Thursday, April 24, 2008

Alcohol, crime and social control in Ireland: A question for readers

Irish crime writers have not hesitated to voice skepticism about their country’s Celtic Tiger economic rise, a criticism articulated ruefully by Ken Bruen, who said: “I didn’t want to write about Ireland until we got mean streets. We sure got ’em now.”

The Irish are also proverbially great drinkers, and that same Bruen has written with anger and emotion about the curse of alcoholism. But those sentiments, in his Jack Taylor novels, target alcoholism’s destructive effects on individual lives. I don’t remember Bruen ever citing drinking as a cause of social unrest. That is why I read the following news item with interest last night:

Ireland curbs alcohol sales

DUBLIN — Acting against binge drinking, Ireland is curbing alcoholic-beverage sales in convenience stores and gas stations. Stores can sell alcohol only from 10:30 a.m., not the current 7:30 a.m., and must close by 10 p.m., Justice Minister Brian Lenihan said yesterday. Food stores must display alcohol away from other goods.

About a third of Irish citizens have five or more drinks when they consume alcohol, almost double the European Union average, a survey shows.

“This is a response to a very significant problem of alcohol abuse, which is leading to public disorder,” Lenihan said. Almost half of those who committed murder or manslaughter were drunk at the time, according to a study by Ireland’s Health Services Executive published this week.

— Bloomberg News

Are the Irish drinking more than they used to? Are they doing so more destructively? Are the economic forces that contribute to social dislocation driving up rates of alcoholism? Or are the measures cited above an effort by newly monied classes to control the behavior of those left behind by the country’s sudden prosperity?

I’m neither Irish nor an expert, nor am I an especially subtle thinker on matters of public policy, so I suspect the truth is some mix of these. What do you think, readers, especially Irish ones? Jargon-free comment from social scientists and law-enforcement personnel is welcome.

(Photo of the 1913 Dublin Lockout.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I am not Irish or an expert in anything but I have just finished reading Cross and there are some gems in there about the Irish and their relationship with alcohol.

Will you have a drop of the creature?


And alcoholism is referred to as the "fierce curse".

My review of Cross will be posted on Euro Crime in the next few weeks. But for the real answers you will have to wait for the Irish to answer.

April 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Priest contains similarly chilling gems, but Bruen, that author of such deep compassion, writes about alcoholism's effects on the people who suffer from it, and not on property values or "quality of life." I wonder what his reaction would be to the news item I posted. Possibly a mix of compassion for the sufferers and disgust for the government.

Cross, already on my to-read list, has moved up since I read Priest. That latter book took a lot of the subjects Bruen had proposed and hinted at in the earlier Jack Taylor book and made them inso a seamless story. I think that's his breakthrough, the book that cements his place as an innovator in crime fiction and one of the modern greats.

I'd only read one of the Jack Taylor books previously, The Magdalen Martyrs. Maybe I should read The Dramatist next, since I think that was the first book in which Jack Taylor had stopped drinking.

April 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just begin to realize, that the Taylor series is not just a series but a single novel that is, like the books of Dickens serialized due to economical reasons. So, my advice would be to begin at the beginning.

And you are right. I found the series always stronger than the individual books but "Priest" is good, real good.

April 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found myself thinking something similar: that the books are a kind of epic about one man's journey through lots of things, including alcohol.

I'm not sure I'll take your advice about reading the series in order, though. I read The Magdalen Martyrs first, then Priest. I'll probably read Cross next, then perhaps The Dramatist. That way I can make connections myself and have "A-ha!" moments when I find in an earlier book the root of some prominent feature of a later one.

April 25, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

You can not base your ideas of a country on literary novels. Those are stories meant to grab and keep your attention. Are people from Ireland drinking more? I really do not know, I would doubt it though. Normally, the trend is different - when people are doing poorly economically they are drinking more.

Suffering from an addiction. This website has a lot of great resources and treatment centers.

May 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment. You're right, and I wasn't basing my question on novels. It was the government's efforts against alcohol sales that led me to wonder whether the problem was really any worse now than it was before. Ken Bruen, one of the writers I mentioned, has written and spoken with great emotion about the ravages of alcohol addiction.

June 03, 2008  
Blogger Nithya said...

I am not an expert or an Irish, but in terms of the economic forces causing such drinking habits must be seriously looked into. Either these people who are drinking much be from a particular class where they can afford more than 5 to 6 drinks a day. Else there has to some other issue that could be pointed at.


Alcohol abuse affects millions. This site has a lot of useful information.

June 08, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

My review of Cross will be posted on Euro Crime in the next few weeks. But for the real answers you will have to wait for the Irish to answer.
Alcohol Treatment

September 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I shall look out for it.

In Northern Ireland, at least, signs in the streets warn against penalties for public drinking.

September 03, 2008  

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