Pity the pub on its last kegs, but not the off-licence selling drink to kids

  • Post category:News

During the Rose of Tralee selection last Tuesday night, Dáithí O Sé mentioned “dry counties” to the Texas Rose. It was the first time I had heard the term being used for a long time, but I do remember the first time I heard of a “dry county”.

It was my first night at university in Texas. I asked how to get to the nearest pub. With some amusement, I was given directions to Oklahoma. They told me that Denton County was “dry”, which meant they had not repealed prohibition. The nearest pub was about 30 miles away, across the state line in Oklahoma.

Within Texas itself the nearest pubs were in Dallas, but you could buy a six-pack at a liquor store for the same price as a single beer in a bar, so most of the students bought six packs and drank them in somebody’s apartment. The same phenomenon is now developing in this country.

Although the Irish pub may be a growing phenomenon around the world, it is declining here. Pubs have been closing around the country at a rate of about one a day since 2007.

There was a time when a pub licence was worth up to €250,000, but no longer. Now the value is put as low as €40,000. That is frequently a notional value like the value of houses. Nobody is buying, so it is difficult to determine the real price. Pubs are closing much faster than new ones are opening.

To renew a licence, the publican needs a tax clearance certificate. To get the money to pay off their taxes, many publicans need a bank loan, but they cannot get the loans at present. Hence there are almost 1,300 pubs operating without a current licence. Some 550 have just five weeks left to renew their licence, according to the Revenue Commission.

Last November a survey of 748 licensed premises nationwide found that 31% of the bars outside Dublin did not expect they would continue in business after the current proprietors retires. This does not mean people will drink less alcohol but rather that they are more likely to drink at home, which could have serious social consequences.

John O’Mahony, the Fine Gael deputy from Mayo, called for road tax relief on buses run by rural pubs. These could prove a distinct boost to rural communities.

Such imaginative measures might actually enhance the government’s tax take because people in pubs that might otherwise close down would be paying for their drink at a higher rate, which would mean more tax money, and the employees would be paying income tax, rather than drawing unemployment assistance, and they would also be remaining in those rural communities.

People pay more to drink in a pub because it is a social outlet. This is especially important for people living alone. In prison solitary confinement is considered a very harsh punishment. A means of socialising is not just important but vital for people living alone, especially in country areas.

Drinking at home alone used to be considered a dangerous habit and there are no grounds for thinking it is any less dangerous now. It can have horrific behavioural consequences.

Some blame the decline of pubs on the drink driving laws, while others blame the ban on smoking. Smokers find it easier to drink at home, and it is also much cheaper.

Young people were the life blood of many of the larger, more popular pubs, but they have found it much cheaper to buy their drink from an off-licence. They will have a few drinks before going out as a way of cutting down on their drinking in a pub or disco.

In the crowded streets during the Rose of Tralee one noticed many young people carrying their drink in cans or bottles. We are moving away from the old pub culture.

When people talk about drugs, they frequently fail to realise that drugs include more than the likes of cocaine, heroine, opium or ecstasy.

Alcohol and tobacco are also addictive drugs. There are probably more alcoholics in this country than narcotic addicts.

Cigarettes were sold legally with a mercenary recklessness that was designed to get people addicted to them on a similar basis to the way narcotics are now sold illegally. The drug culture began to develop here in the 1970s.

There were actually many more drug addicts in the United States during the 1890s than at present, but the problem was not recognised back then because people were conned into becoming addicted to narcotics. Many of the potions and tonics peddled by travelling medicine men were laced with opiates.

These seemed to cure all kinds of illnesses. At least that was what the people thought and suddenly the tonic was the only thing that gave them relief. Of course, by then they were addicted.

That practice was stamped out with the drug legislation introduced around the turn of the last century. This went a long way to stamping out drug addiction. The legislation dealing with narcotics was a great success, but then the politicians – influenced by the irrational do-gooders – passed the Volstead Act in 1919. It was a constitutional amendment that prohibited the sale of alcohol throughout the United States. They might just as well have tried to outlaw sin.

It may have been well-meaning legislation, but it proved disastrous because it fuelled organised crime throughout the US. We have developed the same kind of criminal gangs in this country around the narcotic drug culture, and this is extending to alcohol.

Prime Time recently highlighted the fact that underage boys and girls in the Finglas area of Dublin had no difficulty ordering beer and spirits for home delivery from different off-licence premises. They paid for the booze when it was delivered without any questions being asked about their age.

THE programme televised 10 different purchases from various premises without so much as one question about the age of the underage people paying for the booze.

When they were confronted with the story of what had happened, some of the business people expressed horror at the way alcohol was sold to minors.

They said they deeply regretted what happened, which they depicted as isolated occurrences. They were investigating the incidents. Their protestations were as unbelievable as their behaviour was reckless and irresponsible.

The law should be strictly enforced and the violators prosecuted. Offenders can be fined and shut down for a month. This should be done and the law should be strengthened to ensure re-offenders could lose their licence.

They violated the law by taking money at the door for the deliveries. Door-to-door selling of alcohol is not permissible and they compounded this by recklessly selling it to minors without regard for the damage that alcohol can do to youngsters, or the damage that they might do to others.

Fianna Fáil promised zero tolerance in 1997, but we have been witnessing an indefinite tolerance that has bred reckless criminal behaviour on an unprecedented scale.

Will government stand idly by while off-licence premises are allowed to get away with selling alcohol to minors with the same mercenary recklessness that cigarette companies got away with?


Source:The Irish Examiner, 28/08/10
Journalist: Ryle Dwyer