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End demand for marriage

Earlier this week, provisions of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 came into effect which, essentially, turn marriage registrars into immigration agents. Henceforth, non-EU nationals who wish to marry in Ireland must give the registrar evidence of their immigration status. If the registrar suspects that it is to be a marriage of convenience – defined in the statute as where at least one of the parties enters it “solely for the purpose of securing an immigration advantage” (I’ll come back to this later) – then the registrar now has the power to demand all sorts of personal information from the parties. If you want to see the full list of factors deemed relevant to this consideration, scroll about halfway down this page. If the registrar and their superintendent decide that yes, this would be a marriage of convenience, then they are obliged to refuse to register the marriage, and report the couple to the Minister for Justice.

The Minister issued a press statement in which she welcomed the new rules, presenting so-called “sham marriage” as a violence against women issue:

A non EEA national coming to the end of his immigration permission or without any immigration permission can contract a sham marriage with an EU national to extend their permission. Women are exploited in such arrangements and even if money changes hands there is obviously scope for coercion and intimidation.

I am also deeply concerned that in some instances women may be trafficked to Ireland with a view to being forced into sham marriages.

Continuing this theme the next day, the Irish Examiner reported:

In 2013 the Council of Europe asked Ireland to amend the law to include sham marriages as a form of exploitation and give gardaí powers to intervene in such cases.

It was estimated that 400 women were being trafficked into Ireland to take part in such ceremonies. Many of these came from Latvia, which complained about the situation under Irish law.

That statistic was patent BS, but even so, I wondered where it originally came from. Googling only threw up an earlier Examiner article with the even more ludicrous claim of 400 trafficked per year. Needless to say, the actual Council of Europe reports said nothing of the sort, so I took to Twitter to see if anyone had any clue:

Sure enough, the Twitter hivemind soon came to the rescue:

And to my complete non-surprise, what the 400 figure at the source link actually comes from is this line:

Latvian police estimate that last year up to 400 Latvian women took part in sham marriages with Asian men in Ireland.

If this sounds tediously familiar, it’s because exactly the same process is responsible for some of the more absurd “sex trafficking” claims, such as the one about Finland having 40,000 victims per year (the source for which is an Interpol report, not online, which estimated that around that many women visit Finland each year to voluntarily sell sex). But such wild numbers are even dafter for this alleged form of trafficking, because there’s a really key difference: the women are coming to Ireland to take part in a regulated activity, one that already has a substantial degree of government oversight.

You wouldn’t know this from the Minister’s press statement, or pretty much any of its media coverage. The ordinary reader would assume that Inga and Ali can just fly into Dublin Airport, go straight to the Civil Registration Office, and then head for GNIB to register his Irish green card. And, furthermore, that there’s nothing anyone can do about it (or could do about it, until these new measures saved the day).

The truth is there’s actually a lot more involved in getting Irish residency as the spouse of an EU citizen. Leaving aside the issue of having to get to Ireland in the first place, first they have to go through Irish marriage registration procedures. This means booking an appointment with a registrar (usually at some delay), gathering all the documentation the registrar will ask for (if Ali doesn’t already have a PPS number, he’s in for a lot of fun trying to get one) – and even once all these preliminaries are done, they still have to wait three months to actually get married. Only then can Ali apply for EU-Fam residency, and only if Inga is actually exercising her EU Treaty rights in Ireland (which usually means working). They have to complete and jointly sign the application form, submit their original passports and a pile of other documents to INIS, and then wait up to six months for a decision. Just before the final decision is made, INIS will usually ask them to submit up-to-date evidence of their cohabitation and Inga’s employment. So all told, we’re looking at probably around a minimum nine months – after the agreement to get married – before Ali’s residency is secured. And even then, it’s not really secure: he’ll lose it if Inga leaves the State, stops working or goes for a quickie divorce in Latvia before three years are up.

It’s a procedure that just doesn’t easily lend itself to human trafficking. It takes too long, and the “victim” would have too many opportunities to raise the alarm. That’s not to say it doesn’t ever happen, but it really doesn’t seem like it would pass the “worth the hassle” test for many people. Especially if it’s true, as is alleged, that there are thousands of EU national women all too willing to pocket the cash and keep up the façade voluntarily.

