Thursday, 17 December 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I have received letters from people as diverse as Deputy Alan Dukes, the Leader of this House, Senator Cassidy, and members of all political parties concerning the publication of a commemorative stamp for the pioneer movement. Let me be clear from the outset — I never was a pioneer and I do not intend to become a pioneer. However, it is a fine organisation. I taught history and I know all about Fr. Matthew who set up the organisation and the fine work it did.
I tried to find suitable quotations to use in this debate and I dug up two. St. Paul wrote to Timothy saying “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake”. This was echoed many centuries later by G. K. Chesterton who wrote:
The subjects for the annual programme of special and commemorative stamps are selected by the Philatelic Advisory Committee of An Post after wide consultation and are then approved by the board of the company and by the Government. In order to allow sufficient time for design, printing and publicity, each annual stamp programme must be finalised well before the year of issue.
Each year, on average, approximately 45 special and commemorative stamps are issued. The number of such stamps is limited with a view to preserving Ireland's excellent reputation in philatelic terms internationally. Apart from regular issues for Christmas, on a pan-European theme and for flora and fauna, subjects are chosen to commemorate important international and national anniversaries or events, and the births and deaths of prominent individuals, each of whom has made an important contribution to society in their lifetime. In all 84 suggestions were received for the 1999 programme, of which 45 were accepted.
I understand that the centenary of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was one of the many worthy suggestions put forward for inclusion in the 1999 programme but which was not selected by the philatelic committee. The membership of this committee is as follows:
 Dermot Egan is chairman, formerly with AIB and then President of IMI; Raymond Keaveney, the Director of the National Gallery; Dr. Martin Mansergh, departmental adviser to the Taoiseach; June Mulcahy, a housewife; Geoffrey Megawley, President of the Irish Philatelic Society; Dámhnait Ó Maoileoin, Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands; Jim Treacy of An Post; Maurice O'Connell, an expert philatelist; Liam Ó Reagáin, former Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs; Jean Varga, President of the Stamp Catalogue Producers; Barbara Wallace, public relations; Dr. Pat Wallace, Director of the National Museum; An Post advisers Pat Carroll and Gerry Mooney and Declan O'Leary is secretary to the committee.
In view of the fact that a significant number of representations have been made to me by Members of the Oireachtas expressing the wish to have the centenary year of the organisation marked by the issue of a special stamp, and having regard to the association's extensive membership throughout the country, I have asked An Post to reconsider its decision in that regard. I have on file all of the subjects which were put forward for inclusion, twice as many as could be fitted in. There is also the time constraint. I am aware, however, of the importance of the organisation and I have no doubt it is an honourable organisation with laudable aims and objectives.
I would like it to be made clear that the association does not “hate” drink and has no belief that drink is bad for you. Its members have chosen that path and having done so they hope to attract others to it. There is, however, no zealotry about it. It may have been born from a spirit of zealotry which was needed at the time but that intensity no longer exists within the organisation.
An Post is a semi-State body but it is no longer a matter for Dáil or Seanad Éireann to question its operational matters. I cannot interfere with the Philatelic Advisory Committee. That is not within the remit of my job and I do not intend to do it. I have requested that An Post look again at the matter in view of the number of representations made to me.
I refer again to the words of St. Paul. He was a wise man and I have always tried to follow his teachings but I understand and hold in high regard those who have espoused and followed the ideals of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
Mr. D. Cregan: I have never taken a pint. I have been a businessman for most of my life and owned four pubs. The proposal before us that the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association be recognised for the good it has done is right and proper. There is no question or doubt about that.
However there are wrongs within the association. For example, because I sold drink I am not allowed wear a badge. The regulations are very strict. The Minister stated there have been changes within the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association but there have not. It gives the impression there have been but the regulations have never been changed since its foundation. That should be done. It is becoming common to knock drink. The Minister is right. I do not care what way the water goes as long as it does not get into the wine. Of course it depends on whether the wine is red or white.
I would not go on holiday with someone who did not drink; I would prefer to be with a person who drinks. I find that people who do not drink sometimes expect everybody else to do the same. That is not right. If I was looking for an English speaking person in Paris I would look for someone wearing a fáinne. That is a contradiction but that is the point I am making. While I respect the badge very much, I question why someone who does not drink must wear it at all. What is the point of it? One can make a point strongly without wearing a badge. I am not demeaning the badge or the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association at all. It was founded in Cork by Father Matthew who came from Golden, County Tipperary; the clerk comes from Golden. We hold him in high esteem and have a statue of him in Patrick Street in Cork facing one of the finest rivers in the country, the River Lee. We are proud of that.
