MaltaToday | 17 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 17 August 2008

Drinking themselves silly

The ‘outdoors alcohol ban’ is yet another step by businessmen at sacrificing Paceville on the altar of tourism. By MATTHEW VELLA

Oh for the days of a clip round the ear by the local policeman. After the CCTV network, comes the alcohol ban and a fine for holding a potentially fatal glass bottle in the streets of Paceville. Here’s yet another new form of anti-social troublemaker: him with the bottle of Perrier. A public offence punishable by euros 65.
If you haven’t heard, the St Julian’s local council and the Malta Tourism Authority have updated rules banning “loitering” with a glass bottle, by banning drinking alcohol on some 30 streets. The streets of Paceville are now officially verboten for drinkers.
As the MTA log rollers would have it, despite a 27% increase in tourists this winter, drinking in Paceville is harming “Malta’s image”. As opposed to what? Drinking trays of vodka Red Bulls with 2-for-1 coupons the Paceville clubs give to students? Or drinking crates of Cisk at the San Gejtanu festa? Let’s say Tourism Authority chief Josef Formosa Gauci won’t be lecturing the Hamrun festa committee on how they harm ‘product Malta’.
The reason for the ban on drinking alcohol outside licensed establishments, to quote Formosa Gauci, is because drunken students are not giving Malta a good image. GRTU vice-president Philip Fenech, the owner of BJs in Paceville, says people drinking outside look as if they are in some “lawless jungle” (as opposed to his clients when doing the drinking indoors). The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) CEO George Schembri spuriously claims the reduction of Spanish students this year was due to alcohol abuse on the streets. Not because the English-language scholarship promoted by Spanish premier Jose Zapatero last year was not similarly promoted this year.
It’s hard to conceive of a group of people less representative of the freedom, youth culture and street folklore of Paceville than these three sheiks of the business lobby. Now that they all control the MTA, yet another step towards the sanitisation of Paceville has achieved fruition, this time by curtailing people’s right not to buy overpriced alcohol from clubs and bars.
The reason? English-language students, whose shoestring budgets are spent on alcohol in bottle shops, not in Paceville bars.
This law is designed to benefit nobody but the owners of Paceville establishments by threatening drinkers in the street with fines. And it punishes civilised drinkers who meet friends and strangers in the streets.
Residents in St Julian’s think the police are going to be fining the kids drinking on their doorsteps in Triq il-Qaliet. If the legendary smoking ban is anything to go by, I very much doubt it.
The law banning “glass containers” (bottles, aquariums, flower vases, test tubes, bongs…) has been in force since 2004 – and yet, police action on this matter hasn’t been visible at all. Can St Julian’s and Paceville residents seriously say they are satisfied with the police deterrent against drunkenness? Hardly.
For years Philip Fenech, false moralist and bar owner, repeatedly called for laws to dissuade people from drinking outside in the streets. If they were, then they were getting their drinks from those cheap-ass bottle shops.
Today he supports the alcohol ban because it means students will be forced off the streets. As he himself put it, English-language schools will have to warn their students of the fines.
Andrew Mangion, president of the Federation of the English-Language Schools (FELTOM) and a Paceville resident himself, fully supports the law. “It’s good for the industry, but even as a citizen I must say it is shocking to see everyone, Maltese and foreigners alike, knocking back alcohol out in the streets and making the area unsafe with bottles being broken on the floor. I think the law will make it easier to identify underage drinking if alcohol is consumed only in licensed places, which do not allow underage drinkers.”
Fenech has often invoked the premise that “bottle shops have made alcohol more accessible to underage youths” even though the laws against the sale of alcohol to minors are stronger than ever today.
MTA chief Josef Formosa Gauci expressly singled out boozing students and youths as being “not conducive towards a good product. Hanging out around bottle shops throughout the night and getting drunk in the streets is not giving Malta a good image.”
Translated, what Formosa Gauci is actually saying is: “…English-language students and youths are a captive market who, if they persist in buying reasonably-priced alcohol from bottle shops, should be threatened with fines. That way, they have no choice but to drink inside the clubs at the prices they dictate.”
But why is it that what really seriously hurts Malta’s image rarely gets a mention by the MTA? Such as press reports of women kept against their will to work as lap dancers, the arbitrary racism in clubs that forbid entrance to blacks and Arabs, the violence of simian bouncers, or the construction mayhem in St Julian’s?
Every day, this country pays the price for the grubworms to whom government sells public land cheaply for five-star hotels, and public beaches lost to private concessionaires. The St Julian’s playground was lost the Hilton’s owners replaced it with a fenced concrete piazza (closed off in the evenings to send the yobs drinking on people’s doorsteps in Triq il-Qaliet instead).
If we can’t buy our booze cheaply and drink it in our streets because it harms bar owners’ pockets, or the elitist preconceptions of the MTA and their cantankerous gobbledygook on ‘product Malta’, then we’re really going to have to turn away from Paceville.
This law will not stop drunken louts swearing and pissing on people’s doors. It won’t stop more bars mushrooming further inside Paceville’s residential pockets. It won’t stop underage teens coming to Paceville.
Paceville is too anarchic, seedy, and eternally youthful a place to be dictated by government appointees. This law will go the same way as the smoking ban, a laughable toast to bureaucratic pipe dreams. I foresee more drinking in the streets.

Bye-law 52/1/2008

The new St Julian’s local council bye-law updates a 2004 bye-law that prohibited loitering in public holding any glass container. The updated rules now also ban: carrying alcohol unless it is sealed and unopened, and the consumption of alcohol in the streets. The fines are €65 and a further €10 for every day during which the law is breached.
The streets where the prohibition is in force are: Ball Street, Dobbie Street, Dragonara Road, Gort Street, Vjal Portomaso, Church Street, Paceville Avenue, Salvu Privitera Street, St Joseph Street, St Andrew’s Road, Marguerite Mangion Street, Schreiber Street, Spinola Bay Road, Spinola Road, Wilga Street, Elija Zammit Street, Ross Street, St George’s Road, St George’s Bay Road, Trejqet San Gorg, St Rita Street, St Augustine Street, The Gardens, Forrest Street, Mensija Street, Pjazza Spinola, Qaliet Street, Palazzo Spinola Garden, The Bay at the end of Wilga Street, St George’s Bay (prohibition between 8 pm and 8 am)

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