A Government backbencher was a lone voice in the Seanad against the passage of legislation to break a 90-year-old tradition and allow pubs and restaurants to serve alcohol on Good Friday.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill introduced by Independent Senator Billy Lawless overturns an element of legislation steered through the Oireachtas in 1927 by then minister for justice Kevin O'Higgins.
The Bill will allow pubs to open on Good Friday and also provides for restaurants to serve alcohol on that day. Passed in the Seanad, the legislation goes to the Dáil in the autumn.
Fine Gael Senator Joe O’Reilly called for a final decision on the Bill to be postponed for “further reflection and consideration”.
The Co Cavan Senator said it breaks a very important tradition in Ireland, is “offensive to a lot of religious groupings” and “goes against our other health strategies, our anti-drink strategies”.
He claimed “it’s a bad proposition, it’s wrong, it’s threatening worker rights. It’s not what the vast bulk of publicans want.”
But Mr Lawless said the Bill would cut binge drinking. He respected the traditional faith practised in Ireland but said “both trade and our customers will still have the option not to open or not to drink if they choose”.
Mr Lawless added the Bill is another progressive step in Ireland’s long journey of separation between Church and State. He said a teenager could go into an off-licence on buy 10 cans of beer on Holy Thursday but could not go into a pub on Good Friday where he might buy two drinks for the same price.
Independent Senator Frances Black, who works with people with alcohol problems, believed the Bill would help reduce the harm caused by alcohol.
“Holy Thursday has been the day when people get into a frenzy, as if alcohol is about to be prohibited,” she said. “The excessive amounts of alcohol bought because the pub will be closed the next day, is a sad reflection of our society. Alcohol is then consumed in homes in the presence of young children. The example being set for our children is very unhealthy.”
But she warned that “the lobbying by the alcohol industry must not be allowed to shape government policy” and said “the health of the nation must be put before the wealth of the alcohol industry”.