Ben Lowry: It is time for a drunkenness ban on the Belfast to Dublin Enterprise train

Refreshment carriage on Enterprise train
Refreshment carriage on Enterprise train

Three cheers for, which this week announced a ban on alcohol before 8am.

The airline also has a new tougher policy of refusing passage to people whom it considers to be drunk.

This is overdue initiative should be pursued by all airlines. There are few situations in which consideration for other people is more important than planes, where hundreds of passengers are confined in close proximity.

There are disturbances on a plane about which little can be done, such as crying babies. We were all infants once.

But there are others about which things can be done, such as smoking. In the 1990s I sat enveloped in smoke on a long haul flight in the row just in front of the rows at the back where smoking was permitted.

Now that smoking on planes is banned it is hard to believe that we ever allowed some people’s environment to be spoiled so someone else could get satisfaction.

There is no need to ban alcohol entirely on planes, because alcohol taken by one person does not necessarily intrude on the environment of the people around them. But when it does so intrude airlines must jump in.

This is not a killjoy point – a few years ago I was on a flight from Belfast to Majorca that was unpleasant due to widespread drinking. Then I took a boat to Ibiza from which I flew back to Belfast days later on an evening flight in which there were plenty of young party types but no anti social behaviour.

Last week I argued for extending our licensing law hours but on the understanding that premises that cause noise disturbance or are associated with anti social behaviour are denied licenses. The freedom to drink comes with responsibilities.

But the announcement reminds me of a transport carrier in which the balance between drink and quiet seems to be weighted too far in favour of drinking. It is the Enterprise train between Belfast and Dublin.

The main problem is the late trains coming out of Dublin (perhaps more so than out of Belfast, because Dublin is a more popular day trip destination).

It is a problem that dates back as far as most of us can remember, and it would not surprise me to learn that it is was a problem as soon as the rail line between the two capitals was completed in 1855.

When someone told me recently about their miserable trip out of Dublin earlier this year on a train filled with GAA fans, many of them drunk, it brought back memories of a similarly unpleasant such journey that I spent amid such fans out of Dublin around the turn of the 1980s-90s (this is not a swipe at the GAA – I think that mass drinking on the Twelfth in Belfast is equally ugly).

Sporting events are not the only source of drunkeness on trains – a person who works on the Enterprise told me that drunkeness is common on late trains on any Friday or Saturday evening.

I was on the rowdy last train out of Dublin on Easter Sunday, after the centenary celebrations, but it was possible to escape the noise by paying for an upgrade to first class (this is good value – you pay a flat fee surcharge, regardless of the cost of your original ticket, and get two hours of space and peace).

It is not merely the late trains that are unpleasant.

A few summers ago I was on a train out of Dublin on a late afternoon when, in one of those wonderful random moments in life, I found I was seated beside an academic from a university near Boston, Wellesley College (where Hillary Clinton studied, and which I know well because my aunt taught there).

We chatted the whole way north but further down the carriage a loud group of men who were drinking dominated the atmosphere.

Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann should adopt a zero tolerance approach to drunkeness on the Enterprise.

It would be hard to enforce at first and there might even be disorder at stations in the early days of such a policy. But for six months in advance of such a change they should put signs up on all the trains and pay for media advertising, making clear that on a named date the new policy will be introduced.

It should be enforced at the stations so that anyone who seems to be drunk will be denied boarding. The stations will need extra security staff at first and have to have garda on standby.

On the train itself, anyone who seems drunk should be refused alcohol and anyone who is disruptive removed at the next station (again with police on standby) and billed for disruption costs.

There would be an outcry at first but it would work. The word would go round fast and soon extra security staff would not be needed.

Who would ever have thought that a smoking ban would be adhered to in the British Isles? Now it is an uncontentious fact of life.

For decades, a silent majority has suffered in silence on trains amid selfish behaviour that could easily be stopped.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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