Limerick priests and publicans criticise Good Friday alcohol ban

Keeping pubs closed ‘absolutely and totally pointless’ given rise in home drinking

Good Friday 2010: Michael O’Regan and Peter Phelan count down the time to Limerick’s pubs opening before the Munster vs Leinster clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22

Good Friday 2010: Michael O’Regan and Peter Phelan count down the time to Limerick’s pubs opening before the Munster vs Leinster clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22

 

An “awful lot of pubs are open” on Good Friday, serving drink behind closed doors, Michael Noonan has said in an interview with his local newspaper in Limerick.

The Minister for Finance was responding to renewed calls for the ban on serving alcohol on Good Friday to be lifted, with the current legislation described as “archaic” by the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI). One academic study has estimated the ban costs the exchequer €6 million in excise duties.

“I don’t have a strong view on it,” Mr Noonan told the Limerick Leader. “I’m kind of traditionalist, in having at least one day in the year when the pubs aren’t open. But the fact of the matter is that an awful lot of pubs are open anyway, and they are serving alcohol behind closed doors.

“So I am quite prepared to go with whatever the decision is. But it’s not something that I get hot or bothered or excited about.”

Limerick pubs were famously allowed an exemption in 2010 thanks to a Munster versus Leinster rugby match at Thomond Park on the day.

Fr Joe Young, chaplain with the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, Limerick, said the legislation was “absolutely and totally pointless” given the rise of house parties and home drinking on Good Friday. People should be allowed to make up their own minds on whether they drink alcohol on the day, he told the paper.

“It wouldn’t bother me at all if pubs opened on Good Friday,” Fr Young said. “But I think the real issue is getting lost in this debate – why do people feel the need to drink on Good Friday? Ireland’s relationship with alcohol, particularly in the context of mental health, depression and suicide, has to be examined.

“We can’t ignore the amount of people taking their own lives and the role that alcohol plays,” said Fr Young, formerly parish priest in Southill.

Holy Thursday sales

Fr Iggy O’Donovan, of the Augustinians in Limerick, said he too was indifferent about whether pubs should be allowed to open, given that he has been invited to parties himself on Good Friday.“Holy Thursday is now a day where sales go up because the pub is closed and people are having parties,” he said.

Fr Seamus Enright, rector of the Redemptorists in Limerick, said he is “neutral” on the issue. “A part of me feels that it’s nice to have a day in the year that isn’t commercial. And there’s another bit of me that feels Ireland has changed a lot, and not everybody is Catholic or religious, and in other countries people live out their faith without any civic or legal supports.

“A part of me would like to keep it, and another part of me wouldn’t be very upset if it were to change,” he said. “I would also worry about so much now being seen in economic terms, and I feel that much now in society is being subordinated to an economic reading, rather than looking at what’s good for communities.

“Sometimes I feel that we are sacrificing everything for the sake of economic benefit,” Fr Enright added.

The VFI is calling for an amendment to the law to permit all licensed premises to trade normally on the day.

A 2016 study by Anthony Foley of Dublin City University said the Good Friday ban costs publicans €30 million and the State €6 million in excise duties.

Confused tourists

Limerick city publican and councillor Jerry O’Dea, who is also a VFI officeholder, said the situation was “a bit ludicrous” and tourists were “very confused as to where they stand”.

Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the VFI, said that, in 2017, “consumers should have the option to go out for a drink on Good Friday if they so choose. Indeed, many are choosing to drink at home or organise house parties on the day.

“Friday itself is a very important trading day,” he said. “For many publicans it accounts for 30 per cent of their weekly business, and this is especially true of bank holiday weekends.

“The Government claim to be ready for Brexit,” Mr Cribben said, “but their inability to make a simple law change makes one wonder.”