Fact: we are a nation who can’t control our drinking

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We are living up to the stereotype of the drunken fighting Irish, with no desire to change, writes Emer O’Kelly in the Sunday Independent


Sunday August 12 2012

Like everyone else in the country I’m enormously proud of Katie Taylor and her achievement. I am not, however, talking about her in the plural: “we” didn’t win Olympic Gold; Taylor did.

Her achievements are hers alone, won in the solitary world of effort, sacrifice, and loneliness, with only her coach and her immediate family to encourage her.

I’m proud of her; but I can’t lay claim to her. (And that’s despite the fact that I actually think all boxing should be banned rather than being an Olympic sport.)

One of the reasons I’m entranced by her is that she is modest and charming, and reserves her pugnacity for the ring. Modesty and charm are not necessarily the qualities you associate with athletes who reach the very top: they usually need to be ruthless, selfish, and aggressive.

Taylor is also very pretty: her looks are irrelevant, I know, but I defy anybody with a woman boxer in their mind’s eye (before the advent of Taylor) who wouldn’t envisage a muscle-bound, lantern-jawed, huge-shouldered figure. Politically incorrect, maybe, but true.

So Katie Taylor has broken one kind of stereotyping. Another emerged during the week when the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, and the Brisbane Times in Australia, all published under the Fairfax Media banner an article which commented that “for centuries, Guinness and whiskey have sent the Irish off their heads. Now all it takes is a petite 26-year-old from Wicklow”.

Cue the Irish ambassador, His Excellency Mr Noel White. He wrote a letter of injured complaint to Fairfax about the article being a disappointing lapse into stereotyping. Really?

We’ve had reports and surveys which prove beyond argument our “dysfunctional relationship” with alcohol.

The Junior Minister at the Department of Health, Roisin Shortall, has spent most of her time since her appointment (or so it seems) trying to bring forward a scheme to reduce our nationwide binge-drinking patterns.

A couple of weeks ago we had appalling acts of grievous bodily harm, including death, in the national park, among the audience of “youngsters” attending a “harmless” pop concert.

The streets outside any entertainment venue or pub are like cess-pits on a Satur-day morning, flowing with the contents of drunken people’s stomachs. (My apologies if your own stomach is a little delicate.)

Hardly a weekend passes without several serious stabbings outside pubs. They may not all be fatal, but many of them may leave the victim maimed for life, with a propensity to organ failure. Speaking of organ failure, we have an enormously high rate of organ failure following diabetes. . . brought on by lifelong alcohol abuse.

We see people being given life sentences for murder, often of a best friend: blind rage has been brought on after a three-day drinking binge, possibly over something as simple as a disputed sports score or an imagined flirtation with a girlfriend.

Nobody with any sense walks alone in the centre of our cities late at night, for fear of an alcohol- or drug-fuelled attack.

Parents lie awake at night fretting, unwilling to admit that fact to their teenage sons and daughters because they don’t want to make the kids feel guilty about going out to have fun.

But they worry about the kids drinking themselves insensible and therefore being open to all kinds of other abuse, or of their finding themselves in situations they can’t cope with, because the atmosphere has suddenly been made dangerous and threatening by young men and women who have turned into savages and produced weapons as they become progressively more drunk.

It’s not just a parent’s worst nightmare: it’s also commonplace.

We have quite a lot to offer distinguished visitors; most countries offer them what they’re famous for. In our case we choose alcohol. We brought an 85-year-old Monarch and her 90-year-old Consort to a brewery to stare in rapt admiration at a pint of Guinness. We brought an American President and his First Lady, both of whom are avowed fitness fanatics and look like magnificent panthers to prove it, to a pub.

The 19th-Century Punch cartoon of the thick, violent Irish drunk (referred to in the Australian article the Ambassador objected to) was rejected as an imperialist British slur on the Irish by generations of us.

Now we have the scientific, medical, and legal facts to prove that we are a nation who can’t control our drinking; we become brutal and quarrelsome when drunk; and we have no desire to change.

Perhaps Ambassador White should have found something better to do, despite achieving an apology from Peter Hanlon, the Fair-fax journalist who wrote the Australian article in question. And maybe Hanlon should have told everyone, including the ambassador, that he was damned if he was going to apologise for telling the simple truth.