Monday, 28 March 2011

Irish DJ Prendeville says it was the alcohol

Nobody envies disc jockey Neil Prendeville the mortification of his headline grabbing 'lewd-act-on-a-plane' tag. The embarrassing circumstances of his fall from grace have had one healthy consequence in this instance: they put the country's usually secret shame about both masturbation and booze on the front pages.  It is now almost a right of passage for a certain type of celebrity to own up to having a problem with alcohol or drugs, but it still remains a major taboo for most of the rest of us. Treatment facilities and support groups are shrouded in anonymity - as if there was a big, sober society beyond them that had nothing to do with excessive consumption.
The Irish Examiner has reported that 'Mr Prendeville blamed his lewd behaviour on alcohol, describing himself as "an alcohol abuser"'.  However, a point going unremakred is that until it caused him to expose himself on the plane, causing us all to recoil in horror when we read about it, Prendeville's drinking up to that point had been a matter of patriotic, commercial duty.  The night before the incident he had been promoting tourism on behalf of the Cork region at Richard Corrigan's restaurant, Bentley's, in London.  The event, according to the Sunday Tribune 'descended into a lengthy drinking session'.  Nothing more relevant to persauding travellers and business people from abroad that we are a competent, able nation who are serious about recovery?   After the incident on the plane became public Prendeville's solicitor, acting for Prendeville and himself the owner of a conviction for drink-driving, attempted to sue The Sunday Tribune.  

In the fifties an American sobriety compaigner approached the Dublin hospitals to start a support group for alcoholics. He was told 'there are none in Ireland'.  Hardly surprising then that levels of alcoholism have continued to grow and that denial about its true extent is still rampant. As discussed elsewhere in Gargle Nation, the Health Research Board's 2009 report estimates that 2.2 million of us drink to dangerous levels each year – more than half the adult population. The World Health Orgnaisation reports that Irish men drink an average of 26.5 litres of pure alcohol per year (more than twice the European average), and Alcohol Action Ireland report that 'alcohol-related problems cost Ireland an estimated €3.7 billion in 2007: that’s a cost of €3,318 on each person paying income tax in €1.2 billion of our health budget and €1.18 billion for alcohol-related crime'. Individuals are seeking treatment in growing numbers and an estimated 10% of the adult population are thought to be alcoholics.

In the face of evidence linking alcohol abuse to suicide and child abuse, we refuse as a nation to come out and deal with it. The government avoids what the Health Research Board calls an 'urgent need for the introduction of a co-ordinated national alcohol strategy'. No wonder, when leading public figures and politicians still choose to hide their own problems presumably to avoid the stigma and social taboo that too many of us attach to 'problem drinkers'. And just as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spectacularly fuelled the property bubble with tax breaks, so his government responded to the growing alcohol problem by approving an increase in the number of sales outlets by 70%, and an extension to opening hours. Similarly Mary Harney as Minister for Health caved in to pressure from the alcohol industry to shelve the legislation that would have curbed rocketing sales.  The incoming government has an oppportunity to do better though their published programme for government remains disappointtingly silent on the alcohol problem.
Neil Prendeville clearly has a lot riding on rehabilitating his reputation and has more than likely had PR advice on how to ride out the storm.  He appeals for forgiveness while putting the blame squarely on the booze.   Whatever his motive his candour could be a catalyst for positive change and few people with any sense of compassion or honesty cannot feel some sympathy for him.  How long will it be before Enda Kenny is prepared to stand up and say 'I am the Toaiseach, my country is an alcoholic, and I've come for help'

1 comment:

  1. Interesting discussion of the Neil Prendevillie case referring to this article. Follow tis link to