LATE January saw the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2017 pass all stages in the Dáil allowing pubs open on Good Friday. The fact the Bill received all-party support shows how times have moved on. There is nobody better than a politician to understand the public mood and the simple fact is most people are not too bothered about the ban being lifted.
I think the beginning of the end for the ban came in 2010 when Limerick publicans were granted an exemption for the Munster v Leinster rugby match. Judge Tom O’Donnell said at the time that as Thomond Park had a special licence to serve alcohol it was absurd that pubs in the locality were prevented from opening.
In the end, he allowed pubs to open from 6pm until 11.30pm. The sky didn’t fall in and one of our most outdated laws was finally breached. It would take another eight years and lots of hard work by the VFI to get to where we are this week but I think after an initial flurry of publicity we’ll soon wonder what all the fuss was about.
I know some people view this through religion but for publicans it’s about choice. People will still be able to attend services while we can open our businesses and trade like any other normal Friday.
We are at the start of a busy Easter weekend and it always seemed crazy to me and many other publicans that we had to close when every other business in the country was allowed open. Why should we be treated differently?
When you consider that 30% of a typical pubs weekly turnover is taken on a Friday, removing this opportunity to earn made no sense, especially on a busy Bank Holiday weekend where this earning potential is even greater.
Who wants to see the centre of Cork like a ghost town? That’s what happens on a typical Good Friday and I’m sure most of us won’t be sad to see that end. We’ll also see an end to the sight of bemused tourists wandering the city wondering why all the pubs are shut. We are a modern European country, a fact that needs to be reflected in our licensing laws. Most countries treat their citizens as mature people capable of making their own decisions about alcohol consumption. Why should Ireland be any different?
In every poll conducted, tourists say the Irish pub is one of the main reasons they visit Ireland. They love our pub culture, the craic and chance to meet locals. To shut pubs on such an important tourist weekend was plain wrong.
There has been some talk lamenting the loss of one of two days during the year when pubs close but that’s somewhat misleading. Pubs are still entitled to remain closed on Good Friday – indeed, you may have read about pubs in Newmarket deciding to close tomorrow.
That is their right and in that regard, nothing will change.
There is another argument out forward that opening the pubs tomorrow encourages alcoholism. I would argue it does nothing of the sort. The ban encouraged binge drinking, you only had to visit an off licence on Holy Thursday night to bear witness to that fact.
Drinking at home is far more dangerous compared to the safe, regulated environment provided by your local pub. It is on the publican’s best interests to ensure his or her customers have a safe and enjoyable night, which includes sensible alcohol consumption.
As to the point that Good Friday was only one of two days off for bar staff, I don’t think that argument makes much sense. Our staff are entitled to time off and holidays like any other worker. I know part-time staff such as students are looking forward to the chance of earning extra pay tomorrow.
Removing the ban on serving alcohol is another small change in Irish life. Some traditions are worth holding on to, but in this case, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Up until 1960 we couldn’t drink in pubs on St Patrick’s Day, a fact that appears odd today. It will be the same for Good Friday, by this time next year it will be old news consigned to the dustbin of history.
I think the end of the Good Friday ban is a progressive change that reflects the modern Ireland we all live in.
* Rea Kennedy who owns the Thomond Bar on Marlboro Street. Rea is VFI County Chairman.