Drinking and Public Disorder

Drinking & Public Disorder - download the book in pdf format Dr Peter Marsh & Kate Fox 1992

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Drinking and Public Disorder
A report of research conducted for The Portman Group by MCM Research

The Irish experience

The rather hackneyed image of the drunken, belligerent Irishman has not been supported by our experience in the field. Certainly, the Irish seem to regard drinking alcohol as the prime social activity, but no causal link between alcohol and aggressive behaviour was perceived. Dingle and Dublin were the two field sites investigated, the former offering a rural and the latter an urban perspective.


Levels and perceptions

Dingle is a small close-knit town with a population of only three or four thousand. Nevertheless, it had fifty-four pubs at the last count, though some double as grocers and other shops. Both landlords and facility-users claimed that there were no problems with street or pub disorder, even during the tourist season.

According to our landlady, Mrs. Sheehy, the most memorable violent incident occurred about twenty-five years ago in Dingle and involved Robert Mitchum. Apparently Trevor Howard and Robert Mitchum stayed here during location filming of "Ryan’s Daughter" in 1971. Mitchum spent a night out in Dingle and insulted the town for its lack of facilities. The resulting fight, therefore, was not necessarily motivated by drink. This story was recounted spontaneously by Mrs. Sheehy when I enquired as to the level of trouble occurring in Dingle. If she has to go back 25 years, then there cannot be a great deal else going on. (researcher’s report)

They do welcome the tourists here, sure sometimes there are more Americans and Germans here than locals. But they do keep themselves to themselves. I found that when I first came here – they have to get to know you first. B&B landlady

The community was stable (with many people inter-related) and appeared almost self-regulating and self-policing:

I asked Tracy, a local girl aged 26, if there was ever any trouble in the pubs. She said that there was the occasional row, but that because everyone knew each other, there was always somebody who would intervene. So they all act like Policemen then? Well, it’s not that as such. They’re just protecting their own interests really. Most of them are all fishermen working with each other, so if a few of them fall out with each other, then it’s going to affect the work and the whole atmosphere. They’re all inter-related round here as well. If there’s any ructions, you’ll have all the relations taking different sides. researcher’s report

‘Pubwatch’ and exclusion orders were clearly unnecessary:

I have been here now for twelve years and there has never been a hint of a major row. They know that this is my home, so if they have a bone to pick with somebody, they do it somewhere else. Sure if anyone did cause me any problems, all the other pubs would hear about it in no time at all and they’d have to go to Tralee if they wanted a pint. Pub landlady

I ask her if there are plenty of fights on the street in that case?

Well no, not really. Most times they’d be pulled apart. Everybody knows each other in this place. Now, you couldn’t go into a pub without knowing most of the characters in it … the pub is the only entertainment here and nobody wants to mess up their social life over a few words spoken out of turn, do they? pub landlady

The only serious incidents that could be recalled by our Dingle informants invariably involved ‘outsiders’:

I also hear about the occasion when a Spanish trawler boat came into Dingle bay and fished for an afternoon. The locals were furious and sent out a delegation to the boat asking them not to fish in their waters. This was ignored and later some of the Spanish fishermen spent the evening in the local pubs. When word spread of their indiscretion, the Spanish found themselves banned from all the pubs and forcibly removed from Dick Mack’s (where they were drinking at the time) by a Dingle contingent. Following an "awful hammering", they returned to their boat.

This happened at 8:30pm apparently, which confirms that drink was not the prime factor here. It also seems that two Garda (police) were present in Dick Mack’s and made no attempt to prevent the ‘incident’. The community is tight-knit and traditional. Already, I have been discouraged from using the term ‘landlord’ to describe an Irish publican, the expression beings reminiscent of the absent English landlord of the nineteenth century and his various violent methods of removing Irish tenants. (researcher’s report)

Alcohol and aggression

The general consensus was that alcohol does not make people more aggressive, although it can increase ‘emotive’ behaviour:

I think they’re very introverted people really, so a drink or two is bound to have some effect on them. They’re used to drinking a hell of a lot, but it doesn’t make them go bananas – it might make them sing – and I suppose it would encourage them to tell somebody what they really thought of them. female resident, aged 26

I cry … I get very emotional. I think if you’re naturally aggressive, then you’re probably liable to cause a few problems, but I think you can have as much fun without it as with it. If you’re in good form, you’re in good form. female resident, aged 22

