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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 18, 2008 @ 11:33 am

    The Way We Live Now

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There is a particularly distressing court report in today’s Irish Times. The case is harrowing but I want to confine my remarks to one aspect of it. I wish only to refer to a phrase used by defence counsel in the course of the proceedings.

    That’s where he states that, were it not for the fact that the victim hit his head on the ground, it would have been “a standard punch-up”. We all know what he means: fights are commonplace in Ireland and he is saying that, if things had turned out differently, this would have been just another barney in a pub.

    Be that as it may, what does it say about our society? There are other countries where people can go to the pub and somehow or other there is hardly ever a fight. Mirabile dictu they don’t even have bouncers on the doors (the bouncers are even more scary than the customers sometimes).

    Some time ago I wrote a blog about my colleague Frank McDonald’s trials and tribulations as a resident of Temple Bar. As someone who has been in war-zones as part of my professional duties, I find the downtown area of Dublin on a Saturday night quite oppressive with its atmosphere of suppressed violence. Sometimes I’d rather be on the West Bank.

    The later it gets, the worse it is, I need hardly say. Not long ago I saw two men fighting on Dorset Street, but it wasn’t just old-fashioned fisticuffs, they were kick-boxing and looked as if they meant to kill.

    No doubt there will be plenty of similar incidents over the “festive” season and the Gardaí will cope as well as they can, but otherwise not a lot will be done about it. Meanwhile the drinks industry sails on.

    This is the way we live now.

    • Keith says:

      Come on, Deaglán. Was there no fighting in Ireland in the past? Never a punch-up outside a country pub at throwing out time (whenever that was)?
      The media sensationalism that makes this year’s 46 murders seem like a doubling of last year’s 78 is a significant part of the problem. No wonder old people feel scared to leave their homes when they’re told that young people will attack them on the street for no reason.

    • Deaglán says:

      So that’s all right then? We should just accept it as part of our tradition?

    • Mark says:

      The West Bank?… What website is this The Star’s?

    • Deaglán says:

      Ho, ho. Why do people trivialise this issue? Are they taking some sort of twisted pride in our drunken, pugilistic culture?

    • Tom Ennis says:

      Have to say to the earlier commenter- Deaglán never actually said that problem worse now than it was, just that it gave a moment of pause that a standard dust-up can ever be considered standard. There is a point to be made about media sensationalism but misplaced here.

    • nerraw says:

      The West Bank? Get real.

      Why are you trivialising the West Bank? Comparing walking through a tourist trap with that of a war zone is frankly ridiculous and not a view I’m sure the people of the West Bank would share.

      The vasty majority of people go out at night and have fun. There is no, as you dramatically put it ‘drunken, pugilistic culture.’ Just a few idiots out of millions fighting.

    • Tom Ennis says:

      Funny thing though, Nerraw, is that many other countries people manage to go out of an evening without ending up in A & E or behind bars in the disturbing numbers we do. I like a drink (hell, I like many drinks), but the atmosphere in Dublin, and many other Irish towns is fairly menacing, especially in comparison with other countries. It’s not until you go overseas and see how others do it that you realise how weird our drinking culture is. Perhaps we think it’s ok because we’re not as bad as the Brits

    • Deaglán says:

      Unlike yourself, perhaps, I have actually been to the West Bank numerous times. Whereas there were bullets whizzing through the air from time to time, as an Irish journalist I never felt under threat from the civilian population except for one occasion when my taxi, driven by a Palestinian, was stoned because it had Israeli number-plates. I assume it is their Islamic religion and culture that teaches the people to behave with such civility in ordinary dealings (confrontations with the Israelis are a separate issue of a political nature). Obviously I am unlikely to be shot as I make my way through downtown Dublin on a Saturday night/Sunday morning but the likelihood of being assaulted or witnessing an assault or simply observing and being discommoded by an exhibition of drunken and/or drug-induced bowysism is much, much greater. It is in that context that I would feel much safer – as long as there were no Israeli soldiers around – walking through Ramallah than downtown Baile Atha Cliath. A few idiots can and do spoil it for everyone else – and they are more than a few unfortunately. What surprises me in these responses is the complacency and “so-what” attitude they seem to reveal.

    • dealga says:

      I think the reaction to the punch-up at last weekend’s Munster rugby match should tell you all you need to know.

      Furthermore alcohol isn’t a cause of the violence – it’s just removing the inhibitions.

    • Tom Ennis says:

      The ‘so-what’ attitude rather than the bad behaviour is the greater danger to our society. If people as individuals are apathetic about it, instead expressing disapproval in the form of mass indignation on Liveline when outrages occur, we end up with botched legislative responses.

