John Meagher: No more living in denial — our love of drink is deadly

From the Irish Independent

SIX hours before Swedish House Mafia took to the stage on Saturday night, an undeniable air of menace clung to Phoenix Park. Even that early in the day, before the gates to the concert venue had opened, the prospect of trouble ahead looked certain.

A significant minority of revellers in the area appeared to be completely out of it, with puddles of vomit and discarded spirits bottles telling their own tales. But it was the palpable sense of aggression that emanated from group after group of young men that made the passer-by fear the worst.

Quite frankly, it had been a long time since so many testosterone-fuelled thugs had gathered in the same place, and the combination of excessive alcohol and unremitting sunshine exacerbated an already dangerous scenario.

The headlines that emerged shame a generation of Irish people, not least when one considers that Swedish House Mafia played dates in Spain and Scotland at the weekend and there were no problems in either place.

Saturday’s events put paid to the friendly Irish cliche and magnifies the vile, antisocial behaviour of certain young men who have a trigger-happy attitude towards violence.

Their brutal antics can be seen throughout the country when the pubs have closed. They have also been an ominous presence at music events before, at an Oasis concert some years ago and at Oxegen in 2006. They are the sort of men who, if they resided across the Irish Sea, might find an outlet for their thuggery in football hooliganism.

Pop psychologists can point to several factors in the disaffection of young men today — from rising unemployment to the prevalence of broken homes — but it is impossible to ignore the part excessive alcohol consumption plays.

More than anything else, the nightmare issues of Phoenix Park lay bare our malignant, insidiously dependent relationship with alcohol.

Yesterday, scores of angry people were on the phone to Joe Duffy to complain about the promoters and level of policing — and both MCD and the gardai will have questions to answer — yet the primary reason for the carnage in the park can be levelled at the door of drink.

This country’s long-standing obsession with alcohol and the growing, increasingly acceptable drink-to-get-drunk culture is having dire consequences and the sooner we collectively take notice the better.

Our passion for alcohol has reinforced stereotypes — witness the ‘Green Army’ and their herculean drinking in Poznan during the Euros last month — but it’s also exposed a dark side to Ireland, one that many of us appear only too happy to sweep under the carpet.

Consider the recent spate of random street assaults and the reams of anecdotal accounts of antisocial behaviour — everything from savage beatings to urinating in public. Alcohol has been the lubricant in most cases and our A&E departments are groaning under the pressure.

Abroad — in places such as Perth, Australia — hordes of young Irish drinkers have caused such a nuisance that notices prohibiting Irish people from seeking jobs or accommodation have cropped up with alarming regularity.

Has it ever been cheaper to buy alcohol? Discount retailers have made buying beer in bulk cheaper than bottled water and you don’t have to travel far to purchase two bottles of wine — that’s 20 units of alcohol — for a lot less than a tenner. Only last week, Centra came under fire for a “children’s allowance promotion” that flagged the cheap price of its lager.

The bars at the Phoenix Park concert stopped serving at 10pm on Saturday, but by that stage it was too late. The people who were hell-bent on causing trouble had, in all likelihood, pumped themselves with alcohol long before they got to the entrances of the venue.