Joy to the world, for the Minister for Justice has decided that, in 2022, it is up to each and every individual to decide at what time they might want to go home from the nightclub. Pubs can stay open until half past midnight. Clubs, to 6am. Just in time for the early houses, if you want to stay on that 24-hour bender.
At the same time though, let nobody be fooled into thinking that this is a Government that thinks adults can be trusted: Supermarkets, just this year, were told to increase the price of alcohol (and pocket the profits) lest poor and homeless people spend too much of their money on Dutch Gold. This is the same Government who, in recent years, have vacillated between the position that having an abortion is a choice, but having a vaccine is effectively a duty. It has a drug policy which is, in effect, that taking cannabis is illegal, but don’t worry, nobody will prosecute you. If you’re enough of a nerd to worry about such a trifling thing as a government having a consistent view on what is, and is not, liberty, then this lot would have you headed towards a nervous breakdown. Thankfully, voters don’t care about that stuff, even if they should.
Intellectually, though, yesterday’s announcement was very revealing, not just for the contradictions inherent in policy, but for what it says about the Government’s general attitude to society. The contradictions are obvious: You can stay out on an all-night bender if you wish, but we’ll charge you through the nose if you want to have one at home, because we’re, eh, worried about alcohol abuse. If you’re sincerely worried about alcohol abuse, as the Government claims it is, then you probably would not be extending the time available for people to abuse alcohol.
But that is not the point of the policy – it never is. There’s a grand tradition in Irish politics of using principles selectively in order to accomplish something for special interests – publicans do not benefit from people drinking at home. They do benefit from people drinking all night in their establishments. The policies might contradict each other on their face, but they work perfectly in tandem if part of your goal is to get more people out at night, and fewer sitting at home drinking tinnies.
I write this, by the way, as someone broadly sympathetic to the publicans: People socialising is good. People getting off dating apps, and into nightclubs slash meat markets, is good. An atomised society where addictions are fed behind closed doors with no supervision is bad. There is a good reason and a decent rationale for pursuing this policy. Just don’t have the nerve to tell us that it’s about public health.
As sympathetic as I am to the publicans, though, I am more sympathetic to the public. Minimum Alcohol Pricing is one of the most egregious anti-poor measures introduced by any Irish Government in my lifetime, and it was, of course, introduced practically to acclaim. Given that bars and nightclubs are more expensive than off-licences, this policy of extending opening hours does not mitigate that crime against the less well off.
It just reinforces the message: Drinking, in Ireland, is for fellows who’ve just finished a long week toiling away as a graduate in a law firm and want to get to dance the night away with the ladies (or indeed the handsome chap) from the accountancy firm down the road. It’s not for, you know, people who say “red wine” instead of “Bordeaux”.
It also reflects who this Government imagines it serves: Once again, this is a policy almost perfectly designed for the TikTok generation. It’s targeted at young people. They can’t give those young people a house, but they can give them house music until 6am.
In ancient Rome, very few of the ruling elite were ever truly said to have enjoyed the spectacle of the Lions eating the prisoners. The Senate also distributed free bread. Bread and Circuses, they called it – keeping the plebians with full bellies and entertainment, to distract them from the unfettered misery of their station.
There’s something of that to this, I think. Because there’s no consistency of principle to it.