What’s also being missed is that the registrars and INIS already have powers to deal with any such cases that arise. While it is not, as far as I can tell, specifically set out in legislation, both the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social Protection – the two bodies that oversee the registration process – regard the free consent of the parties as a mandatory ingredient in a lawful marriage. If the registrar had genuine grounds to believe Inga was not consenting, s/he would therefore have reasonable cause not to issue the marriage registration form. And the Free Movement Regulations already specifically exclude parties to a “marriage of convenience”. Immigration officers can already carry out investigations into couples applying for EU Treaty rights, and at least in some cases, they do: I’ve seen an FOI file with a record of telephone calls made to the EU national’s workplace to verify her employment. It may be the case that our civil servants aren’t actually doing enough to prevent trafficking for marriage, but they don’t need new laws to be able to do it.

Now as I noted in my series of tweets above, in 2013 the Irish government stated that it had not found any cases of trafficking for forced marriage. The 2013 Annual Report of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit doesn’t mention any either, while a subsequent analysis of potential and suspected trafficking cases in 2013-2014 only notes about half a dozen cases of “other” forms of trafficking, a category which includes forced begging and criminality as well as marriage, without any further breakdown. Unless her department is even more dysfunctional than we realise, the Minister for Justice is aware of these statistics, so what is she on about when she says she’s “deeply concerned”? I think there’s two possibilities here. One is that she thinks women* are such delicate little flowers that we are not capable of giving real consent to what she calls a “sham marriage”, and therefore they’re all human trafficking cases. The other is that she knows full well that they aren’t, and is cynically exploiting the moral panic around human trafficking in order to make these rules look more like an anti-VAW measure, and less like the racist immigration controls that they actually are.

* Eastern European and Portuguese women, anyway. No concern seems to have been expressed for the Irish women getting married in other countries.

It’s also telling that the only kind of “marriage of convenience” these new rules apply to is one aimed at deriving a benefit in terms of immigration status. It is still perfectly ok to marry someone just for a financial benefit, whether that accrues to yourself or to your family.

smith_marshall180Not a “marriage of convenience”

NGI 6315

Also not a “marriage of convenience”

What the new law actually does, then, is create a principle that two people may lawfully consent to marriage for any reason whatsoever except to gain an immigration advantage. There is only one category of people whose reasons for getting married can be lawfully (and, it must be said, quite intrusively) interrogated and – well, what do you know! – they happen to be non-EU nationals. In practice, of course, they are likely to only be certain types of non-EU nationals, specifically the brown ones.

So whatever about the intention behind these rules, they will inevitably be racist in their application. Registrars, who are already overworked if the waiting lists are anything to go by, are certainly not going to be in a hurry to play 20 Questions with every EU/non-EU couple who makes an appointment. They’ll make the same assumptions the Minister has, that is, that Eastern European and Asian relationships are so “statistically improbable” that at least some of them have to be fake. I’m not inclined to blame the registrars who do racially profile these couples, incidentally; there is still uncertainty as to whether they’ll face any consequences if a marriage they let go ahead is later determined to be a “sham”.

The strangest thing about this whole business is that the NGO who you’d expect to be objecting loudest to this, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, has actually endorsed both the concept of “sham marriage” and the “need” for state intervention. I don’t know if they’ve responded to the new law; their social media pages have been silent on it. But certainly, their advocacy in favour of keeping out certain immigrants would not have gone unnoticed by the Department of Justice. If there is anything about this issue that should give rise to “deep concern”, the collaboration of migrant sector NGOs with unavoidably racist methods of border control surely has to be at the top of the list.

Women’s Healthcare in Ireland

Guest post by Katherine O’Meara. We are sharing this not to endorse the US healthcare system, but to show how shocking the Irish culture of deference to medical professionals can be to someone who has never experienced it.

