The sobering speed of legislation on alcohol


The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 is meant to reduce on-the-street drinking, but is affecting some who don't do it, writes Ann-Marie Hourihane 

NEVER HAS a piece of legislation penetrated the daily lives of my loved ones with such terrifying speed. You know how it is with legislation: it's slow. Talking heads debating on television and radio; thoughtful leading articles in the better newspapers; perhaps a few hysterical phone-in programmes. Then, a year or so later, some mind-bogglingly boring sessions in a semi-deserted Dáil, televised for us to snooze through at the end of a long day.

Legislation, no matter how worthy, is for most of the great unwashed a matter of jaw-jaw rather than war-war. And then they hit us with the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2008.

In the supermarket last Wednesday it seemed like any other day. A heavy rain had been falling since forever. In a slightly self-conscious burst of eco-awareness I dropped someone to work, did some errands and then decided to maximise my eco-miles by going to buy the Bank Holiday drink in Aldi. Yes, our guests are lucky.

So there I am at the checkout with the drink and the young man says that he cannot sell it to me until 10.30am. "Is it not half past 10 yet?" I said. The young man looked at me with pity in his eyes. He obviously expected me to grab the alcohol and run around the corner and bang it in double quick. I must say it was not an uninviting prospect, but I believe that this is a common response to shopping in supermarkets. "It's the new legislation," he said. The queue was starting to stir.

Then a handsome German manager who was just taking his seat behind the neighbouring cash register said: "It's two minutes to half past 10. You can go ahead and give it to her."

So the young man punched in my purchases, as they say. And the cash register wouldn't process them. The cash register had been programmed under the new legislation. The queue was getting restive. The young man at the checkout was exhibiting signs of stress. I was trying to exhibit signs of a functioning and socially responsible adult whose parking ticket is ticking away on a distant dashboard, and not to exhibit the signs of a lady of a certain age who has to have a naggin of Hennessy before she can put on her lipstick.

The cash register beeped. It was 10.30am. I seized the drink and fled. I had no idea that the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 had come into force at midnight the night before.

The first phone call came at 11am. In the course of a satisfying gossip, my friend mentioned that after she had dropped a work associate home the night before she called in to the off-licence to get herself a nice bottle of white wine. And the off-licence was closed. Closed. The off-licence was. My friend rang her husband. He told her it was the new legislation. He was laughing.

My friend has long campaigned for the introduction of the three-quarter bottle of white wine, which her intimate circle considers a concept of genius, and which we herewith place before both the alcohol producers and the legislators in the cause of the common good.

Anyway, when my friend found the off-licence closed she went home and had a nice cup of tea and enjoyed feeling virtuous so much that she resolved not to drink until the weekend, when the supermarket had promised her a free bottle of wine with a side of smoked salmon. Both arrived on Friday.

The second phone call came at noon. My mother had not been allowed to purchase alcohol with her groceries at the supermarket. What are we going to do at Christmas, we wondered, when women all over the country squirrel away drink with each supermarket shop they perform in the course of their endless domestic duties?

We have heard of legislation hitting home, but this is ridiculous. The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 seems designed to inconvenience middle-aged women with cars. Is this what was intended?

Are binge drinkers - whoever they might be - up bright and breezy and at the checkouts before 10.30 in the morning?

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 is, if I understand it correctly, partly intended to reduce the incidence of on-the-street drinking. But none of the women mentioned above would drink on the street unless provided with blankets and one of those gas heaters that are so bad for the environment.

It is also designed to reduce the violence, public nuisance and affray associated with drinking in public. But we shopping women are facilitating private drinking. We would not cause riots; two of us - not my mother - are actually afraid of mice.

It is the speed of the thing which is so upsetting. Social commentators may rejoice that the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 has arrived with such despatch - the report of the Government Alcohol Advisory Group was only presented to the Minister for Justice on March 31st this year - but the rest of us are shocked.

There are reports on prison reform, fire safety regulations, child care services and domestic violence which have mouldered on the shelves of the Oireachtas for years. But the Intoxicating Liquor Act was done and dusted in less than six months. I call it disgraceful.