Idiotic booze dare isn't fuelled by Facebook but by our drink culture
THERE can hardly be anyone who hasn't heard of NekNominate. The idiotic internet phenomenon reached our shores in recent days with tragic consequences, being linked to the deaths of two young men.
NekNominate is a challenge on social media sites where mostly young men dare others to down a large amount of alcohol and complete a risky task.
Jonny Byrne's task was jumping into a river in Co Carlow. He drowned.
But if drinkers complete their task uninjured, they nominate other pals to do the same online.
It's facilitated by all-pervasive social networking sites such as Facebook. The practice has been criticised, of course, most poignantly by the grieving father of Jonny Byrne.
High Court judge Paul Carney has also weighed in, issuing an ominous warning that such drinking contests could result in "a tsunami of homicide and rape prosecutions".
But young men have been taking part in drinking contests long before Facebook arrived. They've likely been doing so as long as alcohol has been consumed.
The main villain in this tragic story is the insidious, pervasive and downright destructive culture of alcohol abuse in this country.
Our dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship with booze is rooted so deeply in the national psyche that it defines us as a people.
We wear our addiction, perversely, as a badge of honour. We shamelessly promote it as a vital part of our national identity. Remember Obama sipping a pint on his visit here in 2011? And Queen Elizabeth being presented with one (which went unsipped, it must be said)?
And don't even start me on St Patrick's Day, which has become a licence for many to get drunker than they do on any other day of the year.
I can't think of any other nation that celebrates a national holiday by taking a trip to the pub, the chipper and then the A&E.
Why then has it taken a fury about NekNominate, and the tragic deaths of two young men, to open up a major debate on problem drinking? Why have political leaders shown such a lack of direction on this issue?
Irish people top the EU league when it comes to binge drinking. This is not caused by NekNominate or Facebook. It's caused by young people being raised in a culture where overindulgence in alcohol is tolerated.
One in four deaths of young men aged between 15 and 39 is due to alcohol, according to the charity Alcohol Action Ireland.
Alcohol is a factor in one in three road crash deaths. Some 88 deaths a month in Ireland are directly attributable to alcohol.
And this is all before we even get to those crimes in which alcohol is so often a factor, such as the rapes and homicides referred to by Mr Justice Carney.
It has taken the deaths of two young men to again focus our attention on our problem with drink.
It may offer some consolation to their families if their deaths lead to real change.
But real change can only occur if we are prepared to face up to this scourge in our midst. Can we?