Two months ago I attended a women’s clinic in Dublin, which I have attended, on and off, since 2000. I was told there might be something wrong with me.  I was told there was no chance they would perform the exam I’d booked. I was told there was nothing they could do.  I was told all of this in an extremely demeaning, condescending way while simultaneously trying to scare me that there was something amiss.  They were wrong.

Let me start by giving my background.

I grew up in America and moved to Dublin in 1995.  In 1993, when I was 21, I was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on my cervix.  I subsequently had cryotherapy.  I was advised to attend my OB-Gyn for follow up smear tests every three months for one year, then every six months for the next two years, then every year (it is common for women in the US to seek a full pelvic exam every year, in fact it’s so normal it’s known as going for your ‘yearly’).  All the smear results were fine but I continued to be diligent in my appointments.  By 1995 I was living in Dublin so whenever I flew back to Seattle I would duly visit my OB-Gyn.

In 2009, almost three years after my daughter’s birth, I received a letter stating my recent smear test had shown cell dysplasia and they’d like to have me in for a colposcopy.  I rang my GP’s office to ask about the level / result of cell dysplasia (as I had been given this information in the US).  They referred me to a company they sent their smears through.  So I rang that company.  I was told that they didn’t have that information, that what they get from the US company (where all the lab work is done) they pass onto GPs and that I should ring my GP.  When I rang my GP’s office (again), they said they didn’t have any of that kind of information but I could contact the company they outsource to (again).

I booked the colposcopy for the following month.  Unfortunately, the timing of this hit me like a ton of bricks.  After 16 years of good results, it completely caught me unawares.  I was also under a huge amount of pressure at that time, working full time and being a single mum with my family 7,000 miles away.  I was so upset during the colposcopy that I started to cry.  All I could think about was, ‘If something happens to me, what will happen to my daughter?’ One of the attending nurses was not impressed that I was crying and suggested I stop.  “Its only a procedure.” she chided me.  She kept asking me, throughout the procedure, ‘Why are you crying? Why are you crying?’, until another nurse tried to intervene and get her to leave the room.

Afterwards I was just happy it was over.  Until a couple of weeks later I got a letter stating I was being referred to Holles Street hospital for another colposcopy.  The letter didn’t state why.  When I rang my GP’s office they didn’t give me any further information but reinforced that I was being referred.  I found this so frustrating, that nobody would tell me what was going on and that even asking was treated as somehow undermining their supreme omnipotence.

When my colposcopy appointment finally arrived I was not looking forward to it to say the least.  So imagine my surprise when the medical team far exceeded my expectations.  They spoke to me like I was used to doctors and nurses conducting interviews back home.  They were extremely knowledgeable and professional.  They also informed me of my original cell dysplasia level, which both my GP’s office and their outsourcing company had refused to give me when asked.  Not only that but they told me the reason I was at Holles Street was that the labs/results from my previous colposcopy had been compromised.  That’s why I needed another one.  Nothing to do with me.  I would have appreciated that information at the time.  The colposcopy proceeded without any issue, the results were good (negative) and the doctor confirmed that continuing to meet my regular smear appointments was the right approach.

The idea of getting a yearly smear is so ingrained in me that I happily pay for it during the years the free cervical check doesn’t kick in.  Because of the merry-go-round at my GP’s office (in fairness, they are brilliant in every other aspect but women’s health) I decided to go back to getting my women’s healthcare seen to by a well known women’s clinic in Dublin (which I had previously attended, very happily, in my 20s).

I put up with being spoken to condescendingly when making my appointments (yes, I actually do know they should ideally be booked mid-cycle). I put up with explaining that I’m happy to pay for the smear test this year as I have a history and just want to be on the safe side (no, I’m not happy to wait two years for my next free cervical check, although I’m very happy that exists, thank you very much).

