Ireland Takes Aim at Alcohol

This might not have been addressed directly in the Reader’s Digest-sponsored Euro-survey I reported yesterday – but when you’re asked to name a great partying nation, the Irish would be at least near the top of your list, am I right? But that would be before you remember that it was precisely Ireland where Europe’s first public-smoking ban was introduced at the end of last March, just barely three months ago. A successful public-smoking ban, too, at least successful so far, and that naturally starts people’s thoughts heading in the direction of whether such a measure can’t also succeed elsewhere. (Of course, Norway banned public smoking in turn just this very month.)

On the other hand, a recent report in the main Czech business newspaper Hospodárské noviny points to this anti-vice crusade spreading in another direction: still within Ireland, at least to begin with, but now with a view to throttling the consumption of alcoholic drinks (The Irish Go to War with Drink, Want ID-Checks, Higher Excise Taxes).

In a way, this is as ambitious as trying to ban coal in Newcastle. You’d still be quite correct in identifying Ireland as a partying nation; the Irish drink the most alcohol of anyone in Europe, and the HN article also cites an Economist study maintaining that Irish spend the most on alcohol than any other nation in the entire world: €1,200 yearly. (I didn’t see any such study in the Economist; author Jirí Sládek might have meant to write EIU instead.) Accompanying these are the all-too-familiar facts that surprise nobody: that alcohol is involved in the commission of most crimes committed in Ireland, and in 40% of traffic accidents there as well.


So what does the Irish government of Bertie Ahearn intend to do? Well, what it already has done, last year, was ban the institution of “Happy Hour,” i.e. drinks for sale at lower prices at special times. (Sládek reports that Irish young people, especially, had proven themselves able to pack away unbelievable quantities of temporarily-cheap drinks during “Happy Hours.”) “And so what else now – Prohibition?” you might well ask, and you’d be right – partially. The Irish government does intend to prohibit the manufacture, transport, and sale of energy alcohol drinks, which it claims are particularly targeted for consumption by the young. Speaking of the young, under proposed Irish legislation outlined in the article, those under 18 would only be allowed to drink at home under parental supervision, while those 18 to 20 years of age could drink in public but would be “carded” (in the American terminology – that is, asked to prove their identity and age with some sort of photo-ID. This happens, or is supposed to happen, to all Americans under the age of 21, by the way, nationwide.). At the same time, Irish authorities intend to put pressures on advertisers to promote alcohol consumption in a more responsible manner. And of course excise taxes on alcohol are heading upwards.

It’s very appropriate that a report such as this one – which could be a source of alarm to many – is appearing in a Czech newspaper in particular; the Irish may drink the most alcohol of all Europeans, but the Czechs drink the most of that sub-set of alcohol known as beer (even more than the Germans; they have always come in second in per-capita consumption). And if the Irish spend more on alcohol than anyone else, that may only be because they are paying Western European consumer prices for the stuff, not Czech prices. For perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this whole phenomenon may be the pan-European, perhaps almost messianic attitude. For example, the Irish authorities would really prefer to have that prohibition on “energy alcohol drinks” come about as the result of an EU measure; they’re only ready to move on their own if for some reason that doesn’t happen. (The Irish do occupy the EU Council presidency for another seven days.) And they want to move towards tighter EU restrictions on the production and sale of alcohol generally, as well as on its promotion.


All of this brings up memories of similar social experiments that have been tried, and spectacularly failed, most especially the Volstead Act (that’s the official name for Prohibition) that prevailed in the United States from 1920 to 1933, and is generally said to have fostered the growth of organized crime and other nasty things. Even today, as mentioned above, Americans below the age of 21 are not supposed to be allowed to drink alcohol, but the respect this provision commands can be gauged by the entanglements with the law it has spurred among none other than the US President’s own daughters. This article also makes me think about all those mobilizing across Europe against the EU in general, and its latest Constitution in particular, who claim that Europe is inexorably heading towards big, bureaucratic government that is destined to homogenize the entire continent and eradicate the many cultural differences that are the main source of its general charm. Perhaps they’re even right.

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