Good Friday: lifting the alcohol ban

Frances Fitzgerald makes virtue of necessity

 

Politicians are practiced in making a virtue out of necessity. It is what they do. Few were surprised when Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald let it be known that a 90 year ban on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday would be removed next year. It was that or face an embarrassing defeat in the Seanad where a similar proposal to change the law is likely to be adopted.

Timing is vital when dealing with statutory baggage with religious connotations

There were – and are – good reasons for controlling the sale of alcohol. But outright bans rarely work. Ireland’s problem with alcohol abuse was reflected in restrictive nineteenth century legislation and through various temperance campaigns. Sunday and Saturday opening hours were tightly controlled. But the 1927 legislative ban on Good Friday, St Patrick’s Day and Christmas Day drinking represented a significant departure and arose from Catholic Church influence in a newly independent State. The elasticity of the Dáil in that regard became obvious in 1929 when special legislation provided for extended Sunday opening hours to mark the centenary of Catholic Emancipation.

The end of the Good Friday alcohol sales ban is likely to come into effect for Good Friday 2018. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire
The end of the Good Friday alcohol sales ban is likely to come into effect for Good Friday 2018. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire

Waning church influence and growing commercial pressure led to a removal of the ban on St Patrick’s Day alcohol sales in 1960. Good Friday restrictions will now follow. Limited exceptions to the 1927 ban were provided for and bona fide travellers, theatre-goers and hotel residents could be served alcohol. It accounted for packed CIÉ trains – containing jolly customers – that criss-crossed the State on nominally ‘dry’ days.

Timing is vital when dealing with statutory baggage with religious connotations. Shortly after its formation, the Progressive Democrats party was savaged when, attempting reform, its opponents claimed it was trying “to remove God from the Constitution”. Current efforts by left-wing parties to remove an appeal to “Christ Our Lord” from the Dáil’s opening prayer generated a negative response. Rather than alter the traditional wording, the relevant committee offered to permit 30 seconds of silent reflection following the prayer. Nobody is satisfied. The controversy rolls on. This is how change occurs.

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