What’s so bad about teenage drinking?

28th January 2000

Out my way (Palmerstown) there’s a foot bridge for crossing the main Galway Road. A modest piece of architecture, it has spiral walkways at either end. Around it and below has been planted with bushes and trees to deliver us into greenery from the rush and noise of the dual-carriageway.

In fact, it forms a bit of a jungle and thus every weekend you can observe local teenagers disappearing into it to hide themselves from the community. And under here the young people drink alcohol and do whatever else young people do. Sometimes they light a fire to jolly the thing along and the smoke and laughter waft up at you as you walk above.

Lest this piece of news tempt the local gardai to hunt the young ones away, I’d like to point out that it’s not the only place the youngsters go. There’s the trees near the roundabout at the M50 and then there’s under the West Link bridge. There’s the service roads behind the older streets when it gets dark and then down by the Liffey is a favourite in the summer. They lower themselves from bridges onto the verge of the M50 and party on in the bushes while the cars whizz by only feet away.

With all the ingenuity and defiance of youth, the lesson here is that the kids are going to drink – no matter what the Government wants.

We have a law here that states that you can’t drink legally until 12 midnight of your eighteenth birthday (and then the pubs are shut). This must be one of the most stupid pieces of legislation on the statute books.

What’s the point in a total ban one day and then its triple brandys all round the next? Would it not make more sense to encourage parents to introduce alcohol to their children around the age of 13 or 14? A little wine with a meal and a shandy at a family get-together would be a sensible way to begin with.

By the age of 15 or 16 the same laws should apply to teenagers as adults. If kids have too much to drink then the bar staff should refuse to serve them.

Instead we have a situation where kids are treated like lepers. I watched five or six well dressed teenagers being stopped at the door of a pub last weekend and my heart sank to see the way they were humiliated by the doorman.

But instead of trying to take a sensible approach to young people and drink, the powers that be are trying to make things worse. There are plans afoot to introduce a national ID card for young people.

Local ID cards have been introduced in various parts of the country by zealous superintendents. It’s becoming harder for teenagers to buy alcohol at off-licences.

So it’s a total ban then. Will it work? It has as good a chance of working as the ban on cannabis. Which is none!

In the meantime kids will have to be more cunning and ingenious to get their hands on that can of cider. There will be more hassle with the guards. The lowlife will make a fortune selling drink to the kids.

We can’t seem to stop repeating the same mistakes when it comes to drugs. The rule is: YOU CAN’T BAN THINGS.

Most 12 year olds don’t want to drink. From there on we need a culture that gradually introduces alcohol to children.

We need to treat young people with respect and not always assume the worst of them.

It’s ironic that you walk past the pub full of adults drinking in safety and then over the walkway where the next generation is forced to skulk away in the darkness and cold just to have a drink.