Every year on Good Friday Ireland closes down.  It’s illegal to sell alcohol here today so houses up and down the land are full of people getting completely rat arsed at home with oceans of booze bought the day before.  One or two uncharitable souls might venture into town to laugh at all the tourists wandering dejectedly around Temple Bar because no one bothered to tell them about the law.

Off licences around the country enjoy their one Friday night off of the year and rebellious parties rock through the night, continuing the theme of getting rat arsed with previously bought alcohol.  This year the truly dedicated (along with hotel residents, people in airport departure lounges and one or two other refuges of the desperate and alcoholic) can actually get wined and dined totally legally, not quite in international waters but a definitely aquatic bending of the rules.

The standard line you hear trotted out today when people complain about the levels of drunkenness sparked by enforced prohibition is that it’s only one day a year.  Sure we’re not that desperate for a drink are we?  But it’s not really a question of the whole nation going cold turkey if they don’t have intravenous alcohol it’s simply a case of the Irish inclination to do the opposite of what they’ve been told to do (look at the Lisbon Treaty!)

But behind all the hilarity and festivity is an inescapable problem with the Good Friday licensing laws and similar rules that govern Christmas Day.  They are there solely because Good Friday is a holy day in one religion.  For two days a year the laws of Ireland seek to force everyone in the country, regardless of their belief or lack of it, to toe the line laid down by the Catholic church.  It’s not a question of whether people can stand being without alcohol for 24 hours, it’s a question of why they’re being told to abstain.

In my previous post I wrote about the ads taken out by the Humanist Association of Ireland which are currently running on DART commuter trains around the capital.  The ads point out that in order to take high office in this country you have to take an oath to the Christian god.  Not exactly a separation between Church and State!  The Good Friday licensing laws are part and parcel of the same thing.  A religious law imposed on a population.

Now I know that Ireland is still a predominantly Catholic country.  According to the 2006 census there are still more than 3.5 million people living in Ireland who would describe themselves as Catholic.  However, the same census also shows that there are more than 700,000 people who do not share that faith.  Granted, included in that 700,000 would also be all the other denominations of Christianity who would also celebrate the resurrection but who might have different customs when it comes to observing Good Friday.

The licensing laws don’t take any of this into account.  They assume a population that needs policing to follow the rules of their faith, not allowing for personal discipline or responsibility.  They are no different from rules under Muslim Sharia law that dictate what a woman must wear and restrict her movements. These rules assume that religion needs to be policed and takes it away from a matter of personal conscience.

It might seem like a little thing.  An archaic rule that harks back to a simpler time and might actually have positive health benefits.  We’re not talking about going to your local butcher here or buying organic.  This is a situation where the rules of one religion dictate the law of the land.  I have no problem with individuals following whatever faith they choose.  I do have a problem when they impose that belief onto me.