- 13 Jul 21
If bureaucrats are allowed to take control, then things are likely to get ugly indeed, with the World Health Organisation proposing a ban on women drinking alcohol during their child-bearing years...
The impressive production-line in Irish writing has been motoring well throughout the pandemic. One impressive novel has followed another. The well is far from dry.
But might we soon see a shift in tone, away from the recent yin and yang of Trinity Lit and post-crash angst? That moment has passed. The next wave will address the pandemic, how it has been to be Irish, young and locked in: ‘down and not out’, as it were.
It will explore our new dystopia. How could it not?
We’ll call the novel The Barmaid’s Tale. The central character is… hmmmm… Riva Mulcahy. Irish name, but not too Irish. She’s a Trinity graduate (obvs), doing an internship in crisis management and image control, but working in a bar to make up the grotesque rent she pays for her room in the small house in Stoneybatter that she shares with three college friends.
There’s Russell, full-time coffee roaster and crazy guy. And Brendan (you have to have a character with a mainstream Irish name): nice fella, working on a start-up, very intense, hugely creative coder but deffo on the spectrum. And, finally, there’s Pi, brilliant and brittle social media influencer and musician, multi-valent, multi-talented, multi-gendered, multi-ethnic and multi-grain (Note to proof-reader: perhaps that should be multi-granular – please check. Thanks.).
As we meet them, the fab foursome are trying to understand the coronavirus. One of their friends thinks it’s called Covid-19 because it’s the 19th such virus!! Ha-ha!! How naïve is THAT??!
Just working it out is a struggle. But it’s kinda fun too. All those friends piling home from abroad: omigod, where are they going to sleep?!? And eat?!? And drink? And shag?
Arguing over what is an actual virus and what are actual facts and actual truths, watching awful actual pictures from Italy and New York, omigod those poor people, going aha-got-that-bastard as first Bojo and then Trump go down with the virus… and then talking about it all for pages and pages… (of the novel, obvs!)
Russell does really well for a while, because everyone drinks coffee and hangs out at the coffee bar; walks in the park with coffee, a long coat and a dog; flirts and zooms with coffee.
And drugs are now delivered by courier. Now there’s an idea. For a start-up.
SORDID AND DEBAUCHED
Slowly but surely, however, they begin to find that lockdown isn’t fun at all.
Behold the new dystopia. The old shambolic democratically elected Government is put on the shelf. They’re just caretakers now: cardboard cut-outs of politicians making decisions.
The new ruling elite just kind of appear – but it’s weird: everyone has to kowtow to them.
They style themselves as The Public Health Directorate and their leader is known as See-Mo. He’s a member of a worldwide network called the World Health Organisation (WHO). At first they seem so caring and expert that the media and the people love them even though they’re very harsh.
And the restrictions they impose in the new dystopia really are Very Strict Indeed! You’re confined to your house and whoever lives there. Bubbles they’re called. Bars, restaurants, cinemas and clubs are closed. There will be no festivals AT ALL.
Everyone has to wear a mask and keep two metres apart. You can’t even go see your dying granny. You can’t travel more than five kilometres. You’re not allowed into or out of the country.
The puppet government keeps offering reassuring blandishments: “We feel your pain but if we remain steadfast things can get back to normal soon. Sure, that’s what lockdowns are for!”
But every time they’re about to relax the new dystopia, See-Mo appears like Big Brother and says no. His assistants show graphics and charts and they always say the same thing: no relaxing the rules. Look at the data: we need more restrictions, not less.
In the new dystopian normal, many forget what the old normal even was and See-Mo and his cabal start insisting that things are actually better this way. They’re even greener!
And then, of course, as happens in novels, everything goes really pear-shaped.
See-Mo says that young people are out-of-control and parks are closed again, as are plazas (who knew we had them?!?) and any other spot where people might gather.
The writing in the novel has attained a new kind of urgency. The sentences are noticeably shorter. Things, the reader is being warned, are about to explode.
Young people congregate anywhere they can: they are harassed by the Gardai. Things get ugly and there are baton charges and arrests…
The State propaganda machine starts to paint a picture of how sordid and debauched Irish society was in the old days and will be again if the rules are relaxed.
See-Mo is everywhere, but especially on the news, every day. He says that drink is the devil and the cause of all the problems. His fellows in the WHO propose a new regulation against women of child-bearing age drinking any alcohol at all.
In the midst of all this, Riva has to work outdoors at the bar to keep paying the rent. She has to serve vaccinated people the drink that she herself is forbidden to take, wearing a uniform and a mask and scrubbing down the tables and toilets after every service…
Yes, The Barmaid’s Tale is a sorry one. What’s even more worrying, it is just Part One of a six-part epic…
GLOBAL ALCOHOL ACTION PLAN
Whoa, you say, for heaven’s sake, hasn’t Margaret Atwood already done all this in The Handmaid’s Tale?
And the answer, in a way, is yes. But life imitates art and art returns the compliment. And almost all recent Irish fiction has been rooted in the lived experiences of the writers, has it not?
Look at what the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the State’s own official human rights watchdog, had to say last February.
It said that Government communications “attempted to secure the quasi-legal enforcement of public health advice, in a manner that may infringe the principle of legality.” And that there has been a tendency “to blur the distinction between the regulations and public health advice, making the content of the law unclear.”
This, they say is contrary to both domestic legal principles, and the foundational principles of international human rights law.
The Commission added that “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the delegation of legislative power… has resulted in a black hole for the consideration of human rights and equality concerns”; and that “Important decisions should be made by democratically accountable actors.”
“Nphet,” they say, “has no particular expertise in human rights and equality.”
As for The Barmaid’s Tale, have a look at the World Health Organisation’s draft Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030. This says that “Appropriate attention should be given to... prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age.”
Reproductive age, according to the WHO, ranges from 15 to 50-years-old.
Remember this: the Irish public health authorities, as we have seen, are among the most conservative and risk averse in the world. And that make them amongst the most oppressive.
They have presided over one of the longest and most severe lockdowns in the world and will, if given half a chance, use their now dominant position in the Irish political sphere – those words are carefully chosen – to push through the most stringent regulations on alcohol imaginable.
The new dystopia rolls on. The Barmaid’s Tale will be prophetic. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Now, get ready to fight for your right to party!
– The Hog