Pills Over Pints?

While London’s lacklustre St. Patrick’s day celebrations are scheduled for this Sunday, the Irish government accidentally un-scheduled a bundle of recreational drugs. Ferdia Carr sees the Republic awash with double standards.

Across East London this weekend pubs of every stripe will wrap themselves in bilious green decorations and prepare to empty numerous kegs of the black stuff. Paddy’s Day, which doesn’t actually occur until Tuesday the 17th, is for testing your body’s threshold for alcohol; neither national pride nor Catholic saintliness have much to do with it – except that drinking in Ireland is a national pastime, and prohibiting booze would be comparable to Oliver Cromwell’s prohibition of the Gaelic.

In London it is traditional to complain that the local version of St Patrick’s day is not a patch on the saint’s day celebrations in the old country. But now, in that same old country, a new and unexpected development has threatened to put St Pad’s in the shade.

Despite its deeply engrained relationship with the grain, Ireland’s stance on modern recreational drugs remains highly conservative. So when the Republic this Tuesday legalised one hundred or so scheduled psychoactive substances, this wasn’t brought about by popular pressure; it was a legal accident. The High Court ruled that the Act prohibiting them was unconstitutiuonal, and they became legal by default. Sadly for tabloid writers everywhere, the drugs that broke free are not naturally green and don’t sound like the word craic.

The Oireachtas, Ireland’s parliament, has passed emergency legislation to re-illegalise the drugs, which came in to effect Thursday midnight, leaving a three-day window in which possession was legal. Health Minister Leo Varadkar warned, ‘They all have very significant health risks that outweigh any perceived recreational benefits.’

Varadkar might have been speaking about the bottles of Jameson that’ll be emptied nationwide on March 17th, exactly a week after the psychoactives were legalised. As the nation prepares to get very drunk next week, nobody seems to be asking what the difference is between popping pills and downing pints. In the case of our beloved booze, it is simply assumed that the perceived recreational benefits outweigh the significant health risks. Despite the vomit and the fights, we wouldn’t dream of banning beer.

There’s a comical irony in the authorities scrambling to re-impose the prohibition of drugs in time for National Alcohol Poisoining Day scheduled for the following week.

Two of the big names on the list of temporarily legal highs, ecstasy and ketamine, are as easy to come by in any Irish city as they are at a rave in Hackney Wick. The small window for legalised pills won’t have any lasting effect on the supply of drugs around the country. But party goers across the Republic have risen to the occasion, declaring the day they became legal ‘yoke Chewsday’ (‘yokes’ being an Irish colloquialism for ecstasy tablets).

Had the High Court ruling come a week later, St. Patrick’s Day might be more of a sickly love in than the usual drunken blow out. But what’s the difference at the end of the night? Everyone awakens feeling suitably green, knowing they’ve cost their body dear in pursuit of recreational gain.

If Ireland was morally consistent it would prohibit alcohol – inconceivable; or loosen its stance on illegal drugs.

Next year is the centenary of the 1916 Easter rising in Ireland, an event that led to our emancipation from British rule. How it is to be celebrated is a politically contentious issue, for historical reasons. Let’s at least hope that the High Court gets the timing right for this one.