The Minister made a strong point regarding recognition of 45 groups. This is a very important occasion. We do not treat things like that easily in Ireland. The sad thing about Ireland in comparison to Great Britain, is that we do not recognise individuals and groups enough for their achievements. We should do that, but because the British do it we will not. We give the freedom but we do not give the recognition of knighthood because we are a republic. We should do it.
The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has shown how life can be without drink. The Minister stated that people take this on themselves because it is mentioned on their Confirmation day. It was mentioned on my Confirmation day and I took the temporary pledge. From that day, I never drank. Of course I wanted to drink at times. In particular I would have liked to drink in situations when I was under pressure or sad. Drink is very attractive at that time. As a former publican I have seen the damage drink can do. I could always tell if a person should never drink,  but did. I could also tell if a person was able to take a drink.
Why did I say that a person who drinks is the most content? I have seen a tradesman, a general operative, a sheriff's clerk and an accountant all sit at the one table playing cards with pints in front of them and they would be very content. One cannot find the contentment to be found in the drinking trade of Ireland elsewhere in the world. I have been to many places and people are looking for that contentment. We have what many are looking for and we should not knock it.
However let us also talk about what it means to drink in moderation. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association should get the recognition of a commemorative stamp. The proposal before us is a good one. The association has done much work.
There is an impression throughout the world that we drink too much in Ireland. However one study rated us thirteenth out of 19 countries. We are not great wine drinkers and we are better off not drinking too much wine.
Mr. D. Cregan: The impression that there is something wrong with drinking a pint but nothing wrong with drinking two bottles of wine is false. The opposite is true. The alcohol content in wine is higher. This is a debate for the drink trade and we should debate it at another time. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association should be recognised by the issuing of a commemorative stamp. It is unfortunate we cannot give recognition to enough people. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has done this island a world of good. I thank God it started in Cork.
Mr. Farrell: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for taking time from her busy schedule at short notice to hear our debate today. This debate is the result of a debate on teenage drinking which is a terrible problem in Ireland today. I thank the Leader for the debate. After the debate — and this is the strength of the grass roots Pioneers — my local secretary of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in North Sligo, Irene Feeney, phoned to congratulate me on my statement on teenage drinking and sent me the letter which Father Mac Gréil had sent to An Post seeking a commemorative stamp. As a result I raised the matter again and, thanks to our Leader, we are discussing this today. I also thank Senator Manning, Leader of the Opposition who willingly seconded the proposal and stated he  would support it. In this House there is a fair amount of unity.
Members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association are not anti-drink. There was drink at the marriage feast of Cana. The abuse of alcohol is the problem. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association is 100 years old. I could nearly say I did not go to school but I met the scholars and learnt my history from the university of reality. In my part of the country it was always said the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was formed in the days when poteen and shebeen houses were ruining this country and it had reached the stage where, if a child cried in its cradle it was given a spoonful of poteen and a drop of hot water to put it to sleep; the problem had become that serious.
The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was founded to try to deal with the serious alcohol problem at the time. It was very successful for 85 or 90 years. Some say Pioneers are a dying breed. I do not think that is the case. We will rejuvenate and encourage people because never before has there been such a problem. I pay tribute to the vintners association, both in and outside Dublin, for its efforts to stem teenage drinking. They do not want it, nor do the health boards, the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, the teachers unions and the National Parents Council. I thank RTE for giving me time on Oireachtas Report to discuss this. The Pioneers have been reawakened. Drink is necessary but must not be abused. Chuala sibh an seanfhocal, “bean ar meisce, bean in aisce.” It would be politically correct now to say “duine ar meisce, duine in aisce.”
Pioneers have done much good work, not only in showing good example by abstaining from alcoholic drink but in sports and other activities. Pioneers are fit and well and always give a good performance. If any other organisation had as good a reputation and track record, it would be recognised automatically. It is sad that we have to go to these lengths to get recognition. An old building that some famous man spent one night in would be recognised.
Mr. Farrell: Yet the Pioneer organisation, which has done wonderful work, has had to go on its knees to get recognition. I pray that those on  the philatelic committee of An Post will come to see the strength of the Pioneers. This exercise has proved once again that there is support for this across the board. I look forward to the Pioneers resurrecting and becoming stronger than ever.