This year, when I made my appointment I had information to give the clinician.  My cycle has changed over the last two years, in line with peri-menopause.  As such, my periods are now about every 21 days apart and sometimes I have spotting between periods.  This is not unusual coming up to menopause.  The clinician looked blankly at me when I told her this and asked me to get changed.  As she started to perform the exam she told me I was bleeding and therefore she couldn’t do it.  To illustrate this, she took the speculum out of my vagina and stuck it in my face so close that it took a couple of seconds for my eyes to focus on what I was supposed to be seeing (1 cm of blood).  I wasn’t hugely impressed with her manner but fair enough if the exam can’t be performed.  She told me the lab would not accept any blood contamination in a specimen and to come back when I was mid-cycle.  I explained (again) that as I was pre-menopausal and my cycle was all over the place (its now settled down to every 21 days), this was harder to time.

“What do you tell your patients who are peri-menopausal?” I asked. She wouldn’t answer that but did say if my cycles were that off that I’d ‘want to get checked out’ because ‘there was probably something wrong’.  At this I stressed that changes to one’s cycle aren’t uncommon in the years before menopause and I asked, again, what she suggested to patients who are pre-menopausal, whose cycles are changing but who still want to come in for regular smear tests.  Honest to god, it was like she’d never been asked this question before.

She replied by telling me there was no way an exam could be performed today or on any day if there is bleeding.  She told me I had better make an full pelvic exam appointment straight away as I could have fibroids.  When I said I’d never had fibroids she said I could have cysts.  When I responded that to my knowledge ovarian cysts don’t bleed she said I could have polyps.  And then she asked me, “Do you even live in this country”? (my medical records there go back to 2000, if she had bothered to check).  This is far, far below the quality of care I expect to receive.  It’s so insulting I can’t even laugh about it yet.

It still infuriates me.  Because time and time again, when I ask questions in Ireland in regards to my own body and my own healthcare, the attitude I consistently get is ‘You don’t need to know unless we decide you need to know’ and ‘How DARE you question a medical professional’. The sheer nerve involved in daring to ask a question about your own body and the medical care you need or are receiving!  How DARE you. It’s like being patted on the head and told, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head about these things you can’t understand.’ This attitude towards patients is grossly backward and ignorant.

I ended the conversation by telling the clinician that since I was visiting home in a couple months, I would get seen there.  This was not well received.

Fast forward two months to July and a trip back to Seattle that allows me to see the OB-Gyn I had started with over 20 years ago.  Inside one of the examination rooms was a information chart on peri-menopause, what to expect, etc.  For the first time in years I felt reassured and confident in the care I was going to receive.

My OB-Gyn (Dr. Bina Souri) and I had a good chat.  She told me that all the changes to my cycle aren’t uncommon to peri-menopause but no harm in having an ultrasound to be on the safe side.  She listened to me and was very knowledgeable and willing to talk about menopause and any question I could think of.  Importantly, because she didn’t feel threatened when I asked her questions, I felt more reassured and confident in her ability.  Taking full advantage of the opportunity I had a smear test, bloods, a full pelvic exam and pelvic ultrasound.  Dr. Souri did note I was bleeding slightly during the smear exam but said the lab might be able to use it anyway.  And they did! Not only was the specimen useable but I’ve no cells showing dysplasia! My ultrasound was fine (I have a small ovarian cyst that will probably go away on its own but I’ll have it checked in a couple months just to be sure), my bloods were great (my cholesterol is slightly up and my vitamin D slightly down but diet can fix that), my blood pressure very good (116/60) and I’ve no fibroids or polyps or thickened uterine lining.  As opposed to just telling me the results were fine, Dr. Souri spend time going over them with me, in detail, so I would understand them.  And that’s important – this is my body.  I want to understand what’s going on with it.

I am extremely lucky in that when visiting family back home, I can book into the medical system there.  Many don’t share that privilege.  I hate to think of other women, who have experienced the bad medical advice/professionals I have, but who aren’t able to seek care elsewhere and who are unable to challenge the bad advice they may receive.

Edited to change Mater to Holles Street.

On Amnesty and that open letter

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As most readers of this blog will probably be aware, Amnesty International recently proposed adopting a policy in favour of sex work decriminalisation. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – a radical feminist organisation for whom “trafficking” means, simply, prostitution – had kittens, and got a whole bunch of celebrity women (and others) to sign an open letter calling on Amnesty to reject this proposal. You can read the proposal here and the CATW letter here. (There’s also a counter-letter from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, an actual sex worker-led organisation, which you can read and sign here. And please do.)

