So are we still really a nation of big boozers?

From the Irish Independent

09 MARCH 2013

The alcohol scare stories are all too familiar and are played out year after year in TV programmes amid much hand-wringing.

The comedian Des Bishop was just the latest to paint a grim picture of an alcohol-fuelled, sozzled generation tottering late at night through our towns and city centres, which he dubbed “Stumbleville”.

In his series Under the Influence, Bishop gave an eloquent denunciation of our drink culture that would have been worthy of the temperance campaigner Father Mathew.

There were the usual pixellated shots of ossified girls in mini-skirts and urinating fellas.

But Bishop failed to mention one salient fact:  Irish  people are drinking significantly less than they did a decade ago.

Contrary to the popular image, alcohol consumption has plummeted by 20pc since its peak during the Celtic Tiger.

A report by the Dublin City University economist Anthony Foley found that the Irish were knocking back an average of 14.4 litres of pure alcohol in 2001. That dropped to 11.6 litres in 2012.

The figures are compiled using information from the Revenue Commissioners.

We may at last be beginning to adopt the old slogan, “Ireland sober is Ireland free” (or as James Joyce put it in Finnegans Wake: “Ireland sober is Ireland stiff”).

So why are we drinking less? Part of the reason is that the Pope’s Children, as popularised by David McWilliams in his book, are moving towards middle age, and simply don’t have money to squander on booze.

Our love affair with the gargle reached its peak at the turn of the millennium, according to this theory, because there was a population bubble and an economic boom.

Jean Doyle, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, said: “There was a baby boom at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. These people came of age at the turn of the millennium.

“There were a lot of young, single people with disposable income and job security. People were out and about and socialising.”

Many of these young boozers then settled down and took on huge mortgages.

They left the pubs in droves, but continued drinking at home. Then the recession hit, and overall alcohol consumption dropped.

The collapse in the pub trade has continued with a 7pc drop in sales by volume over the past year.

The cheaper price of home drinking is a major factor in the decline of the pub, but more recently off-licences have also started to come under pressure.

This week the National Off Licence Association predicted that up to 30 off-licences would close this year.

Under-age drinking also seems to be declining. With each passing year, there are fewer reports of teenagers going wild during Junior Cert celebrations.

The ESPAD survey of 15-16-year-olds showed that the number of Irish teenagers who had drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days had dropped to 50pc, significantly below the European average.

However, even though teenagers drink on fewer occasions, when they do go on a bender they drink more than most of their European counterparts.

That seems to be a trait common to all age groups.

Although alcohol consumption has dropped, there is little room for complacency.

Just because there has been a decline in alcohol consumption does not mean we are not drinking too much, according to Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland. “It is true that we are drinking less than in 2001, but that was the peak.”

Our consumption is still roughly equivalent to 450 pints of beer per year each.

Some of us may be going on the wagon, but Ireland still has a long way to go before our drinking habits could be described as moderate.