If people are fighting, then it goes far deeper than the drink. I know a Pioneer [teetotaller] who went mad in here one evening, thumping out at anyone near him. female resident, aged 23

Underage drinkers

Dingle has suffered from the perennial Irish problem of its youth migrating to the cities as well as to other countries, so the difficulties associated with an expanding young population are avoided. This fact, coupled with strong family and Catholic traditions, help to prevent underage drinking and associated problems:

You won’t see many kids in the pubs or even drinking in the street. They wouldn’t be able to sneak in anywhere either, because someone is bound to know them. Sure, I’ve been over the road on my own when Mike [her husband] has been away. I think I’ve seen nobody I knew and then he’ll be home saying, ‘I hear you were in O’Flaherty’s the other night till half-twelve’. But a lot of the youngsters move away to find work, so you don’t have them hanging round the streets getting bored. B&B landlady

I have never seen anyone underage drinking in pubs in this town. When I was sixteen, I’d have been killed for drinking outside in a pub or on a street corner. Female resident aged 23


Levels and perceptions

We found no evidence of any significant pub or street disorder in Dublin, and the absence of any serious problems was confirmed in interviews with police, ‘punters’, doormen and bar staff. This is despite the very high proportion of under-25s in the town’s population. There appeared to be several reasons for the lack of trouble. Firstly, the tradition of the pub-crawl does not exist, which reduces opportunities for street confrontation.

Walking around town at about 9:00pm, I am surprised by how quiet the streets seem in comparison to the towns in England we have looked at. My initial thought is that there cannot be many people out and about. But it is a Saturday night, so where are they? Over the next couple of days I realise that people are simply not moving from pub to pub and creating traffic on the streets. They tend to remain in one pub for the duration of a session, rather than conducting a ‘pub crawl’. researcher’s report

Many of the largest and most attractive pubs are also situated in the suburbs, drawing people away from the city centre and encouraging them to remain in one place for most of the evening. Secondly, women appear to outnumber men in the pubs and clubs, often by as much as two-to-one. Their presence was considered to reduce the tendency to aggression among young males, if only by providing a distraction.

The most striking difference, however, between Dublin and our English research sites was to be found in the pubs themselves. The tendency towards employing waiting staff (usually female) relieves congestion and frustration at the serving area, thus removing many opportunities for conflict. Even the ‘ordinary’ pubs and clubs are also furnished and decorated to a very high standard, great attention being paid to comfort, sensible flow patterns and unobtrusive monitoring.

Most importantly, the management skills and style in almost all of the pubs are equivalent to the very best we have found in England: a friendly, sociable atmosphere is created, in which ‘trouble’ would seem very out-of-place. The bar staff are highly trained and regulated and command much greater respect than their English counterparts, as our researcher reports:

On the other side of Milltown is Ryan’s, with a small bar, but sweeping lounge. Both highly decorative and containing four bustling barmen. There are no part-timers here. In Ireland, the barman is revered as a tradesman and, as such, is required to complete a four year apprenticeship to obtain full barman’s status. He is further supported by a union and is relatively well-paid.

The barmen’s efficiency is highly evident. Speed is essential, though they are not hindered by a queue of customers. Those who occupy the barstools appear to be regulars whose drink is known by heart. Respect is mutual between customer and barman and such a relationship would appear to limit the chance of a confrontation.

Some of the larger pubs and clubs employ doormen (invariably far fewer than would be deemed essential for English venues of comparable size) who take a firm but very courteous approach, and are treated with great respect:

We go into a pub on the corner of O’Connell bridge called The Harp. They have two doormen in reasonably casual dress. Upstairs is a disco and downstairs is the lounge. I am wearing jeans and get past them easily, so there appear to be no particular dress restrictions. We sit near the door within earshot of them. They politely refuse entry to two well-dressed couples. One of the girls is surprised and asks, "Are you full then?". "No, but your friend has been drinking", is the reply from one of the doormen. They wander off without further exchange.

