Thursday 22 November 2018

The Golden Nannies 2018

(l-r) Simon Clark, Ian O'Doherty and me good self
I was in Dublin for the Golden Nanny Awards on Tuesday night. It's a fun event put on by Forest and Students for Liberty that 'celebrates' the cream of Ireland's paternalistic busybodies. As last year, the winner - Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - turned up in person to pick up her award. One of Ireland's finest journalist, Ian O'Doherty (pictured above), was also given award for fighting the nanny statists.

I gave the opening speech. This is what I said...

Nannies, killjoys, wowsers, curtain-twitching puritans, po-faced poobahs, puritanical prodnoses, lemon-sucking busybodies, meddlesome ratbags, hatchet-faced prohibitionists, fun sponges, health fascists, pocket dictators, little Hitlers, nicotine Nazis, gambling Gestapo, sugar Stasi, tobacco Taliban, interfering, hateful, miserable, little bossy boots whose very existence is a curse on humanity. They suck the light out of the room. The grass withers beneath their feet.

Those are just some of the things people say about the nominees for tonight’s prestigious award, just because they try to stamp out the small pleasures that make life bearable. I think this is unfair. What a lot of people forget is that interfering in other people’s lives is the only pleasure these people get. So in a way, it’s Forest that are the killjoys.

You won’t be hearing any childish name-calling or vulgar abuse from me tonight. I come here in the spirit of friendship. I am British, you are Irish. Rather than fight amongst ourselves, we should unit against our common enemy: Finland. As you may know, I compile the Nanny State Index. It’s fairly self-explanatory; it’s a league table of the most meddling, paternalistic, busybody countries in the EU. Ireland is at number 3, the UK is at number 2.

Finland is at number one. And despite the best efforts of our respective governments, neither of our great nations can get close to Finland which has come top of the table in both editions and looks certain to win again next year.

So the big question for us tonight is what can we do to knock Finland off its perch? At the moment it seems invincible. Its alcohol shops are a state monopoly. It has a ban on liquorice being advertised if it shaped like a pipe. It regulates e-cigarettes like tobacco. You can't even advertise vape juice that doesn't have nicotine in it, in other words: basically water. It doesn't just tax sugary drinks, it taxes non-sugary drinks. It has the highest taxes on beer and wine in Europe and the second highest tax on spirits. It’s illegal to buy a round of drinks in a pub and it's illegal to buy any drinks with a credit card.

And it’s not just Finland we have to worry about. If some of the Eastern European countries carry on like they are, we’ll be lucky to hang on to our bronze and silver medals when the next Nanny State Index comes out. Earlier this year, Lithuania closed the off licences at 8pm and raised the drinking age to 20, making it the only country in Europe where the legal age for buying alcohol isn’t 18 or less. Last year, Estonia slapped a tax on e-cigarette fluid, a tax on all soft drinks - whether they contain sugar or not - hiked up wine duty by a third and doubled the tax on beer.

These countries mean business - and they have decades of experience under totalitarian governments to draw on.

Achieving a podium finish next year, let alone taking Finland's crown, seems a hopeless task but I’m here to tell you to keep your chin up. There are two reasons for Ireland to be optimistic.

Take Estonia. Yes, they doubled the beer tax, but the result was that Estonians went over the border to Latvia to buy their booze, and people from Finland, who had previously being going to Estonia for their beer, went elsewhere. And so the Estonian government lost €90 million in revenue and cancelled their plans for further alcohol tax rises next year.

They bottled it! At the first sign of trouble, they gave up. Ireland would never do that. If there’s one thing the Irish government has proven over the years it’s that no amount of cross-border trade, smuggling and black market activity is going to get in the way of its campaign to stop poor people enjoying themselves.

The second reason is that, as hard as it is to be a genuine world beater in the field of puritanical lifestyle regulation, if anyone can do it, it is the people nominated for this prestigious honour this evening. Although we are only trying to honour the biggest nanny statist in Ireland tonight, it’s difficult to imagine the list of nominees looking much different if it was a global award. We are talking créme de la créme.

There is Simon Harris, who recently celebrated the introduction of minimum pricing as if it was the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is last year's winner Catherine Noone who wants to regulate the amount of sugar that can be put in sweets and wants to regulate the chimes of ice cream vans because, she says, they lure children towards deadly ice creams and lollies.

There’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, champion of the sugar tax, who neatly summarised the role of politicians in Irish society, saying - “basically, you’re the mammy.” That’s the spirit!

There’s Donal O’Shea who says “I am not in favour of a nanny state”. This would hinder of his chances of lifting the trophy tonight if it were true, but fortunately it isn’t. He lobbied for the sugar tax and, having achieved that, now wants to tax chocolate and other tasty food. He has said: “The food and drinks industry hides behind kids and uses them as human shields”. Just a normal guy saying normal things.

This year he was in the papers crusading against the perils of Easter Eggs. As it happens, I had the pleasure of meeting him this morning when we were on the radio together. He was keen to assure me that he had been misquoted on this issue. He hadn’t said that Easter Eggs should be restricted to one per household. He said they should be restricted to one per child. I’m happy to set the record straight.

Then there’s Adrian Cummins from the Restaurants Association of Ireland, a man who only takes his foot out of his mouth to shoot it. He said “we were one of the major supporters of the no smoking ban when it first came in. Publicans were opposed to it, we supported it.” He has since called for a ban on smoking outdoors and a ban on vaping indoors. It is only a matter of time before he calls for a ban on consuming food and alcohol in restaurants.

Speaking of smoking bans, no list of Irish nanny statists would be complete without the legendary James Reilly who is surely due a lifetime achievement award. It was largely thanks to James’ tireless efforts that, in 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to discover the incredible smells that tobacco smoke had been masking in pubs all those years.

But the politicians couldn’t do it without the help of the front groups that they fund with taxpayers’ money to lobby for their own policies, so I was delighted to see not one but two nominations for the tireless workers behind Alcohol Action Ireland, a charity that gets 0.07 per cent of its funding from voluntary donations. The rest comes from the unwitting taxpayer. It took state-funded activism to new heights in 2015 when it set up another group - the Alcohol Health Alliance - specifically to lobby for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. The rest is history.

Last but by no means least is Patrick Doorley from that other state-funded pressure group, ASH. He’s always busy. He’s a busy body. This year, he complained to RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland when a character in a television programme was shown smoking. He’s also been busy trying to get smoking banned on university campuses. And just smoking, vaping too, because he’s not at all keen on vaping and actively discourages smokers from switching to it. The government has capitulated to every ASH demand in recent years - graphic warnings, the display ban, plain packaging, massive tax hikes - and the results speak for themselves. Since 2012 the smoking rate has plummeted from 23% all the way down to 22%. Clearly, this guy knows what he’s doing. If this progress continues, Ireland will have achieved its goal of getting the smoking rate below 5% in the year 2107. Admittedly that is 82 years later than planned - Ireland is supposed to be “tobacco free” by 2025 - but let that take nothing away from these evidence-based, peer-reviewed policies.

Good luck to all the nominees. It’s going to be tough to pick a winner and in a way it’s a shame there has to be winner. To me, they are all losers.

It’s been a pleasure speaking you tonight in perhaps the only country in the world where the term nanny statist is taken as such a compliment that you can get them to come to an event which is aimed at taking the piss out of them.

For those of you who are capable of having a good time, I hope you have one tonight.

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