The introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol is the first implementation of the Alcohol Act 2018, part of a broad effort to tackle harmful drinking in this country. According to the World Health Organization, consumption of pure alcohol per capita in Ireland is among the highest in the world. There really is no getting away from the various outlier statistics regarding us and our boozing.

The forced closure of hospitality over the past two years is hardly of much concern to NPHET officials. In fact, cynics say they’re quietly pleased that pubs have been shut. It’s taken a pandemic to disrupt our relationship with alcohol and with the pub, possibly forever.

Families affected by alcohol abuse will not lose any sleep either. But this is where, going forward, statistics show we should make a distinction between pubs and alcohol abuse.

There was little separation to be made between the two back in the bad old days when fathers would drink the weeks’ wages in the local tavern and where families suffered at the hands of aggressive drunk fathers and husbands falling home from the pub, which was the only source of alcohol.

Some people are drinking less, some are drinking more

That has all changed. Even with pubs shut, alcohol consumption only dipped by 6% in 2021 when compared to 2020 according to Drinks Ireland. And the latest barometer is a mixed bag of positives and negatives about our drinking habits during the pandemic.

Some people are drinking less, some are drinking more. Most startling though are the figures provided by Beaumount Hospital of a 30% increase in hospital admissions for liver disease which is blamed on an increase in home drinking.

There is an off-licence 500 yards from where I live. Up until last year, I had never darkened its door. But like all off-licences, petrol stations and supermarkets, it has been the only source of a bevy on and off for the past two years and I have enjoyed in particular trying out the vast array of new Irish craft beers which seem to have come out of nowhere during that time.

The local pub is something which should be supported and appreciated

Still it is not the pub and maybe when things get back to normal (whatever that is), we may enjoy a new-found respect for the role of the pub rather than simply conflating it totally with “Ireland’s drink problem”.

The local pub is something which should be supported and appreciated and whether we think it’s cringey or not, we are loved by tourists for our pubs. As the son of a publican, I would say that wouldn’t I? But we should look at the pub as more than just a drinking den. You don’t have to consume alcohol in a pub. It’s a place for friends to meet for a coffee or a soft drink or to play cards.

It provides income for local musicians at weekends and there isn’t a pub that is not involved as a supporter or sponsor of the local sports club. Throughout Ireland, pubs provide a refuge to local organisations, charities and groups for meetings and fundraisers. And importantly, it provides pocket money employment for students or a second job for adults.

Once they can open properly again, the way we use them will change

Pubs charge more than the off-licence as the pub is a controlled environment so you are less likely to drink to excess. Once they can open properly again, the way we use them will change. Some of us will tiptoe back or maybe not at all. But it would be harsh to believe that a town without a pub is a town better off.

A break from weather chat

Where once we opened conversations with the state of the weather, now it’s about what to watch on Netflix. Give the French drama Call My Agent a go, the perfect anathema to the January blues.