Irish pubs will open their doors on Good Friday this year for the first time since 1927
TDs and Senators last week lifted Ireland’s longstanding ban on the sale of alcohol.
Fianna Fáil Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan, whose opposition party keeps the Fine Gael government in power, said that ban had long been undermined with, most famously, events like dog shows visited by people for the sole purpose of drinking.
He said the original ban encompassed Good Friday, Christmas Day and St Patrick’s Day.
“In many respects it was an anti-republican measure because this is not a state purely for those of the Christian faith or the Catholic religion,” he said. But, he pointed out, people are free to not drink on the day.
“It simply acknowledges that people who wish to buy a drink, who may not be religious or who are religious but do not believe that they should abstain on Good Friday, are permitted to do so,” he said. His opposite number in Sinn Fein, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said the ban was an “anomaly” with “little public support”.
This Easter Ireland will end its traditional Good Friday ban on the sale of alcohol in pubs. It has been widely welcomed by all except, perhaps, some Irish barmen and publicans who appreciated the time off.
Commentators were quick to say it is significant because it shows the diminishing influence of the once mighty Catholic Church in Ireland. But wiser heads pointed out that those who wish to abstain from alcohol on that day for religious, or other reasons, can still do so.
Removing a ban that was imposed to appease the Church authorities is more in keeping with Ireland’s claim to be a Republic of all faiths and none, they say. That lack of triumphalism will be necessary to persuade the many people of good faith who will be asked to vote against what their church will tell them will be a profound evil.
Yet many of their neighbours, children and elected representatives – equally of good faith – will point to the perverse injustices and avoidable horrors that have arisen from the inflexibility of the current law.
It should be remembered that the 1983 constitutional prohibition has its origins in the most cynical and opportunist party politics of the day. Its consequences, and the attitudes it reinforced, carried through for decades through the injustice of the Kerry Babies case to the obscenity of the X case and the legal obstacles used to prevent a victim of rape leaving the country to the collateral death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital.
These inflexible diktats were insisted on by a male dominated Establishment and Church, with the acquiescence of some – but not all – Irish women.
In this week of St Brigid’s Day, in which the spirit of Irish women is celebrated, building on both Christian and Celtic traditions, it is to be hoped that the mistakes and bitterness of past debates and referenda are not to be replayed. There are genuinely held beliefs on either side of this debate but what has been clear for many years now is that the current system is unfair, has deeply dishonest origins, and should not be allowed to continue as it is.
Perhaps this time it will be possible to arrive at a mature consensus that respects all. Without trivialising the issue by returning to the question of Good Friday drinking, those who remain opposed can still observe their consciences as they see fit. But so, too, can others. That is the mark of a society at peace with itself.