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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Miriam Donohoe: Should we keep the ban on Good Friday drinking?

The decision to hold the Munster v Leinster rugby match on the one day fans cannot watch it in the pub has added fuel to the debate about our annual no-alcohol days: on Good Friday drinking?

YES: It's part of our culture and our tradition. What's wrong with us that we can't cope one day without booze?

What is it about us Irish that we need to drown ourselves in booze to mark major social and sporting occasions?

No other country in the world comes near us when it comes to knocking them back, given any excuse.

The annual debate about our excessive drinking will surface later this week when we celebrate the boozefest that St Patrick's Day has become in recent years.

There will be countless reports of drunkenness and public disorder as young people embark on an alcoholic orgy on the streets of our cities and towns. Alongside the traditional pictures of the St Patrick's Day parade floats, newspapers will publish depressing images of people drunk out of their heads.

We will get all sensitive when, hand in hand with St Patrick's Day celebrations around the world, we will be depicted as a nation of 'happy go lucky' drunks.

The pint of Guinness will be up there with the Leprechaun to signify the best of what is Irish.

This year a debate is raging over the rights and wrongs of scheduling the Magners League rugby clash between the two giants of the game here, Leinster and Munster, on Good Friday.

Good Friday, as we all know, is a day when pubs must stay closed. Limerick publicans are moaning that the closure will cost the local economy €5m and they are making a special appeal to gardai to allow them to open on that day.

Rugby fans are panicking that they won't get their quota of pints in before and after the game.

But hang on a second.

This match gives us the perfect opportunity for an experiment -- a drink-free sports fixture in Ireland.

Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy a drink as much as the next person -- but the idea that an age-old Good Friday tradition may be changed by a powerful vested interest in the name of sport is worrying.

The ban on pubs opening on Good Friday and Christmas Day dates back to legislation introduced in 1927.

As well as being a religious tradition, pub closures on these days have become part of our culture. We admire countries that maintain their cultures and we should protect ours too.

Drink and sport are becoming more and more entwined in our society. Major drinks companies sponsor some of our big sporting competitions -- Heineken sponsors the European rugby cup, Magners, a cider, sponsors the rugby league contested by teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, and Guinness is a long-time sponsor of the All Ireland Hurling championship.

Heavy drinking is part and parcel of social activities of sporting clubs all over the country. It's a pity that a big game is not complete without fans either drowning their sorrows in defeat -- or celebrating a victory with copious pints.

The current controversy shows that we are stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to considering serious matters such as drink.

Surely rugby fans can cope for one day without paying a visit to the pub before or after a game. It won't take away from what actually takes place on the pitch.

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