Time to Stop Blaming Young People for the Ills of Irish Society
The events in the Phoenix Park last Saturday were truly shocking: loss of life, multiple stabbing incidents, drug overdoses, eye-witness accounts of excessive alcohol consumption and you-tube footage of mud-covered physical assaults has justifiably shocked those who witnessed the events or those who heard of these sorry tales.
However as usual a convenient blame-game aimed at the event organisers, Gardaí and young people in general has ensued which, while understandable, misses the point on Irish society’s responsibility to tackle our relationship with alcohol excess, and ‘excess’ in general.
Predictably meetings will be called for and meetings will take place. Politicians will demand answers, column inches will be filled with criticisms of disrespectful young people, inevitable calls will be made for schools to stir our young people in the right direction (as usual) and then we’ll all move on.
Blaming young people for what happened on Saturday night is understandable, but short-sighted. Is it any surprise that this generation of Irish people drink to excess and resort to aggressive behaviour when every other generation of Irish people have done something similar since records began?
It was as a result of the Irish reputation for alcoholism that the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was formed in 1898. Both my parents are still members. They say they were trying to change the view of the Irish abroad.
In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in part because of the reality of the wasted youth of Ireland engaging in drunkenness and very little else at the turn of the last century.
In 1961 Tom Murphy’s play ‘A Whistle in the Dark’ was criticised in Ireland for its betrayal of Irish emigrants as being drunken, brawling criminals. It clearly touched a nerve.
While I didn’t learn drunkenness from my parents, I do drink, have often drunk too much and regularly laughed about it afterwards. But I have seen decent people do ridiculous and violent things when under the influence of alcohol. And I know I’m not alone. So where did we pick it up?
The excess culture reached its peak in the Celtic Tiger era. Our ears were stuffed with money and our noses were stuffed with cocaine. The country was in the midst of various murderous gang feuds but nobody cared as long as they were ‘shooting each other’.
Is it any wonder that the drunken thuggery of so many late-night chipper outlets around the country in the 80s and 90s would develop into cocaine filled excess and aggression in the 2000s, and then to what was witnessed last weekend? And is it a little simplistic to blame young people?
There is of course responsibility on the individual to conduct themselves and anyone who carries a knife around the place deserves everything the courts can throw at them. But we had a drink and drugs problem before last Saturday and we will have one for a long time until we start facing up to it.
A lot of factors combined to make the Swedish House Mafia concert a scene like hell on earth, but let’s stop blaming the young people and begin asking ourselves how we empower our young people, how we show leadership in relation to alcohol and drugs as adults.
Teaching our children to enjoy alcohol, from an early age might be part of the solution. However as long as its commerically viable to get people as drunk as possible as often as possible we'll remain in serious trouble.
This generation of young people carry the torch that we hand them in so many ways. Unfortunately we have handed them a torch that was quenched with alcohol. Can we expect them to pass on something better when they're done?