Off the fence
So, Good Friday approacheth, and unless you’re hot footing it to Limerick City’s now unhallowed pale, you won’t be able to purchase a pint of plain or any other measure of any other kind of alcohol.
Limerick’s exemption from the Good Friday licensing law is another example of Ireland in adolescence – an Ireland that wants to play in the grown-ups’ global village, but is afraid to let go of the Catholic Church’s apron strings. The licensing law’s persistence in modern Ireland betrays our woolly understanding of the difference between religious matters and matters more properly secular; that is, the age-old blurring of church and state.
For Christians, Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Christ. It is an important day in the religious calendar and has been designated a fast day in the Catholic Church. Good Friday is not a public (secular) holiday.
However, the State, in its wisdom, doesn’t seem to think it should be left up to each individual Catholic to struggle with his or her own conscience when confronted with a 12-year-old single malt. And so the State, a secular body, steps in and tells vintners to refrain selling from alcohol on a Catholic day of fasting.
In December 1972, a referendum approved (by a landslide 84 percent of voters) the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which removed a controversial reference to the ‘special position’ of the Roman Catholic Church “as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens” (Article 44.1.2). We have no state religion in Ireland. The State contains not just Christians, but also Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Rastafarians, atheists, agnostics and everything in between, and all have equal weight/validity in the eyes of the law.
However, we have a law that (in difficult economic times) prevents bars from turning a trade because, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, Christians ought not to be drinking on Good Friday. So, if you’re an agnostic pub owner with a thriving Jewish, atheist and non-practicing/not-strict Catholic clientele, you must still shut your doors.
It would appear that we have a discriminatory, Catholicism-biased law. Not good. Not good at all.
Is it even effective in its aim? The idea, it seems, is to ensure that temptation is not placed in the way of good Catholics, who should be fasting (there’s atin’ and drinkin’ in a Guinness you know). But it’s not illegal to drink – it’s just illegal sell a drink. If the law is designed to put us off drink for a day, it has failed.
Witness the long queues of clanking trolleys creaking under the weight of wine, beer, spirits and alcopops on Holy (?!) Thursday as the nation frenziedly panic buys its booze for the host of house parties hastily organised for the next day. Despite the categorical imperatives of the Catholic Church and the licensing laws of our (apparently Catholic) nanny state, Good Friday has become one of the biggest drinking days of the year. Go figure.