August 24th, 1928


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Temperance campaigners in the North kept a close eye on US prohibition but fears of turning the province into “Hades with the lid off” tempered enthusiasm for similar action at home, according to this anonymous Northern correspondent.

The trend of events in America [towards easing the ban on alcohol] has created a feeling of uneasiness and anxiety, if not consternation, in Northern temperance circles.

It is not easy to dispose of the statement made by Professor Murray Butler, head of the largest university in the United States [Columbia], that prolongation of prohibition means “a continuance of lawlessness, debauchery and Government-made crime.”

This problem is of peculiar interest to Northern Ireland, where an organised effort is being made to introduce conditions similar to those which are wrecking peace and order in the great Republic.

Deputations in the interests of total abstinence have travelled from Belfast to the United States, and have returned with rosy pictures of the success of prohibition: but there are others who saw behind the scenes and tell of “speak-easies” galore and palatial drinking rooms camouflaged as places of business.

The Ulster Anti-Prohibition Council, heartened by the news which has been flashed across the Atlantic, has determined to act on the offensive and has commenced a fresh campaign against the local optionists.

A largely-attended meeting was held at Portrush a couple of nights ago and Mr J C Lyle CVO, a member of the local council, said that he stood on that platform as an advocate of temperance, which was moderation – temperance in eating, drinking, working, playing and in judging others. He opposed prohibition because he believed that compulsion would defeat its own object.

This question is one for the people themselves. If they wish their freedom to be curtailed and to have the province made as “dry” as the desert – theoretically – well and good: but up to the present no prohibitionist leader in the Six Counties has had the courage to explain how such a law could be enforced on a substantial minority sighing for a “drop of the craythur” to refresh their thirsty throats.

Yet that is the crux of the whole difficulty in so far as it concerns Northern Ireland, and the prohibitionists should not run away from it.

The policy of [prime minister] Lord Craigavon in refusing to consider any further restrictive legislation in this connection has got sound common sense to commend it, for, as a practical man, he visualises the evils which would follow prohibition as certainly as night follows the day.

It would be a matter of lamentation if Belfast were transformed into an Ulster Chicago – Hades with the lid off – yet that would be a possibility under a coercive law, with get-rich-quick traders in illicit liquor from over the border and across the ocean, together with the poteen-makers, all eagerly awaiting the golden days when they could over-run the province.