20 June 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Given the hullabaloo that preceded it, the rapid and largely uneventful progress of the G8 summit in neighbouring Co Fermanagh on Monday and Tuesday of this week leaves behind it a lingering sense of anti-climax that invites the question of what all the fuss was about.

Of course the lack of surrounding drama was in many ways a very good thing.

The massive security arrangements, and the huge expenditure and considerable inconvenience they entailed, created an expectation of large-scale protests and considerable public disorder.

The expressions of dissent apparent on the fringes of the summit were almost entirely low-key and restrained, proving that causes can be articulated without resort to confrontation, and those who exercised their right to protest deserve to be commended for the manner in which they chose to get their message across.

It might be argued that the suffocating security measures proved an effective disincentive to the more militantly minded dissenters – but this has not been the precedent in previous summit venues where security was equally as oppressive and the protests considerably more unruly.

The imbalance between precaution and manifested threat may provoke some debate in the event’s aftermath as to whether the cost of the attendant security and its impact on local life was justified.

The questions raised are redundant ones – perhaps the chief interest to the observer of having a conclave of key political leaders on our doorstep was the insight it gave into how the business of running the world is conducted in the modern era, and it was a sobering vista.

Like Churchill in his wartime bunker, the G8 leaders, individually and collectively, now routinely conduct their affairs insulated protectively from an antagonistic enemy.

Unlike Churchill, the rules of engagement with that enemy, the shadowy one of global terrorism, are not defined by the codes of conventional warfare.

They are enacted in more treacherous territory where the belief prevails that, in order to preserve what are sometimes clumsily defined as ‘Western’ freedoms, those freedoms themselves must be compromised.

The arbitrary nature of this compromise means that vital liberties, such as the right to peacefully protest, are sometimes injured.

The nature of the G8 summit’s response to the anticipated demonstrations of dissent invited the attribution of criminality to those who wished to articulate a critical viewpoint – an aspect of the event deserving of repudiation.

Although small in number, many of the protesters had very important and relevant points to make – about the societal imbalances created by poverty and exclusion, about the deconstruction of public services and the privileging of the financially influential, about the world’s unresolved conflicts and the damage being done to our climate and why people are still dying of hunger.

Those who lead must always be tested in the crucible of accountability – the impression left by the G8 summit of the holders of power ensconced in a protective vacuum while the voices of dissent sounded feebly from outside a razorwired cordon is a cautionary one to carry away from the event.

Perhaps, however, it is ultimately a more informative one than the many trivial celebrity photo-ops and picture postcard views that were fed to the media and the public by its co-ordinators.

The current debate over the sponsorship of sporting organisations and events by drinks companies brings into sharp focus this country’s deeply ambivalent attitude towards alcohol.

The statistics for alcohol-related death in Ireland have long been shocking – they show little signs of meaningful reverse despite what is popularly perceived as a more informed public view of healthy lifestyle choices and the dangers of immoderate drinking habits.

Less amenable to statistical analysis but assuredly epidemic in our communities is the misery and strife generated within family units by alcoholism.

Drink as a common factor in criminality, through the gamut from serious to minor offending, is glaringly evident from the weekly proceedings this and other newspapers and media outlets report from our District and higher courts.

There was a period in society when young people were insulated from at least the direct destructive effects of alcohol until they reached an age of comparative maturity, but that is no longer the case.

Medical conditions related to sustained misuse of alcohol are now manifesting in the population at a frighteningly young age.

The problem drinker in many Irish families is now a child, not a parent.

It is difficult to see how responsible address of this problem can be balanced with allowing drink companies to use the sporting activities of young people as advertising opportunities for their products.

We acknowledge that many sports events and organisations in our local community have grown dependent on such forms of financial support.

And ultimately it is not alcohol products themselves but the abusive consumption of them that inflicts harm on the population.

To achieve a balanced address of this question, we would urge our legislators to consider stipulations that would require sponsoring drinks companies to expend an equivalent sum on programmes to encourage responsible drinking habits in our young people.

For every euro spent on advertising their product, the companies should spend a euro on a relevant positive health promotion with regard to alcohol that is directly related to the event or club sponsored – and is monitored and administered by one of the statutory agencies with responsibility in this area.

In this way a more responsible sponsorship policy by the companies concerned may in time lead to a more responsible population when it comes to the consumption of alcohol.

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