Much has already been written about the CATW letter, so I’ll limit my own critique to two points:

1. Any anti-sex work argument that cites Germany and/or the Netherlands without even mentioning New Zealand is either ill-informed or simply dishonest. The celebrities may fall into the former category, but CATW and many of the ordinary signatories know full well that New Zealand, and not those other countries, is the preferred model of “the HIV/AIDS sector, including UNAIDS” – which CATW’s own letter describes as the main inspiration for Amnesty’s proposal. Their failure to mention it can only be deliberate, presumably in an effort to prevent the ill-informed – the people who do think Germany and the Netherlands are what decriminalisation means in practice – from learning of the existence of the New Zealand model, and deciding to find out more about it.

2. It is equally dishonest to portray the policy proposal as one that “sides with buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters rather than with the exploited”. This is what the draft policy actually says:


It is patently clear from this paragraph – the only one in the draft policy addressing client and third party criminalisation – that it is precisely “the exploited” (by which CATW mean all sex workers) whose rights Amnesty is aiming to protect. CATW are free to disagree that decriminalisation would protect them, of course, but an honest response to this paragraph would require at least acknowledging that as Amnesty’s aim.

On top of that, the policy has an appendix – the summary of research findings Amnesty undertook with sex workers in four different countries (Argentina, China, Norway and Papua New Guinea). This runs to four pages, and includes a number of direct quotations from the sex workers Amnesty spoke to. I’ve read and reread and reread the four pages, and I can’t find any direct quotes by clients or third parties.

Here’s a sample of the quotes from Norway:

Amnesty 2Amnesty 3Amnesty 4

One would almost have to wonder what CATW think it means to “side with” a person, if not to support abolishing a law that that person says puts them in danger.

Now it could be argued that we don’t know how many sex workers told Amnesty that actually they think criminalising their clients is in their interests. This is true; we don’t. But the fact is that every research study I have ever seen from anywhere on the impacts of client criminalisation has found that sex workers consider it to put them more at risk. Every last one. Even the official reports used by the Swedish and Norwegian governments to justify their laws. Even the City of Oslo report used by statistically illiterate radfems to justify the laws. So to make that argument would be disingenuous. But to not even acknowledge the existence of the research findings, while simultaneously claiming that Amnesty is siding against sex workers? That’s worse than disingenuous. It’s bad faith.

And if you are a journalist who reported on the CATW letter without reading and referring to what the Amnesty document actually says? Shame on you.


Identity Ireland? Xenophobia is NOT my Irish identity.

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Twenty-five years ago the phone rang. I’m a little hazy on the details- you have to remember, I was only seven at the time. I remember that I’d been excited, because my dad was going to see my uncle John living in America, and that uncle always sent me on the best presents. Toys you’d never get here- polar explorer play sets, a gorgeous illustrated hardback Hobbit that I wouldn’t appreciate till years afterward.

There was always a kind of glamour to our overseas family, wasn’t there? You’d only see them once or twice a year at most. Their visits were filled with drama- the excitement of meeting them at the airport or in a house stuffed with family, a few days or a week to fit in months worth of experiences, and before you knew it you were saying goodbye again.

I say ‘were’, of course, but the present tense would be just as appropriate, wouldn’t it?

Of course- this won’t surprise you, since I led with it- that phone call twenty-five years ago was different. The details I’m gonna keep to myself, but my uncle- less than a decade older than I am today- had died suddenly.

It happens. It was horrible, of course. Of all my childhood memories- almost all hazy- the feeling of walking into my Nana’s house later that day, the silence of the aunts, uncles and cousins filling the living room lives in sharp, full-colour contrast.

I don’t know the details. I was only a child. But I think that it took days to bring his body home.

Let’s fast forward a few years, shall we?

To the Tea Cosy. Y’know the drill, the rest is over there

Neural Tube Defects: Systemic Problems and Individualised Answers.

