By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 March, 2017
“Ireland’s relationship with alcohol, particularly in the context of mental health, depression and suicide, has to be examined.”
The debate over the ban on pubs and restaurants selling alcohol on Good Friday has reignited once again, with some priests supporting calls by vintners’ groups for an end to the practice.
A report in the Limerick Leader newspaper quotes Fr Joe Young, a chaplain with the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, Limerick as saying it “wouldn’t bother me at all if pubs opened on Good Friday”.
He described the current legislation enforcing the ban as “absolutely and totally pointless” given the rise of house parties and home drinking on Good Friday.
People should be allowed to make up their own minds on whether they drink alcohol on the day, he told the Limerick Leader. But he stressed that the “real issue is getting lost in this debate”, namely why people feel the need to drink on Good Friday.
“Ireland’s relationship with alcohol, particularly in the context of mental health, depression and suicide, has to be examined,” the priest said and added, “We can’t ignore the [number] of people taking their own lives and the role that alcohol plays.”
The Iona Institute has highlighted that Ireland is not alone in its ban, as New Zealand also bans the sale of alcohol on Good Friday.
In a briefing document published to counter the campaign to lift the ban, the pro family, pro faith think tank argues in favour of the current law, pointing out that in many European countries there are customs and laws that place restrictions on various forms of trading, especially Sunday shopping.
According to the Iona Institute, the principle behind these laws and customs, and the law against selling alcohol on Good Friday (and Christmas Day), is the same: “not every day should be dominated by the dictates of commerce”.
The Institute claims this is the case whether the origin of the law or custom is religious or not.
The Licensed Vintners Association and the Vintners Federation of Ireland are leading calls for an end to the Good Friday ban on the sale of alcohol, describing it as “archaic and discriminatory”.
The two groups have claimed that the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927, the legislation that gives effect to the ban, damages the tourism industry.
Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA, told The Times, “Forcing pubs and all licensed hospitality businesses to close sends a very negative signal to tourists and visitors, who are left baffled and disappointed by the measure.”
In response to the claim that the ban harms tourism, the Iona Institute highlights that restrictions on trading are commonplace around Europe.
Germany and Switzerland have very strict controls on Sunday trading. Other countries also have less strict controls, but Sunday trading is still restricted, for example in many parts of France.
Germany is the most powerful economy in Europe. Switzerland is very wealthy. In these and other countries, tourists are ‘inconvenienced’ far more regularly than here by trading restrictions, but these countries believe something more important is at stake, namely the principle that not every day should be dominated by the dictates of commerce, according to the Iona Institute.
“Tourism or commerce cannot have the final word in everything. In New Zealand, they also ban the sale of alcohol on Good Friday, shops close and TV advertising is not permitted.”
To the claim that the sale-of-alcohol ban is discriminatory, the Iona Institute highlights that in Britain on Christmas Day, some pubs and restaurants open, but the big shops stay closed. It asks: “Does this discriminate against shops?”
In addition, many countries place all kinds of restrictions on the sale of alcohol that they do not place on other products. This is not commonly considered ‘discrimination’.
“Don’t make every day a uniformly commercial day,” the Iona Institute appeals.
“As we have seen, various countries restrict trade, mostly on Sundays and sometimes on Good Friday as well. They do this sometimes for historical, religious reasons, but whether the origins of the restrictions are religious or not (keep in mind also that most holidays are religious in origin also, hence ‘holiday’, as in ‘holy day’), there is a rationale for them, which is that some days should be marked out for special treatment and not every day should be equally commercial.”
Last month, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA) said it is “fully in favour” of the ban on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, James Shevlin, President of the Pioneers in Ireland, said Good Friday “is just one of two days in the entire year when alcohol cannot be sold. This represents approximately 0.5% of the entire year.”
However, James Shevlin argues that Ireland has liberal licencing laws throughout the year and that opening times have increased and have been extended down the years to give increased trading opportunities.
He stressed that the Pioneer Association is not anti-alcohol; rather members are opposed to the abuse of alcohol.
“We have become concerned, as have many others, with recent investigations and statements from eminent doctors and experts on the havoc excess alcohol consumption is having on people’s health. Liver disease has spiralled in recent times, as have many other effects which have been associated with excess alcohol consumption.”
He underlined that the A&E departments in the country’s hospitals are “beyond breaking point with overcrowding, and this is exacerbated by the extra pressure of alcohol-related admissions.
“Our hospital beds are occupied with up to 2,000 patients with illnesses related to excess alcohol and in the region of three people per day die in Ireland for the same reason. These are facts presented by medical experts. The supply of alcohol needs to be controlled to avoid this culture going out of control.”
The PTAA president also highlighted that Ireland figures prominently in European and world tables, especially in relation to binge drinking.
Currently, the PTAA has a membership in the region of 150,000.