The students of Galway are currently drinking their way through the traditional, if unofficial, Rag Week.
A right of passage for students, it is hard to condemn, if not be jealous, of their ability to have fun amid so much depression and downheartedness in the country. And, lest we forget, that unless they join the growing emigrations queues, these are the youngsters who will be paying the country's debts for years to come.
Of course the emphasis on Rag Week is fun, and in the past that fun has got out of hand which prompted college authorities and student unions to cancel the "official" event. It is unfortunate, because although drinking has become a bigger part than it should, it is usually only a handful who cross the line during the event.
The drinking culture has detracted from the very worthwhile events which have taken place around this traditional week, and this week it was revealed that €4.5million was spent in 2011 treating patients at UCHG emergency department for alcohol related illnesses. Well done to do-founder of RAG Ireland, Daithí de Buitléir,who wants to return to the traditional meaning of the week, raising and giving, by setting up RAG hubs where the main activities are fundraising events, volunteering drives, social and community project start-ups and social awareness campaigns.
Galway, is of course, no different to any other university town in Ireland, Britain, or indeed the rest of the world. In New Zealand one city council introduced a temporary alcohol ban for their college’s Orientation Week. The bylaw permitted people to have and to drink alcohol on private land, including the university campus and licensed premises, but did not allow possession or consumption in public places. Think Eyre Square. The penalty for conviction under this bylaw was a fine of up to $20,000. According to its authorities the temporary ban helped in "managing some of the issues" around orientation with police taking a "no nonsense" approach. And in Dunedin, which boasts the country's oldest university, Speight's, the well-known brewer and a long-time sponsor of the Otago University Students Association Orientation Week, was no longer allowed to be associated with the annual event on campus, following a move by the University of Otago to ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship. The on-campus ban was instigated as a move against binge-drinking and excessive drinking by some university students.
Rag Week should be about revelry, but perhaps there could be more "events " to attract students in managed environments rather than on the streets of the city. In that way Rag Week could become more campus orientated providing students with a "campus" experience, and not just a booze-up.