I DON’T know about you, but whenever our Government is hailed for pulling off a ‘world first’, I let out a little groan.
You just know that this ‘world first’ won’t be something that makes us puff out our chests with pride. In fact, it is almost certain to have the opposite effect.
You just know, for instance, that the Guinness Books of Records won’t be updating its chapter on ‘The Quickest Solution To A Housing Crisis’ and inserting the words ‘Ireland 2023’.
And you can guess that this ‘world first’ doesn’t stretch to Irish taxpayers seeing a jot of difference to our health system, despite billions more of our cash being pumped into it for years on end.
And so it proved again this week, when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly signed the legislation that will mean Ireland becomes the first country in the world to have mandatory health warnings on alcohol products.
Of course, one reason that this Draconian, nannying and holier-than-thou rule is being labelled a ‘world first’ may well be because no other country in the world ever thought it was necessary.
Maybe every other politician and political party on the planet, like me, thinks it a futile, pointless exercise in excessive virtue.
But, setting all that aside, Ireland is once against a world leader in… something.
The legislation will mean that, from 2026, alcoholic drinks sold here will require a health warning to alert people to calorie content, grams of alcohol, risks of cancer and liver disease, and the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
Yes, folks, alcohol can make you put on weight, and drinking too much of it can have a detrimental effect on your health. Who knew? Apart from everyone old enough to drink in the state…
This new legislation will join an ever-growing array of rules and laws brought in by this Government in recent years aimed at curbing alcohol intake.
Some of this has been daft tinkering, such as cordoning off the alcohol aisles in supermarkets and making those who wander through those cowboy saloon doors feel like lepers.
But some laws have been incredibly damaging, such as those on minimum pricing, which, overnight, doubled the price of the cheapest bottle of wine you could buy.
Yeah, cheers for that.
Now they are slapping a health warning on our booze too, just in case the drinkers of Ireland are too thick to have missed the memo.
One of the things that annoys me most about this – apart from the utter pointlessness of such labels – is the mixed messaging that the Government is sending out.
You might recall that just six months ago, the very same Government agreed on an outline for exciting legislation that will extend nightclub opening times from 2.30am to 6am.
Under the rules, alcohol will be allowed to be sold until 5am, with an extra hour granted for drinking and dancing time. Yahoo!
Opening hours for pubs are also set to be amended, allowing them to keep serving until 12.30am every day, while bars with late licences will be allowed to open until 2.30am.
“I don’t see why the nightlife that we offer people in Ireland shouldn’t be as good as anywhere in the world,” then Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said at the time – the very same Leo who was so keen to bring in minimum pricing to, er, reduce our national intake of booze.
You wonder if Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who announced that wide-ranging overhaul of the country’s licensing laws, might want to get around a table with her Cabinet colleague Mr Donnelly some time, and come up with a cohesive plan on this country’s approach to alcohol.
Then there is the embarrassing fact that our leaders cannot wait to usher any dignitary passing through our shores to the Guinness Storehouse – or indeed any pub at all – for the obligatory pint of the blackstuff in front of the cameras.
From Barack Obama to the late Queen, the great and good have long been roped into a marketing campaign that heralds Ireland to the world as the finest destination to sip a pint.
Did one of our virtuous ministers warn Mr Obama or Lizzie of the health effects of alcohol before they had their pints poured for them, I wonder? Or did they, you know, assume they already knew that, like all the rest of us?
We hardly knew what to do with the teetotal Joe Biden when he recently visited our shores, but he might as well have spent his time necking down creamy ones day and night – since a few days after getting home to America, he had forgotten he had even visited the auld sod!
So, what is going on? Why are some elements in Government so keen to keep on pushing back the boundaries when it comes to nannying citizens about drink?
Well, let’s be generous for a moment, and suggest ministers like Stephen Donnelly must genuinely care about the effects of alcohol misuse, and want to do something about it.
Many of us will have seen the effects of alcoholism, and how alcohol misuse can cause debt, misery, marital break-ups, and episodes of violence and worse.
Who can blame a minister for trying anything that will make a difference?
In that case, I can only suggest that ministers like Mr Donnelly are hopelessly misguided, if they think health warnings stating the blindingly obvious will help.
If I were being unkind, I may even suggest that this is just the kind of nannying legislation that could net a minister a decent job in Brussels, if the next election doesn’t go as planned!
There is another element to this: it could be argued that Covid allowed our Government to take a hold of the people in the interests of their health like never before, and this new label system is just the logical next step.
In which case, we need to let our politicians know we are not children, and there are areas of our lives that should be free from interference.
Some may say labels are only a minor thing, but often small steps can be the thin end of a wedge.
Ireland received considerable pushback to its plan from eight EU countries, incuding Spain and Italy. In the latter, the farmers’ association called the idea “alarmist” and warned: “It represents a dangerous precedent as it risks opening the door to other legislation capable of negatively influencing consumer choices.”
A slippery slope indeed…
Some ‘world first’ this could turn out to be.