Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Gail Walker: Why drink culture here is no cause for cheer

Undoubtedly one of the most moving stories here for some time is that of the plight of Gareth Anderson. The 19-year-old, seriously ill with liver failure, has been denied a transplant until he is booze-free for six months.

Sadly Gareth may not live that long. It’s a terrible catch-22, and only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t wish Gareth’s parents all the best in their fight to get the decision overturned.

One can understand the six month ruling, but, sometimes circumstances and basic humanity demand a change in policy.

Gareth has made an awful mistake. On Bebo he jokes about being a “full-time alcoholic” and lists his favourite sport as “pint lifting”.The lad obviously has a thing about booze — though no more than many teens — and some may reckon he’s made his own bed and should have to lie in it.

But Gareth is as much a victim of our booze-sodden culture, as he is of his own stupidity. The very fact that he sees boasting as a means of making himself popular on websites holds a mirror up to ourselves as well as Gareth.

Let’s face it, Northern Ireland is a society that centres on drink. Where do people meet? Pubs, clubs and bars. And we’re not talking about continental style glasses of wine and long chats about existential philopsophy.

Most people who go out on a Friday and Saturday night do so to get a skinful. In many offices Monday’s banter begins with an admiring: “You were fairly going on Saturday night.”

From wetting the baby’s head to a drop in your hand at a wake, all our important moments are measured out in units of alcohol. No wonder Gareth ended up a little bit brain-washed. He deserves not just our sympathy but our support and help.

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