I said recently that I was disappointed the bishops had stopped giving the pledge at Confirmations. I had a long chat yesterday with Dr. Séamus Hegarty, the Bishop of Derry. I was delighted when he told me not to make blanket statements, as he still gives the pledge at Confirmations. I hope those bishops who do not give it will follow in his footsteps. It is a great support and helps children to get to 18 without drinking. They can do it; drink is no addition to them. There are more problems because of alcohol abuse than any other substance.
The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was founded on 18 December 1898, in St. Francis Xavier Church in Upper Gardiner Street, where I spend much of my working day. It was founded for the purposes of promoting temperance in the family and community. The movement has made a tremendous contribution to life in Ireland, and particularly to voluntary organisations. One cannot have a voluntary organisation, particularly in rural Ireland, without having two or three Pioneer members. This is true of farming organisations, political parties of every persuasion and the Gaelic Athletic Association in particular. There are terrific examples of Pioneers in the GAA, such as the great Christy Ring, who stayed with us on many occasions in Barry's Hotel. Mícheál Ó Hehir, the greatest broadcaster the country ever had, was a Pioneer, as is his successor, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. There are examples in the House in people such as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy O'Hanlon, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dan Wallace, and former European Commissioner and Deputy Ray MacSharry. Pioneers put their time to good use in voluntary organisations.
We have debated the deteriorating drug situation on many occasions, and we were recently informed that there were 400 hospital admissions of first time drug users in 1997. That is very alarming, and we are all doing our best to contain and reduce those figures. However, the number  of admissions for drink related diseases is 7,000 for the same year.
I do not want to bash those who enjoy a drink; I am involved with three establishments that sell liquor. However, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has 213,000 members, which is a sizable part of the population, and in the last 100 years there have been two million Pioneers. It is an Irish organisation and has done a lot of good all over the world. I have visited many countries in my musical career, and I have met Pioneers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and the United Kingdom. It would be a great example if this committee reconsidered.
I differ from Senator Cregan in that I considered taking off the pin for my first drink was a deterrent. However, it is often said that Pioneers are the most decent people in a bar or hotel, and I have found that to be true.
Mr. Cassidy: I look forward to the celebration on 30 May in Croke Park. The biggest crowd ever to attend Croke Park was 110,000 people for the 50th anniversary of the Pioneers. I look forward to starting the parade from the GPO; there will be nothing to do that weekend but celebrate. The Taoiseach accepted an invitation yesterday and said he would be proud to be there. I congratulate Croke Park for offering the stadium that is our pride and joy. I congratulate the GAA on the part it has played in the Pioneer association. When I had the honour to play for my county in the early 1960s our trainer always asked us after training how anyone could drink pints after giving their all in training. It would defy logic. He taught us that a fit body means a fit mind, a fit mind gives confidence and confidence can move mountains. That is how counties Clare and Kildare have been successful and how County Westmeath won a minor all-Ireland championship for the first time. It is all about confidence.
The young generation is great. I congratulate many young people for not smoking. I exhort the committee to re-examine its decision. I congratulate the Minister for making a request to the committee and I hope it is acceded to.
Mr. Ryan: I am not a member of the Pioneer association. There are two elements to this matter which should be addressed. The substance that will do the greatest harm to the greatest number of people in the next 25 years of their lives is tobacco, next is alcohol and the illegal substances come further down the list. I work in the third level education sector. I am far from being a Pioneer. The intensity of the promotion of alcohol in the third level sector is phenomenal. The intensity of the consumption is equally phenomenal but we cannot tell 18 and 19 year olds what and what not to do. However, we should look at the scale of promotion and subsidisation of  student activities by interests which are purely commercial.
The other matter I wish to discuss is the extraordinary decision not to publish a commemorative stamp. Liberal Ireland, so to speak, has always intrigued me with its extraordinary self-consciousness and the matters it wishes to avoid. I remember buying a Bosco Christmas book for my children. In the book Bosco goes out to sing Christmas carols but sings “Jingle Bells” because liberal Ireland did not want to be associated with what might be regarded as religious. The book was published by RTE.
Liberal Ireland has built a self-conscious barrier around itself behind which it retreats from everything that has to do with the way it believes we used to be. Liberal Ireland would pretend that there are not 215,000 members of the Pioneer association just as it would have us believe that only about 5 per cent of the population go to church on Sunday. It uses the phrase “declining Mass-going” as if attendance was between the levels in France and Sweden. Liberal Ireland would also have us believe that Fianna Fáil was dead and buried — an aspiration I might share.