They would certainly have got into most premises in England. They seemed reasonably merry, but not drunk. They were fairly quiet and polite, not shouting or generally horsing about. I was also amazed by their acceptance of the situation. They did not respond abusively to the doormen and quietly vacated the scene. Later, in Nassau street, a single bouncer patrols the door of a Mexican-style Bar. A similar reason is given for his refusal to let a group of three males inside. I hang around there for a few minutes and tentatively introduce myself. He explains that most customers will arrive and stay for the bulk of the evening rather than drifting from pub to pub:

It’s alright if they’re with you getting drunk as you can keep the eye on them. But if they’re coming in the worse for wear and wandering about, then they might be a bit excitable.

The relaxed atmosphere in Dublin pubs continues right up to closing time, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that licensing hours, already more lenient than in England and Wales with a drinking-up time of 30 minutes, are interpreted somewhat liberally:

Closing time on a Sunday evening is 10:30pm, with 30 minutes drinking-up time, but at 11:36 we are still here talking. At last orders, I offered them a drink and at the same time they bought another two rounds. Was this usual?

Sure no harm ever comes out of it. Well, it’s only a cod [joke] this law thing, isn’t it? Yer man over there behind the bar has just taken our shillings, so he’s the last one who should be making a fuss.

You’ll still get served at 20 past, or even half-eleven in places. The guards [police] are easy on us. They don’t kick you out at a few minutes past eleven.

I certainly don’t hear anyone shouting from behind the bar telling people to drink up and go home. It seems all very relaxed. When we leave at about midnight, four people remain. Significantly, perhaps, a mass of individuals has not filtered onto the street at exactly the same time. researcher’s report

Causes of violence

In Dublin, both the police and ‘punters’ emphasized that there was a high level of violence, but that this was associated with acquisitive crime - largely robberies, thefts and muggings – rather than being caused by drinking alcohol:

Most of the attacks on people are for money, not because somebody has had a few jars too many. male ‘punter’

A minority considered alcohol to be linked with aggressive behaviour, although even they admitted that disorder was minimal, and emphasised other contributing factors:

Certainly, it’s a factor in about half of cases in Dublin. Now, if they had not taken the drink, they may still have got involved in the trouble. But, it is present, undoubtedly. Then you have the question of whether it was the drink alone or a mixture of the drugs and drink. The drugs are the main concern for us in this town. senior police officer

The drink is not the sole problem, but it encourages them. It’s not the drink, it’s the person themselves. They’d still do it when they’re sober. Though the drink gives them the Dutch courage. male ‘punter’

The general view, however, was that drinking had very little to do with disorderly or aggressive behaviour:

I don’t think it’s drink – it’s the personality of a person. If somebody crosses them or says something they don’t like – here we go – row, fight, Rambo III. male ‘punter’

Following a spontaneous pub discussion with a mixed group of 20-25-year-olds, one of whom was recovering from being attacked the previous night, our researcher reported:

The group believe that drink has little to do with causing violence in Dublin. Most of the physical attacks that take place are motivated, they believe, by the demand for money and seldom for the love of violence itself or from the effects of drink. Estates like Ballyfermott and Finglas are infamous for disorder, but the pubs in these places rarely encounter trouble.

The drink is the main social occupation in this country, so they would not want to upset that now, would they? Gangs of kids with nothing better to do go round attacking strangers for a bob or two, or stealing cars for the crack. Then they’ll drive them to the Garda barracks, egging them on for the chase. Maybe the drink gives them the bottle to do it, but I’d say they’d probably do it anyway. male ‘punter’

Underage drinkers

Although underage drinking was one of the primary concerns of the police offers we spoke to, the problem was not associated with pubs, but with unsupervised drinking parties in parks and fields. There was no suggestion that such events involved violent behaviour, or that those involved were causing any harm to others – the concern appeared to be for their welfare, and for the reputation and public image of the town:

Supt. M___ introduced me to one of the Juvenile Liaison Officers in Dublin. Under this scheme, offending juveniles are placed under the supervision of a "Liaison Officer" as an alternative to incarceration. The Juvenile Liaison Officer I spoke to believed that few juvenile offences were committed in or around pubs, so the attention of the police is usually towards the "Cider party", the clandestine drinking in fields, parks and alleyways.

