- 23 May 12
The tragic death of Caolan Mulrooney resulted in a humane call from his father Eugene on Morning Ireland that we need to help young people to drink safely.
They were in the taxi queue at Dublin’s College Green, a man and woman, both drunk and stuffing their faces with fast food. When they had enough in their bellies, they tossed the remains of the food and wrappings away onto the street. Two friends of mine were behind them in the queue and, you might say, gave them the hairy eyeball. The drunken woman reared up on them. “Watch yourselves,” she snarled, “I’m a Guard and he’s a Guard as well”…
And she was. She pulled her ID from her pocket and thrust it in their faces, wordlessly daring them to react. Sensible senior media people that they were, they sucked on their rage and held their peace.
Fortunately, the friendly Garda cooled her jets and in due course the representatives of law and order got their taxi and left the scene, leaving both their sulphur and their litter behind. Of the latter, I’m sure the urban foxes, rats and seagulls dealt with anything edible and the street sweepers took the rest. The sulphur took longer to dissipate…
I couldn’t help remembering that confrontation when I read that Gardaí on mountain bikes are to become a daily feature in Killarney National Park. Yeah, apparently there are plans in place to tackle what’s been described as “a worrying increase in underage drinking parties” in parts of the park that are close to the town…
It’s alleged that parties are organised through social network sites, and young people converge at the appointed hour. Huge numbers of bottles and cans have been recovered by wardens and park management.
We’re off again. This week will see the publication of yet more research showing that young people drink a lot, generally in short bursts. And they do. There’s no denying that. But why?
Official Ireland’s stock response is to blame young people, off-licences and supermarkets, the alcohol industry and advertisers, a pattern you can see in HSE bulletins and Government policy documents, time and time again. The bog-standard response is to cluck ever louder and call for greater restrictions and heavier enforcement.
None of it works. Indeed, if anything, the external controls on drinking behaviour have made things worse. Nowadays everything is rigidly segmented according to age, and young people learn their drinking in the company of peers rather than in the mediating presence of older people.
This, as I interpreted it, was the point that Mr Eugene Mulrooney attempted to make on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland following the inquest into the death of his son Caolan in Quaker’s Road, in Cork.
Caolan was a student in UCC. He had been out with friends in Cubin’s nightclub. They agreed to meet up at Burger King to get a taxi home but he never showed. It seems he set out on foot for Rochestown, took a wrong turn and found himself facing a 1.5 metres high wall which he climbed over. What he didn’t know was that there was a drop of over 10 metres on the other side. He fell, suffering catastrophic brain injuries from which he died.
It’s a really sad, genuinely tragic case. The jury recommended that Cork City Council carry out a review of all split-level sites in hilly parts of the city (of which there are many) that pose a risk to the public.
It’s important to stress one witness’s testimony – which was that, while Caolan was drunk, he wasn’t staggering about. I say this because to the detached listener it seemed that the interviewer (Cathal MacCoille) tended to put the emphasis on the drinking rather than the unsafe sites.
Caolan’s father insisted that it wasn’t an alcohol story. His son had been drinking, but wasn’t incapable – he clearly had no problem getting over a wall that was almost five feet high. It was a safety issue.
That said, Mr Mulrooney took the opportunity to broaden the focus, saying several times that it’s important for Irish society to find ways to help young people learn to drink in safe ways…
To this listener, it seemed that his point was entirely lost on the interviewer. His very humane and rational view isn’t in the Official Ireland script. But it is absolutely right.
Young people didn’t lead a crusade against young people being in bars: others did. It isn’t young people who call the Gardaí if a group of young people gather on a street corner; nor is it the young people who turn up in a squad car and tell themselves to bugger off or else they’ll be arrested under public order legislation…
And so on.
As regards both alcohol and young people, Official Ireland is preoccupied with public order and A&E excesses and therefore the public discourse and policy agenda are set by the Gardaí, public health temperance evangelists and former drinkers among the commentariat.
That being so, Official Ireland finds it hard to understand that it would actually make very good sense to have young people serving their drinking apprenticeships in well-run pubs. Of course, there’s always the risk that they might encounter bores and drunks, perhaps even off-duty members of the Garda Síochána giving bad example – but overall wouldn’t it be a great deal better than what we have now, where young people do all that learning out of sight and out of their minds, the blind drunk leading the blind drunk?