from such an exhaustively researched and ludicrously expensive report, most of its recommendations are of a mind-numbingly stupid, naive and ill-informed nature. Many of these proposals will no doubt go on to be adopted by the Government in their laudable and ever-continuing struggle to prove that reactionary and unnecessary legislation can actually have a positive impact on society. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.
There is plenty to say on the shortcomings of this particular report, which I will get to presently, but firstly I think it is important to point out that the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group has itself been the subject of some bad press recently. The organisation was chastised in a report released just last week by the Committee for the Regulation of Clumsily Titled Governmental Bodies. It was also included in a list of the worst offenders in last month’s damning report by the Investigative Coalition into Giant Wastes of Taxpayers’ Money. Lastly, and perhaps most gravely, the group was criticised this week by the British Association of NGOs Against Non-Acronyms (or BANANA for short) for adopting such an unwieldy set of initials.
As for the report itself, it concerns itself largely with the issues of advertising and sponsorship practised by alcohol companies, and contains some elucidating statistics on the subject. Apparently 40% of 16-21 year olds own an item of clothing with an alcohol brand on it, with 26% owning a sporting jersey with an alcohol brand logo. In other obvious and irrelevant news, 97% of people have seen a pint of beer at some stage, 78% admitted to preferring drinks with tiny umbrellas in them, and a whopping eleven million per cent of Irish teenagers admitted, while in floods of shame-induced tears, that they ritually drink ten litres of vodka every night before going out, as well as sacrificing a live goat and bathing in its entrails in order to absorb its wisdom.
Forgive my facetiousness, but misplaced hysteria is becoming all too common in our society, and this ludicrous report has just dumped a veritable mountain of it on the Government’s doorstep and expects them to react accordingly. One of its suggestions is to ban alcohol sponsorship of ‘all sporting and large outdoor events’. Obviously they took a good look around the emergency rooms of our country’s hospitals, watching the deluge of young men and women staggering in, getting their stomachs pumped, and assaulting doctors and nurses, and thought to themselves, “That Heineken Cup really has a lot to answer for.” This is a group of people who don’t even understand the basic principles of cause and effect, to say nothing of possessing any knowledge of the cultural or societal or sociological reasons for our multitude of substance abuse problems. The sheer stupidity of commissioning such a group to write a very costly report on the subject is breathtaking.
Another proposal is one that has been talked about recently and looks set to be passed into law in the near future: the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol. This is presumably set to work in tandem with the existing law that forces off-licenses to close at ten o’clock every night, since everyone knows that teenagers usually wait until about eleven to stock up on booze. The ignorance and myopia inherent in these kinds of laws is staggering. Attack the symptoms, not the problem itself; make it slightly more inconvenient for people to drink themselves to death, but whatever you do, don’t ask them why they do it. Then you might actually have to confront an issue head-on for once instead of just being seen to be doing something about it.
The reality is that the publicans wield a massive amount of power in the Dáil. This is why it is consistently being made more difficult and more expensive to buy alcohol outside of a licensed premises. These laws aren’t being passed so that less 16-year-olds end up in A&E on a Friday night. They aren’t being passed because Guinness advertisements are so insidious that they subconsciously instil in you a need to go out and get hammered. And they certainly aren’t being passed to act as the catalyst for a monumental change in our attitude to drink as a country. They are being passed because our politicians are weak, lazy, and completely in thrall to the publicans.
The groups tirelessly searching for a solution to our drinking problem will not find it in prohibition or restriction. A fundamental shift in the outlook and practises of an entire society is not something that can be accomplished in the short-term. One thing is definite: that it is impossible to attack a problem before first understanding it. And the understanding of a complex issue such as this certainly does not lie in how many T-shirts you own that contain the logo of a beer company. When faced with such idiotic reasoning, is it any wonder so many of us are driven to drink?