The use of the terms "Cider party" and "Ciderhead" as an Irish equivalent of a "lager-lout" has invoked the wrath of The Cider Industry Council who do not wish their product to be associated with underage drinking or, indeed, public disorder. In an attempt to redress this image, they have commissioned a survey on underage drinking, launched a video-package for schools on drinking and provided funds for the police to launch an I.D. Card scheme in certain areas.
researcher’s report

There is a severe problem with underage drinking in this city. The trade does not really care as long as they’ve got the money in their hand. The off-licenses are the greatest perpetrators here, but we are also looking to restrict alcohol sales in supermarkets. beat PC

I would rather see youngsters drinking in Public Houses, than in fields and other similar places. Juvenile Liaison Officer

I have only seen an I.D. Card being used once – and then it was being abused. male ‘punter’

It’s when it’s forbidden … forbidden fruit is always the nicest. beat PC

With my kids, I’d rather they tell me if they start drinking. When he’s 18, I’ll bring him down the pub with me and he’ll be feeling great. So he’ll be saying to himself, ‘I’ve no need to be drinking in fields and places’, that’s crap. There might be six or seven of them drinking in a field and one of them will say, ‘have a go at this’, draw, dope or whatever. Another man might come along with something else and within a year or so, they’re addicted. male ‘punter’ aged 27

There is a hell of a lot of horseplay among young people and if you’re an elderly person it can look worse than it is and can be very frightening, indeed. But, in a lot of cases, they’ll be causing no harm to anybody. senior police officer


Conversations with experienced senior and beat police officers revealed that they do not see Dublin (or the rest of the Republic) as having any major problems with public disorder. They have seen a marked increase in violence and the use of weapons in acquisitive crime over the last few years, which is not considered to be alcohol-related. They are, however, concerned about the reputation of the town, and the way in which minor incidents are reported by the Press:

You might have an incident on a bus that would make the headlines and people would, perhaps, get the impression that you cannot travel on a bus any more. It’s not the media exaggerating it, but the people themselves interpreting it that way. senior police officer

It is a very parochial country, so you might have one or two robberies from tourists that’ll get banner headlines for the rest of the summer. beat PC

Policing policy, according to the senior police officers (eg Superintendents) we spoke to, is dictated by an expanding Dublin and decreasing resources. Traditional ‘beat’ policing was extremely difficult, both because of the wide area to be covered and the recent tendency towards violent attacks on Garda officers in certain parts of town. The reasons for these attacks were not entirely clear, although alcohol was not considered to be a factor. (A possible motive appeared to be the traditional animosity of Dublin council estate residents towards those from the West of Ireland, where the majority of patrol officers are recruited.) Squad cars are therefore the norm, although many of our informants, including the police themselves, felt that the time had come to revert back to a more ‘community’ style of policing:

Ten years ago, you used to see them on the streets going round on the beat and you knew them by name, but they only have squad cars going round now and you don’t know anybody. Bus conductor

That is the big complaint from the public – that you never see the man on the beat any more. senior police officer

On the whole, our Dublin informants exhibited considerably less hostility towards the police than their counterparts in the English fieldwork sites. Although the content of their criticisms was much the same, the tone was fairly resigned and unemotional:

The police can be a bit heavy handed. But, then again, you can find them ignoring a hell of a lot of things that are going on. You might see a lot of people arguing and the police will just stay out of it. They will not get involved. male ‘punter’

They have no time for the smaller crimes. They’re cutting down the police force, so there’s not enough of them. male ‘punter’

The police claim that they will arrive within five minutes of an incident, but you might end up waiting twenty minutes and then they’re going to be too late. bus conductor

Although police in Ireland have the jurisdiction to take dispossess anyone of alcohol being consumed in a public place, drinking in public places is not (as under the Coventry bye-law) an offence in itself. This rule is little understood and rarely applied.


While we would not suggest that Dublin is some sort of trouble-free Utopia, the fact that even the police perceive public disorder as minimal indicates that we may have something to learn from the Irish model. The most striking differences between Dublin and our English research sites were to be found in the management of the pubs and night-clubs.

Through previous extensive research on violence in pubs, we have established that differences in management skills and style account for 45% of the variation in levels of conflict and aggression. This research also showed that over 50% of incidents occurred in the last hour of trading on Friday and Saturday nights. In Dublin, it was clear that skilled management; careful attention to design and lay-out; highly trained, motivated and respected bar staff and waiter service in the larger venues created the kind of sociable atmosphere in which aggression and conflict are unlikely to occur. The 30-minute drinking-up time, along with a ‘relaxed’ approach to licensing hours, dramatically reduced the potential for conflict within the pubs at closing time, and resulted in a more leisurely, staggered exodus onto the streets.