    • Deaglán says:

      Here’s an idea: what about a No-Drink Day? We already have Spend Nothing Day, Dress-Down Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day. Why no a 24-hour period when everybody in the State would be asked to refrain from alcohol – and maybe give a few euro to charity instead.

    • paul m says:

      “Here’s an idea: what about a No-Drink Day?”

      We have one, well at least a half-hearted effort at one. Unfortunately it’s not directly imposed by the State but a tradition longstanding in our country and observed by those in the alcohol trade.

      It’s called Good Friday.

      I think Deaglán that there have been some good points made here, one in particular in reference to the violence being there without the alcohol and that the drink just removes the inhibition to act on emotions.

      So you may need to point your finger away from alcohol for the moment and look at the brutality that exists as a way of life for an increasing number in Dublin. There is an unhealthy underlying agression, frustration, idleness and apathy that currently exists in the populace that will spur on and spill over into drunken violence once left to fester.

      What do you suggest apart from a futile drink-nothing day (as you well know with Good Friday’s lockdown, people go beserk in the off-licence the day before)?

      Vigilante groups like in New York of the 80s or Dublin’s own 90′s anti-drug movement? A Mayor Guiliani zero-tolerance approach (we’re not one for adhering to laws by the letter like our police-state-ruled American cousins)?

      We’ve seen increased levels of violence and lack of respect towards the Gardaí. Even they seem underequipped and intimidated on the streets. The laughable 10pm closing of off -icence (how many teens buy alcohol after 10pm?) doesn’t deter as younger and younger people have access to alcohol.

      It seems we’ve only started to wake up to the way our city is being designed – the closing quarters and increasing rapidly in numbers in the same space is making it harder for a sense of community and concern for the general wellbeing, appearance and emerging culture to take root, as of bygone years when neighbours knew each other and Gardaí on the beat knew troublemakers by name.

      It would be nice to see some suggestions from the media how they would want to see it tackled. Our Government clearly doesn’t know how. Given your experience in working in areas of taught confrontation Deaglan, perhaps you could propose something beyond stating more of what people have already heard before.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      The menace effect you mention is usually the result of a cocktail of drugs, some legal. I think it is wrong to focus on the demon drink when there is clearly much more involved, economically, culturally and medically.

      Rather than a day off drink – how about a cap on the maximum number of units that can be legally consumed in any 24-hour period? I’d be quite generous and set this at the weekly recommended intake level for men and women of 21 and 14 units respectively.

      But if you were arrested for anti-social behaviour and found to be “over the limit” you’d have a barring order slapped on you applicable in all licensed premises – unless you could prove that the publican who served you was somehow complicit in your criminal behaviour.

      That way those of us who drink but don’t fight would be able to drink to our heart’s content day or night and expect to be left in peace by the State. Other countries seem to be able to manage to distinguish between criminals and drinkers – why do we tar them all with the same brush?

      If the price of that is having to swipe a fingerprint at the till in addition to handing over extortionate levels of cash, I’d be prepared to pay it. (Of course I’d want the electronic records destroyed within 24 hours, unless an arrest was made outside the premises – in which case it would form invaluable evidence for a court)

      I’d also be in favour of legalising and taxing some of the drugs illegally dispensed in pubs, for which fingerprint ID would be a very necessary control measure … but that’s another story.

    • Deaglán says:

      I think it would be very hard to enforce the maximum-level of alcohol, Betterworld. The best way to deal with it would be to restrict sales more severely and ban alcohol advertising on TV altogether.
      As for street violence in general, I knew New York very well in the days when it was unsafe to go out on the streets at night and I know it now that it has been very comprehensively cleaned-up. I don’t know whether Giuliani or the police deserve the credit for that, but certainly zero tolerance is worth a look. One of the interesting results of the new state of affairs in New York is that women are much more free to go out in the evening and they generally feel a great deal safer. The liberation of women may not have been Giuliani’s intention but it was a side-effect. And having spent so many years complaining about the influence of the Catholic Church, I have to say that the decline of religion has not been entirely positive in its effects. This is what I meant in my reference to the benign effect of Islam on ordinary people’s behaviour in the Middle East.

    • Keith says:


      Sorry – didn’t mean to imply that it’s not a problem. Just that it’s no worse than it was in the past, and may even be a bit better.
      I live in Dublin city centre, and don’t feel threatened. I’ve also lived in Kabul, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Kigali and Bujumbura among others, and I’ve felt properly threatened at various times in each.

    • Deaglán says:

      Nice to hear you don’t feel threatened in Dublin city centre. Not everyone would share your sense of security. The comparison with Third World capitals is hardly a case of “like with like” – given our resources Dublin should be far safer than any of those places.

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