Diageo may call time on Arthur’s Day as backlash gathers force

Company anxious celebration is recognised as expression of Irish conviviality

Arthur’s Day celebrates its fifth anniversary on Thursday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Arthur’s Day celebrates its fifth anniversary on Thursday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


It’s a celebration of “great people who make things happen”, suggest stout supporters of Arthur’s Day. Those calling for last orders on the boozy affair, meanwhile, insist it is a crass exploitation of a nation’s weakness for alcohol by a multinational corporation profiting handsomely from products linked to some of our society’s gravest ills.

Arthur’s Day celebrates its fifth anniversary on Thursday with events in several countries. About 1,000 performers will be paid handsomely by Diageo to raise a glass to Arthur at 500 venues around Ireland.

The company, which records profits of more than €3 billion annually, is anxious its brainchild is recognised as a joyous celebration of the Irish pub, Irish conviviality and Irish culture. But no matter how loudly it urges people to “drink responsibly” and despite all its talk of the good things it does with (a tiny portion) of the money it makes, it is struggling to shake off some awkward truths. The most awkward
one being the damage its products do.

Sing a Song to Arthur

More than two years ago, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly was told by experts that adults here drink “in a more dangerous way than nearly any other country”, while children “drink from a younger age” and “more than ever before”. He heard that alcohol was “a contributory factor in half of all suicides and it accounts for up to 10 per cent of bed days in hospitals, while alcohol-related road accidents cost an estimated €530 million in 2007”. Alcohol-related liver disease, meanwhile, has doubled over the past decade.

That is the bigger picture. The smaller picture is not too pretty either. It is plain to see for anyone who has ever wandered the streets of Dublin, Cork or Galway, stepping over the rivers of urine and vomit which flow freely, and dodging the rows that break out as closing time looms just what impact Arthur’s Day can have. This view was confirmed by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland yesterday, which reminded people that Arthur’s Day was behind a 30 per cent increase in ambulance call-outs.

In the doctors’ corner are musicians such as Christy Moore, Steve Wall and The Waterboys, while across a wider spectrum, calls for a boycott of Arthur’s drinks on the big day are growing, with even some Diageo people privately admitting that the hangover may not be worth it.

But just how much responsibility rests with the company? It has done all it can to insert an elaborate and expensive marketing wheeze into the Irish social calendar. But it doesn’t hold people down and force the black stuff down their throats with a funnel.

People make choices. People will choose to go out on Thursday. And some of them will choose to get drunk – and
some may possibly end up in life-threatening situations as
a result.

The drink-related problems besetting the country will continue until those who can make a more tangible difference do something.

The Government said there would be an overhaul of legislation once the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group published its report 18 months ago, with controls on pricing and advertising and greater enforcement of existing laws aimed at curbing problem drinking.

Nothing has happened yet and until it does, the palaver about Arthur will be nothing more than a sideshow to be forgotten as soon as the bad Friday hangover lifts.

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