Mandatory closing times is not necessarily the answer to society's drinking problems, says Don Kavanagh.
With the liquor laws under review again, it's only a matter of time before the Government decides to interfere once more in people's lives and decide on opening hours for bars.
I'm not saying we necessarily need every bar to have a 24-hour licence, but reducing the hours is a backward step and one that takes me back to my misspent youth. When I was growing up in Ireland, closing time was 11pm in winter and 11.30pm in summer, with occasional extensions for festivals or music events. What that meant in reality, of course, was that we all stayed quiet at 11pm while the owner drew the blinds, and locked the doors then continued to serve until we had had enough.
One night I sat in the pub across the road from my home when a knock came to the door "Who's that?" demanded the landlady.
"It's me," came the plaintive reply.
"There's 5000 effing mes in this town. Which one are ye?" she bellowed in return.
We were never worried about any post-closing knocks, mostly because in a small town we knew most of the police. I remember sitting at a bar with the local sergeant at 2.30am enjoying a pint when a knock came. Into the pub strode the imposing figure of the new cop on the beat, who proceeded to take out his notebook and begin to take names.
It was then that the sergeant turned around and inquired: "What'll it be, Delaney? A pint or a transfer?" Needless to say, he stayed for a warming ale and never troubled us again.
And in England I remember getting lock-ins on a Sunday afternoon and watching football in a pub that was packed to the rafters. I asked the guvnor if he was worried about getting raided and he pointed out that more than half the crowd in the bar were the local plain-clothes division.
All of which goes to show that closing time is not necessarily the answer to anything. I'm not saying I want 24-hour service everywhere, but there is some comfort in knowing that when it's a good night and you'd like to carry on you can.