Group avoids politics of alcohol - author


AN ABILITY to avoid the politics surrounding alcohol consumption and a leadership structure described as “benign anarchy” are two of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has thrived since it arrived here over 70 years ago, according to the author of a new book on the group.

Trinity College Dublin academic Shane Butler said the AA’s “inverted pyramid” style of governance has helped it to avoid many of the pitfalls that political and religious institutions have encountered since it was established here in 1946.

“They don’t get distracted by institutions,” he said. “What they have done is kept their eye on the ball from a point of view of following its only purpose – to help people who are absolutely flattened by alcohol consumption.

“It survived through a policy of never getting involved in alcohol politics . . . they don’t contribute to debate or try to tell you whether or not the pubs in Limerick should be open on Good Friday or anything like that.”

While researching the book, Benign Anarchy – Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland, Mr Butler said he learned that the concept of alcoholism was little known when returning Irish-American Conor Flynn moved here to help establish a branch of the AA in 1946.

“He was told by the public that there were no alcoholics in the Free State and that you might have found some if you’d gone up to the North.”

Mr Butler said the AA, which has no direct leadership but simply follows a spiritual 12-step programme, seemed destined to collapse. “It’s a bit like comparing it to the Fenians in 19th-century Ireland or modern-day organised crime,” he said.

“It looks like it couldn’t survive as there’s no leadership or top-level telling local cumanns what to do, but it has worked and proved itself extremely robust.”

At the launch of the book last night, Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at UCD, said the AA intersected health and religion and was one of few things to arrive here between the 1940s and 1960s that was not challenged by then archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid.