'Most pubs open on Good Friday anyway,' says Minister Noonan

Limerick priest says drinking ban on religious day 'totally pointless'

Anne Sheridan

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Anne Sheridan

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anne.sheridan@limerickleader.ie

Good Friday drinking ban 'totally pointless', says Limerick priest

Fr Joe Young

MINISTER for Finance Michael Noonan has said he is not too concerned over the €6 million lost in excise duties to the Exchequer due to the ban of alcohol sales on Good Friday as "an awful lot of pubs are open anyway, serving behind closed doors".

There have been renewed calls again this year for the 90-year-old ban on serving alcohol on Good Friday to be lifted, with the current legislation described as "archaic" by the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

"I don't have a strong view on it. I'm kind of traditionalist, in having at least one day in the year when the pubs aren't open," said Minister Noonan.

"But the fact of the matter is that an awful lot of pubs are open anyway, and they are serving alcohol behind closed doors so I am quote prepared to go with whatever the decision is. But it's not something that I get hot or bothered, or excited about," he told the Limerick Leader.

Fr Joe Young, chaplain with the Brothers of Charity in Bawnmore, county Limerick, said that the legislation is “absolutely and totally pointless” given the rise of house parties and home drinking on the religious day.

Fr Young said people should be allowed to make up their own minds on whether they drink alcohol on the day – regardless of whether it is in a public house.

“It wouldn’t bother me at all if pubs opened on Good Friday. But I think the real issue is getting lost in this debate – why do people feel the need to drink on Good Friday? Ireland’s relationship with alcohol, particularly in the context of mental health, depression and suicide has to be examined.

“We can’t ignore the amount of people taking their own lives and the role that alcohol plays,” said Fr Young, formerly parish priest in Southill.

Fr Iggy O’Donovan, of the Augustinians in Limerick, said that he too is indifferent about whether pubs are allowed to open, given that he has been invited to parties himself on Good Friday.

“Holy Thursday is now a day where sales go up because the pub is closed and people are having parties,” said Fr O’Donovan.

Fr Seamus Enright, rector of the Redemptorists in Limerick, said he’s “neutral” on the issue.

“A part of me feels that it’s nice to have a day in the year that isn’t commercial, and there’s another bit of me that feels Ireland has changed a lot, and not everybody is Catholic or religious, and in other countries people live out their faith without any civic or legal supports. A part of me would like to keep it, and another part of me wouldn’t be very upset if it were to change,” said Fr Enright.

“I would also worry about so much now being seen in economic terms, and I feel that much now in society is being subordinated to an economic reading, rather than looking at what’s good for communities. Sometimes I feel that we are sacrificing everything for the sake of economic benefit,” he said.

The VFI is calling for an amendment to the licensing laws to permit all licensed premises to trade normally on the day.

A study by Prof Anthony Foley of Dublin City University last year estimated the Good Friday ban costs publicans across the State €30 million, with a further €6 million in excise lost to the Exchequer.

Limerick city publican and ccouncillor Jerry O’Dea, also a secretary for the VFI, said the situation is "a bit ludicrous, and for tourists staying in the city, they’re very confused as to where they stand.” 

Limerick pubs were famously allowed an exemption in 2010 due a Munster versus Leinster match at Thomond Park on Good Friday.

Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the VFI, said "in 2017 consumers should have the option to go out for a drink on Good Friday if they so choose.

"Indeed, many are choosing to drink at home or organise house parties on the day. Friday itself is a very important trading day – for many publicans it accounts for 30% of their weekly business – and this is especially true of Bank Holiday weekends,” he said.

“The Government claim to be ready for Brexit but their inability to make a simple law change makes one wonder.

“Publicans have been engaging with politicians on this issue for the last six years but the constant response is the issue will be addressed as part of a new Sale of Alcohol Bill. It’s as if ministers are living in never never land while the rest of us have to live in the real world,” he added.

The VFI is now calling on Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to introduce the necessary legislation before April 14, and to avoid further procrastination by deferring it to the Sale of Alcohol Bill.