AS IRISH Christians prepared for the beginning of Lent this week, one of the most potent remaining symbols of the season in the increasingly secularised Republic is set to disappear. The government last month enacted legislation to abolish the ban on pubs opening on Good Friday, which had been in place since 1927. It has since been passed into law by President Michael D. Higgins.
There are no plans to abolish the sole remaining “dry” day in the Irish religious calendar: Christmas Day.
Politicians in favour of the Good Friday “liberation” referred to the case of St Patrick’s Day, which had at least a partial ban until it was removed in the late 1960s, on the grounds that it harmed tourism.
More recently, those who could not get through the day without a drink sometimes found a publican who was prepared to oblige, provided that the clientele were discreet and quiet on the premises. There was a noticeable spike in the sales of “slabs” (24 cans) of beer and bottles of spirits on the evening of Maundy Thursday.
Opposing the removal of the ban, other TDs (MPs) questioned the wisdom of the Bill, because of the image that they felt that it would send out as the country tried to tackle the alcohol problem that Ireland has long battled with.
An independent TD, Maureen O’Sullivan, was one of them. “I wonder how many tourists have been put off coming to Ireland because there is a day when public houses are not open?” she asked.
“How many tourists arriving here to discover that the public houses are closed for 24 hours get the first boat or the first plane out of Ireland, and how many tourists have actually complained that they can’t access a public house on Good Friday?”
Noting that Ireland had “a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol”, she asked: “Are we saying that the only tourists we want are those who can’t last 24 hours without buying a drink in a public house?”