Liberal Ireland also had us believe, until the evidence flew in its face, that the GAA was dying. For a long time rugby was supposed to be taking over as the sport of the middle class and then it was soccer when the Irish team did so well. Now liberal Ireland must face the reality that there is only one sporting organisation that has had the courage and the capacity to build a stadium while the others wanted the Government to build one. Incidentally, the £20 million spent on Croke Park by the Exchequer was necessary and correct. It constitutes only about 15 per cent of the total cost and any organisation that can put up 85 per cent of the cost of such a project deserves assistance.
It is a great pity that the centenary of the Pioneer Association is not celebrated as it should be because it is part of our history. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is a good and necessary organisation which has done a lot of good for many people.
I was disappointed that the request to An Post to issue a commemorative stamp to celebrate the centenary of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association was not acceded to. Many important people and events have been commemorated with stamps. However, there was never a more important request than to commemorate the Pioneer association.
The Pioneer association is important. There are many problems in society because more people are not Pioneers. I have nothing against people who drink. There are problems of overspending in the health sector. One has only to look at the casualty units in many hospitals, particularly at the weekends, to see the number of people hurt in road accidents, a large percentage of which are drink related. If more people took the pledge or simply drank in moderation many of the accidents would not occur.
Much working time is lost due to drink and companies experience high levels of absenteeism many days of the week. Some sporting organisations have difficulties arranging games because of problems with drink and bar extensions — there is a financial element involved for the organisations in this regard. In the past people were able to enjoy themselves without getting drunk. There are many broken homes because of drink.
I am a Pioneer and my parents were also Pioneers. The association must be frank and admit it is disappointed its centenary will not be marked by a commemorative stamp. I come from a strong sporting background. Many successful sports people have proved themselves as Pioneers; on the other hand, there are many people who did not deliver their great sporting potential because of drink. It was a real scourge for some who could have had a brilliant future. Many sporting organisations and individuals say they cannot celebrate victories without alcohol but of course they can. I have gone through life in sport and other fields and have had many successes, and I did not have to drink to the extent which some people say they have to do.
We look forward to a great day next year in Croke Park for the Pioneer association. I urge people to book a ticket. For many Pioneers it will be their first time in the stadium because it was impossible for them to get tickets for All-Ireland Finals, but this will be bigger than any of those matches. There will be a tremendous turn out on that day and tickets will be available for those who want to go.
I compliment the Garda Síochána for its excellent work to ensure our roads are free of drinking drivers for now and the future. The Garda is bringing home the importance of not drinking when driving. If people want a healthy life they should join the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, even later in life. It is an excellent organisation with great people and we want it to go from strength to strength.
 The Minister has done great work to turn around the decision on duty free shopping. I have no doubt she will also get An Post to reverse its decision so that the Pioneer association is properly commemorated.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is mian liom tréaslú leis An Cumann Réadóirí um Lánstaonadh. Molaim iad de bharr an obair atá déanta acu le breis agus beagnach céad bliain. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil torthaí na hoibre sin le feiscint ar fud na tíre, agus ní amháin maidir le cursaí ólacháin ach maidir leis an dul chun cinn atá déanta sa tír toisc go bhfuil an cumann sin ag saothrú ar son na ndaoine. Mar sin tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh athrú ar an scéal agus go mbeidh stampa cuimhneacháin ar fáil, mar bheadh náire orainn uilig más rud é nach dtarlaíonn sé sin.
I compliment and congratulate the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association which has done magnificent work for 100 years. It would be sad and would underline our inferiority complex if we did not deem its efforts and results worthy of being marked by the State with a commemorative stamp. I have no doubt our esteemed Minister will make every effort to reverse this decision.
The association has much more than a temporal mission, it has a spiritual one also and we should not be apologetic about it. Those of us who are Pioneers have a particular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and again we should not feel apologetic for that. Our country and many of our young people are victims of a spiritual famine. They resort to drugs and alcohol to fill the vacuum left by lack of motivation and spiritual challenge. They are easy victims of the purveyors of drugs and those who would glamorise alcohol as a remedy or potion for all our ills and inadequacies. The PR people of the drinks industry could adopt a much more responsible attitude. We accept cigarettes are a health hazard; will anyone honestly suggest the abuse of alcohol does not also constitute such a hazard, both mentally and physically? That message should be included in all drinks advertising.
