Summertime, wintertime, and more drinking-time

It is perhaps appropriate that on the week that is in it, the end of summertime and the beginning of wintertime, that legislation should provide us all with a new time — drinking-time.

There are moments in every week when you would wish for an eighth day or a 28-hour day, just to allow us all to catch up, but the nighttime this week certainly became much longer, for those enjoying the nighttime economy and for those who have to work in it.

In one fell swoop, the night has become longer for hospitality staff, taxi-drivers, gardai, hospital staff, bar owners and for punters who can now dance ‘til dawn. The revamp of the 200-year-old licensing laws was well overdue, but it is set to change the shape of the night for us all.

In one fell swoop we will soon all be able to meet ourselves coming home.

In theory, this is all grand. Everyone has experiences of late balmy nights, dawn beach walks, pino coladas along the Copacabana, and it all seems idyllic. Shirley Valentine-esque, indeed. Transform that to 4am on a wet night in a town in Longford and it suddenly doesn’t seem that glamorous.

The pub owners have yet to comment fully on the new legislation, ‘cept for saying there are large swathes of it which cause them concern and their comprehensive reaction will arrive in the coming days. However, it does allow them and club owners a bit more flexibility in terms of being able to organise events at short notice, therefore making the industry a lot more viable than it has been for the past few years.

This legislation will work in towns and cities like Galway which are a magnet for night-time aficionados. It will be interesting to see if the club scene in Galway gets revitalised as a result.

What is to be welcomed for Galway is that it has been chosen as one of eight locations nationwide to get a Nighttime Economy Advisor — and how needed is that?

It would be hoped that this person, in conjunction with the culture and hospitality, medical and policing figureheads in our community will sit around a table to draw out what a successful, safe and healthy night time economy can be.

At the moment, a lot of the concerns around nighttime participation, especially in cities like Galway are caused by the juxtaposition of closing times when everything centres on one location for transport, food, policing. With new and maybe staggered closing times for clubs and pubs, the 2am rush hour will be taken out of the equation.

It will also perhaps influence our hazardous relationship with alcohol. No last minute binge to get as much in before closing time; no last minute at home binge to get as tanked as possible before leaving home. You would like to think that with new powers and freedoms, come new responsibilities.

If this is the case, then perhaps nighttime can be restored for many sectors who feel vulnerable venturing out after dark. It would be nice if families could enjoy the nighttime economy without having to come into contact with drunks and thugs; Is it naive to hope that people could walk safely around our towns and cities and not be on their nerves the entire time in case they bring attention to themselves. Already, there are many parents who wince at the prospect of their teens heading into the city at night.

Gardai have said that having to police people who are drinking longer until the cusp of dawn brings its own challenges and the force will have to be expanded to deal with this extension of hours. Already, the feeling is that there are not enough officers to cope with the current situation.

So too our medical teams who use a fair percentage of their skills each weekend repairing bodies damaged by drugs/alcohol or alcohol/drug-fuelled violence. So too, with road use. If people are drinking until dawn, when are they then likely to get behind the wheel of a car? Or will the “musha, I’ll be all right” principle abound.

For a city like Galway, the opportunity to create something unique here is very tempting and rewarding. We have perhaps narrowed our boundaries too much when thinking about a night-time economy in the past. And we are one of the best in the country to be fair. Galway is a night-time for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

If we create a product that is well-policed, is varied, is safe, is welcoming, then we can all benefit. But if we just see this as a get-rich quick scheme, nobody will benefit.

PS. Don’t forget to put the clocks back on Sunday morning.


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