The dark underbelly of Ireland’s society (part 3)

The Central Bank, Dublin, Ireland

This is part 3, and hopefully the last part, in what I consider my idea of what is wrong in Ireland’s society today. There is old and new heartache in its consumer culture of drugs, alcohol and having a great time. Alcohol is used and abused, but new ways of having fun have emerged with drugs like heroin, cocaine, meth and marijuana.

Right in the middle of Dublin’s city centre on the corner of Marlborough and Talbot Street, there is a well-known Irish coffee bar attached to a local shop. While you’re sipping your coffee and munching on your muffin, slice of carrot cake and crisps, there are drug dealers and users openly doing business, right in front of your eyes. You see onlookers staring warily, and every now and then you will see an unmarked Gardaí (police) car drive by without them stepping out or chasing the druggies away. As in so many societies and like so many different nationalities, Irish people tend to look away.

I already wrote of the half-clothed man begging in Henry Street and I always give something to beggars, but in the same street where the drug users and dealers are, a certain group of people is begging for money on a regular basis. If they’re not happy with what they get, they will surely let you know. I’ve seen them abuse bus drivers because they claim not to have any money or to have too little money to pay the full fare. Only a few weeks ago Ia woman called a bus driver “stupid”, “crazy” and “you are shit” for about 5 minutes. Reason? She had a free travel pass for one person only, yet she claimed lots of other bus drivers have let her husband travel for free with her. The driver got so much abuse from her, I felt sick to my stomach and ashamed to be a foreigner living in Ireland.

And then there’s the Irish relationship to alcohol. As a former teenage kid who was drunk at a few school parties, I know the damage alcohol can do to your relationship with other people. As a non-drinker since, I am often flabbergasted at the view of people on drink. The Irish population is the third highest consumer of alcohol in the world, drinking more per occasion (i.e. binge drink). Around 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink “in a harmful pattern”. Daily binge drinking for men is drinking more than 8 units of alcohol – or about three pints of strong beer. For women, it’s drinking more than 6 units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses of wine.

Just like Belgians are born with a bicycle between their legs, the Irish seem to have a strong bond with alcohol. Sure, people in Belgium go to pubs also, but it’s a different kind of “going out” than it is in Ireland. Here it’s a lifestyle.

The relationship of Irish people and alcohol goes as far as some having asked me “why I moved to Ireland when I don’t drink alcohol?” Er… hhmm… I didn’t know that in order to be allowed in the country you have to be so drunk every week you don’t know which parish you are from anymore. I have been asked this question several times and I actually feel offended when asked. It clearly shows that drinking in Ireland is a way of being and a way of making your mark in society. My reply would be that I don’t need alcohol to be merry and that I’m silly enough as I am. I moved to Ireland because I loved this country, its culture, its literature, its nature. Not because I wanted to have daily binges.

As a non-drinker, socializing with people who drink on a regular basis is sometimes hard to do because some think that you are boring and that you don’t know how to have a good time if you don’t drink yourself. Of course I want people to have a great time, and I am all for having a good time myself, but I know what I want, and it’s not alcohol. Having a great time: brilliant. Having a supposedly great time (emphasis on supposedly) and not being able to remember the following day what you did: hmm

Of course, not every Irish person drink themselves into a wild stupor every day and there are people out there who do not use alcohol at all. Whatever my ideas about drinking, it is my view only and I do not aim to get my friends to stop drinking excessively. They are old and wise enough as they are and they should make up their own mind about alcohol use. When initially writing this blog post I removed this list on alcohol use in Ireland because I didn’t want to upset friends who do like to have a good time, but I feel it’s important to state facts and figures about the dysfunctional relationship some people have with alcohol use:

  • Alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 97% of public order offences as recorded under the Garda PULSE system
  • Every seven hours, someone in Ireland dies from an alcohol-related illness
  • Alcohol impairs higher brain functioning, wiping out internalized moral imperatives and inducing people to act on their lower impulses
  • Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed
  • Alcohol was found to be a factor in almost half of all cases of sexual assaults on adults, according to a major survey of sexual assault and violence in Ireland. In such cases, where only one party had ü been drinking, the perpetrator of the sexual assault was the one drinking in the majority of cases (84% of female and 70% of male sexual assault cases)
  • Alcohol was identified as a potential trigger for abuse in one third of domestic abuse cases. Alcohol is considered a contributory factor and stressor in domestic violence
  • There are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol as due to all other drugs combined
  • High levels of alcohol use and heavy drinking among young women are reflected in the fact that one in four women discharged from hospital for alcohol‑related conditions were aged under 30, compared to 17% of men under 30 discharged
  • Between 1995 and 2004, there was an increase of 29% in the proportion of teenage girls aged under 18 discharged from hospital for alcohol‑related conditions compared to an increase of 9% for males under 18
  • Chronic alcohol-related conditions are becoming increasingly common among young age groups. Between 2005 and 2008, 4,129 people aged under 30 were discharged from hospital with chronic diseases or conditions of the type normally seen in older people
  • Four out of ten Irish women drinkers report harmful drinking patterns – they are drinking at a level damaging to their mental or physical health

In July three people died at a concert of Swedish House Mafia in Phoenix Park. Aside from that, 9 people were stabbed and lots of others were “plastered.” Teenagers so drunk they were making out in the middle of the road in a public park where lots of families go walk with their kids, dogs and where people go to the zoo for a nice day out. Since the Swedish House Mafia concert other drink-related deaths have occurred: people drowning in canals after falling in, a girl having a chunk of her nose bitten off due to too much alcohol in the aggressor’s system etc.

Labour Minister of State Roisín Shortall said Irish people had “an unhealthy relationship with alcohol” and “the time is right to tackle that.” She stressed the problem was not confined to a particular cohort and said excessive drinking was an issue for “middle-aged women” who have taken to drinking up to four glasses of wine each night before bed, or older men who drink excessively in their local pub (l)

In the end, Ireland is not the country a lot of foreign people think it is, hell… I only started opening my own eyes this year for some reason :) They see it with rose-tinted glasses, a Hollywood version of what Ireland should be like. But Ireland has moved on with the times: this is a country with flaws and blemishes just like other countries, but it’s still a country that still makes my heart run a little faster. Sad about the beggars, the real beggars like the Henry Street one, but happy that I don’t need alcohol or drugs to help me enjoy life. Sure, I’m too crazy enough as I am!

Related articles:

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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