In Ireland the drunk is often the stock in trade of the community, but he is also a nightmare for a family. There is nothing particularly funny about a ruined life or a shattered family but that is one result of the abuse of alcohol which we want to hide. A few days ago we learned, from the results of a survey conducted in a provincial town, that 18 per cent of those under age 13 had experimented with drugs but 40 per cent under that age had taken alcohol. To me that sounds an alarm bell which this society ignores at its peril. The greatest challenge facing the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association today is one of courage, being prepared to stand up and say what we mean. If we do not, we leave it to others — syndicates, big business and those with a vested economic interest but no interest in the welfare of our  young people and society — to exploit the situation.
The association makes no inherent criticism of anyone who takes a drink — or I have never heard it. I have never encountered any disrespect because I wear a Pioneer pin. No one has jested at it. If a round of drinks is being purchased in a public house, the first comment is that the purchaser knows I do not drink. I have found nothing but respect, and in some ways admiration, but I do not think we wear it for that reason. It is important to bear witness to what we believe but there is a tendency today to aim for the lowest common denominator. As a nation with a proud history which overcame so many challenges of oppression and deprivation, we would not do justice to those who went before us if we did not bear witness now, when there is such need for a body like the Pioneer association.
I thank the Minister for coming here at short notice because, in doing so, she has also shown esteem for the work the organisation is doing. I wish it well for its meeting in Croke Park next year and have no doubt the attendance will be every bit as big as it was 50 years ago.
Mr. Callanan: I am delighted to see the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, here and I welcome her putting her considerable weight behind the request that An Post review its decision. In a curious way I welcome the decision because without it the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association would not be mentioned in the Seanad or anywhere else. It gives us an opportunity to highlight its excellent work, so out of evil will come some good — not that I suggest the group which made the decision did so in an evil way. It did, however, indicate a lack of understanding of the role, work and involvement in the community at parish, county and national level of the PTAA.
It might look a little funny that those of us speaking are pioneers but each of us has taken a decision to become such. I became a pioneer for a specific reason. The role, participation, involvement, leadership and goodness of the association must be recognised. A previous speaker said that Pioneers might be a dying breed, but that is not the case. At a recent function held by the association in west Cork where I come from, one speaker told us that five or six years ago the number of people taking pledges was reducing but it has increased over the past two years. The organisation has been revitalised and hence good work is being done.
The scourge of over-indulgence is the problem created by drink in society. The four women who sought the establishment of the association 100 years ago saw the destruction of families as the reason for doing so and that remains the case. However, the PTAA also includes abstinence  from drugs for life. Could one ask for better for young people at an early stage of the development of their attitude to life? I congratulate Senator Farrell for raising the issue and bringing this debate about. I also congratulate the Leader and the leader of the Opposition who most forthrightly supported the debate. I welcome the members of the PTAA to the House. The Minister has considerable persuasive powers. The An Post committee made an unenlightened, imprudent decision that was an insult to pioneers. The Minister should give direction to the committee.
Ms Leonard: I had not intended to speak but as no woman has spoken on this and women were behind the start of the campaign, I felt a little gender balance was necessary. In terms of age it is also important that I speak. I am proud to say that I am a pioneer and a product of two pioneers. I do not wear my badge, which is the first thing that is noticed, not because I am ashamed of it but, as the Minister will appreciate, when getting dressed in the morning it is not the first thing on my mind. I wear it on special occasions.
Senator Cregan discussed the company he keeps in terms of pioneers and non-pioneers and, while it enlightened me to a certain extent, it made me wonder about the friends I keep because I am often asked out by them and I realise now that they appreciate the taxi service I provide at the end of the evening. I will discuss that with them over Christmas. I am delighted that Fr. Mac Gréil is in the House as I had the privilege of being a student of his at NUI, Maynooth. It was not due to his influence that I took the pledge a number of years ago. I got through my student days and a nursing career and can vouch for the fact that quite a number of nurses do not drink. We do not always wear our pins and while it may not be cool to say that one is a pioneer, the PTAA is not dead because a large number of people do not drink. Any time we have the opportunity, particularly the morning after the night before, we emphasise the fact that it is great to get up and be as coherent as is possible at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.
There are stamps for almost every occasion and I do not see a problem with the committee agreeing to a commemorative stamp to recognise this important occasion in 1998. As a young person, one is called a freak or a dry in jest but it is important, especially in the alcoholic culture in which we live, that balance is maintained. It would be a good gesture by the committee to reconsider its attitude in terms of the stamp.
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