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Yesterday in the Irish Times, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, had something to say about folic acid. Up till now, you see, women people planning to become pregnant have been advised to take folic acid supplements daily. Ireland has a high rate of neural tube defects– which cause everything from spina bifida to anencephaly- the majority of which can be prevented with folic acid.

As of yesterday, this advice has changed:

“Up to 50 per cent of all pregnancies are unplanned, but a baby’s crucial neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant,” Dr Mahony said. …“Women who are sexually active should start taking the vitamin daily even if a baby is the last thing on their mind”

Taken at face value, this seems like good advice. If you’re at risk of getting pregnant, then taking a simple step to prevent painful or fatal birth defects seems sensible. And from a purely medical standpoint, I can see her point. Unplanned pregnancies happen! If I were at risk of getting pregnant and thought there was a reasonable chance I’d keep any pregnancy that resulted, I would seriously consider adding some folic acid to my daily routine. And I’m sure that, as a medical practitioner, Dr Mahony sees more of the suffering that neural tube defects can cause than most.

However, this doesn’t mean that Dr Mahony’s perspective- while important- is complete, or that she fully understands the context in which she speaks. Because medical advice is never given in a vacuum, and in this context Dr Mahony’s well-intentioned advice is ill thought-out, ignorant of context and in certain cases may be actively harmful.

Let me explain. Let’s go to the beginning.

Check out the rest, over at the original post in the Tea Cosy

What TORL aren’t telling you about those “trafficking” stats

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Earlier this week, the Central Statistics Office published its latest reported crime data, which included a figure of 33 “human trafficking offences” – up from 22 in the last report.

Predictably, this was seized on by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to bolster its call for the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients:

Now as I’ve noted a number of times, Irish “trafficking offences” can encompass quite a number of things that have nothing to do with sex work – including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and helping a person enter the State to seek asylum. So, quite apart from the obvious point that we don’t know whether the increase relates to sex trafficking or labour trafficking, we don’t even know if it relates to trafficking in the Palermo Protocol sense at all.

So, I decided to do something I’m pretty sure never occurred to TORL to do: I emailed the CSO’s crime data section to ask for further detail on these offences. Within a few hours, I had a reply inviting me to telephone them to discuss my query (see how easy that was, TORL?).

Unfortunately, the very helpful person who answered the phone was unable to provide any detail, because the CSO don’t have it: the figures were reported exactly as they came to them from the Gardaí. I asked if they could even be broken down into which statutory offence was reportedly committed, but the answer was no: literally all the CSO were told was “33 human trafficking offences”.

Furthermore, the CSO told me, this doesn’t necessarily even represent things that are legally defined as human trafficking: “It’s a Garda definition, not a legal definition.” So anything the reporting Garda considers trafficking would go into that figure. The lack of any kind of standard renders the statistic wholly unreliable evidence of anything at all.

And, finally, I was told that the figure may include inchoate offences, such as conspiracy. So there is no need that any actual trafficking had taken place – it is enough that there was an agreement in place to do so. Presumably, the figure may also include complicity offences, such as aiding and abetting.

What is apparent then is that the “33 human trafficking offences” need not relate to 33 separate incidents of (whatever kind of) human trafficking, i.e., 33 victims. And since the same was true of the previous report’s 22, we can’t judge the significance of the 50% increase in any meaningful sense. It’s a number on a page that tells us nothing about anything – except, of course, the willingness of crusaders to manipulate data for their own ends.

This is why we can’t have nice things; Upping the price of drink in Ireland

The Oireachtas Health Committee is due to launch a report soon that will propose the government introduce a law to ensure that there is a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Much is being made of the fact that this will mean you won’t be able to buy a single bottle of wine for less than a tenner anywhere in the state. Compared to many other European states, the price of alcohol in bars is already ridiculous. The Vintner’s Association must love this. They’ve been banging on about how they’re losing business to people drinking at home for a long time, so an Oireachtas committee has decided to help their businesses by trying to prevent people from doing that by making it more expensive under the guise of a health initiative.

