Belfast Telegraph

Boastful drunks of the past 'half wits' today, says Belfast publican Wolsey as alcohol abuse consultation launched

Bill Wolsey
Bill Wolsey
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

One of Northern Ireland's most prominent publicans has said education is key to improving drinking culture in Northern Ireland and there had been a generational shift in attitudes during his four decades behind a bar.

Bill Wolsey said the person who would have boasted of drinking to excess around 15 years ago would be considered a "half wit" today.

His comments come as the Department of Health launched a consultation exercise on what can be done to address alcohol and drug abuse.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said drug and alcohol abuse was "still having a huge impact on society".

Mr Wolsey - whose businesses include bars in the city's Cathedral Quarter as well as the Merchant and Bullitt hotels - said people had been drinking less and pubs, hotels and restaurants had moved to adapt.

"When I started I was taught it was better to serve six people one pint than one person six pints. Pubs have changed to deal with social needs of people," he told the BBC.

"Food has played a big part."

Mr Wolsey said his establishments were strict and would not serve anyone to the point they became drunk and stag and hen parties were barred.

"The vast majority of our customers come in and take one to two to three drinks and they go home in a sober state," he continued.

He said people's idea of a night out had changed pointing to a generational shift in attitudes. And there would be "not as many people as you would think" rolling around drunk in the city streets on a weekend night.

"You no longer hear people say they are going out to get hammered. That just does not happen," he continued.

"It was only about 15 years ago somebody was drunk and staggering around the place and had some boastful story to tell. Now that person is looked on as some sort of half wit. It has absolutely changed."

Mr Wolsey said education was the way forward on improving altitudes to drinking and he had no objection to warning labels on bottles of drink.

"As a publican of 40 years the changes have been dramatic. No doubt about it some young people are drinking a lot. In disadvantaged areas some kids absolutely do drink too much.

"But you see less and less people getting drunk."

His comments come as the Department of Health launched a consultation on getting the public views on alcohol and drug abuse.

The department's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: “I want to start the conversation about what a new or improved substance strategy might look like. The pre-consultation exercise gives the public the opportunity to have their say on the vision, focus and priorities of a strategy and to directly inform future developments in policy and practice."

Mr Pengelly said a recent review of the current strategy had found some "encouraging signs" of reductions in binge drinking and drug misuse among youths.

"However, substance misuse is still an ongoing problem which is reflected in the tragic alcohol and drug related deaths we are still seeing," he said.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride added: "We need to look for new and innovative ideas and we want to have a wider conversation about substance misuse in society."

The consultation can be accessed here.

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