We are ourselves the most persistent purveyors of the image of the drinking Irish
Pressures being exerted on government over its proposed public health policies
Regina Doherty TD felt compelled to challenge the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, calling their endorsements a “real shame” and committing to raising the issue in Dáil Éireann. Given that the department previously collaborated with Drinkaware – the drinks industry-funded organisation that encourages “drinking responsibility” – on a “survival guide” to Euro 2012, it is difficult to see how Doherty can persuade the Government department to adopt a more sobering tone.
The interesting question though is how did we get to the point where it was OK for the Government to support the stereotypical boozy image of Ireland through such blatant product promotion.
Admittedly, it is difficult trying to separate the stereotype from the State when you have, for example, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, calling the now annualised Arthur’s Day celebrations “a great platform to spread the word about The Gathering”. This is a Government Minister, who has since expressed concerns about the impact a ban on alcohol companies and products sponsoring sports might have, deciding that a clever marketing initiative by a major multinational drinks company is a suitable vehicle for marketing a country with well-reported issues in relation to alcohol.
Brewed over time
Some academics have pointed to Elizabethan dramatists and even Shakespeare himself as helping to project some of the early examples of the drunken and wild Irish stereotypes.
You’ll see the negative portrayal in 19th-century British newspaper cartoons of Irish persons with exaggerated monkey features and drinking from bottles, or more recently in comments by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg about inebriated Irish hanging out their windows celebrating St Patrick’s Day.
But who can blame others for the lazy stereotyping when we continue to accommodate the obligatory photo opportunities of visiting foreign dignitaries sinking a pint of plain on visits here? We even insisted Queen Elizabeth II visited a brewery, for God’s sake!
The truth is that the greatest peddlers of the drunken Irish stereotype are the Irish themselves.
By buying into the stereotype, and officially endorsing it, we make it hugely difficult to redefine our cultural associations around alcohol and for Government to formulate effective public health policy, free from industry pressures.
Brian O’Connell is a journalist and broadcaster whose book Wasted: A Sober Journey through Drunken Ireland examined Ireland’s alcohol culture. Twitter: @oconnellbrian