Treat us as adults
The junction outside the window this evening, the point in Dublin 8 where Patrick Street, Dean Street, New Street, and Kevin Street meet, was once known as the ‘Four Corners of Hell‘ because there was a public house at each corner of the crossroads. The realignment of the road in 1989 brought an end to the four corners, and the financial problems that have followed the years of the Celtic Tiger brought an end to the only pub that remained into the 21st Century.
It is said that a walk from here to the Guinness brewery at Saint James’s Gate would once have meant passing two dozen or more pubs; of that two dozen, no more than a handful now remain.
Strangely, the decline in the number of pubs has coincided not with a fall, but with a rise in alcohol problems, and a rise in the number of public order offences. Alcohol bought in supermarkets is a fraction of the price of that bought in pubs, and young people with slabs of beer have no landlords or barmen to inhibit their consumption. The demise of the pubs has meant that ‘hell’ has relocated from the four corners in Dublin 8 to unpredictable places and unpredictable times.
The four corners were only described as ‘hell’ because of the cultural problems in Ireland in dealing with the consumption of alcohol. Wine and beer are considerably cheaper in France and their consumption is less regulated, yet it is unimaginable that a town square with a cafe at each corner would be described in such terms.
Perhaps the answer is not in imposing duties that make drinks in pubs far more expensive than cans bought from off licence shelves, nor in imposing licensing hours that tell people when and when not they may buy a glass of beer; but in telling people that they are grown ups and must behave maturely. If they are drunk in the street, arrest them; if they commit public order offences, arrest them; if they become abusive and violent, arrest them; when coming to court, point out simply that they have been treated with trust and have betrayed that trust.
As it is, alcohol duties and the regulation of hours create a sense not of mature behaviour, but of illicit activity. The legal milieu within which pubs exist seems to carries with it a sense that drinking in a pub is something that can only be tolerated within carefully prescribed parameters. The paternalism of the courts and the excise men has exacerbated rather than relieved problems. Treat people as adults, expect them to behave as adults; maybe, then, they will act as adults. And, if they don’t, it will be their choice – and their acceptance of the consequences.
I agree Ian, if alcohol is cheap and easy to get hold of then people are going to gorge on it to excess. There is a control in a pub for youngsters, The Landlord/Lady…..I started drinking about 14 in ‘Maisies’, she would serve us a pint or two, keep her eye on us then, stop serving us if she thought we’d had enough. The price of a pint also meant we couldn’t have too many. Maybe in countries like France the attitude to alcohol is different as youngsters are brought up with a drink at mealtime and are taught how to drink sensibly and to respect it. Maybe Maisie wasn’t all that bad!
Many people drink a lot, even to excess, and cause little trouble for others. Many others make trouble when they drink, and will continue to do so whether legislation raises the price of alcohol by 25%, decreases it by the same, or even bans the product altogether. Its well nigh impossible to change an individual’s character or change a culture through the law, at least in the short term. The family is in a far better position to imbue positive drinking habits for the duration of a person’s life, and in France countless families do just that, but that is part and parcel of a culture and tradition difficult to transplant elsewhere.
When it comes to the British Isles, grass will grow on our cheeks and populace will be banging their heads about this issue.
A tradition must begin somewhere, though. Why can those in authority not see the enduring futility of their efforts and say, ‘Right, from now on, you’re responsible’?