Despite the fact that Alcohol Action have been banging this drum as a health initiative for quite a while it’s painfully obvious to anyone who isn’t after necking a bottle of wine that using price to control behaviour unfairly penalises those on low incomes. There can be no equality of outcome in this situation.

Well-meaning but misinformed lobbyists have consistently put forward lines which are untrue such as “Minimum pricing, by definition, impacts on those that drink the most.” Clearly this is incorrect – the impact will be felt by those on lower incomes. The subtext of the statement from Alcohol Action is that those that drink the most are poor –  and they must be stopped from drinking. They must be saved from themselves. Increasing the price of pints wouldn’t have stopped TDs from drinking and then getting up to vote or speak on some of the most important Bills in the history of the current cabinet. Ensuring that a bottle of wine is more than €10 would not have stopped former TD Jim McDaid from getting behind the wheel of the car while absolutely hammered and tearing up the wrong side of the dual carriageway on his way home from the a race meeting at Punchestown. Nor would the cost of alcohol per unit have stopped other political figures such as Liam Lawlor, Labour’s Michael Bell, Senators David Norris, Joe O’Toole and Deputy Ruairí Quinn from being convicted of drink driving. That isn’t really how drink driving works. I hate cultural stereotypes that position all Irish people as pissed up, because they aren’t correct and are the product of anti-Irish racism of Victorian England. In saying that, Ireland is probably one of the only places where you can be convicted of being drunk behind the wheel and still have a reasonable run at a presidential election or subsequently hold the position of senior government Minister. Our attitudes to alcohol are simply different to other places, and making alcohol more expensive isn’t going to change the practice of well-paid middle class parents in south county Dublin who put Cabáiste and Quinoa to bed at night and then neck two or three bottles of wine. That leads to long term negative impacts on an individual’s health and the healthcare system – but that’s ok because it’s not poor people doing it. The cost of the drink isn’t the issue, it’s actually the mind of the people drinking it and the culture that surrounds them. Bags of coke don’t come cheap but that doesn’t stop people snorting Dickhead Dust to beat the band in certain circles. The price, or legality for that matter, is irrelevant.

Rightly or wrongly, drinking is a culturally accepted social past-time in Ireland. The Guinness toucan is an internationally recognised symbol of Irish cultural experience and we play up to it. We celebrate writers like John B. Keane and Brendan Behan whose grá for a jar is well known. Yes, alcohol contributes to a lot of terrible aspects of Irish society; Dublin is like a warzone after 3pm on St. Patrick’s Day; we’re a pretty depressed population and drink doesn’t particularly help that; and our A&Es are overrun with people getting charcoal stuffed down them at the weekends when staff and hospitals are already near breaking point. But increasing costs isn’t suddenly going to mean that there’ll be less vomit on O’Connell Street early on a Sunday morning. It just means that when someone rings in to complain on Joe Duffy, a government Minister can say “Well, it’s not our fault! We did something!” and some people will have a bit less in their pockets to pay for their breakfast rolls in Centra that afternoon.

Budget day always brings a collective whinge from the nation when there’s an increase in the price of alcohol, but adding a set rate per unit of alcohol simply stops those on lower incomes from engaging in what is a cultural norm without having the evidence to back up whether this is going to have a significant public health benefit for those you want to target. The definition of poverty is if people’s income is so inadequate they are precluded from engaging in activities and having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society. Why shouldn’t someone who goes out and is exploited by doing a week’s work on Jobbridge for €50 quid on top of their dole and the luxury of keeping the social welfare off their back have a drink of something cheap at home at the end of it? Those drinkers aren’t really the problem but they’re the ones who will pay for it.

The problem of alcohol consumption in Ireland, like drug abuse, isn’t going to be solved overnight, and this is just the latest proposal that’s well intended but isn’t going to change anything. Headshops were closed down and people are still doing yokes. The price of drink will go up, and government TDs will still be in the Dáil chamber three sheets to the wind. The more things change the more they stay the same and a policy that looks like it has emanated from the mind of someone with a superficial grasp of Leaving Cert economics won’t even scratch the surface of deeply embedded social problems.


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