St Vincent Government to ban alcohol usage in funerals

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Alcohol on display (photo: courtesy of Chris F)

Prime Minister of St Vincent Dr Ralph Gonsalves is defending his government’s decision to table the Public Order (Amendment) Bill, 2024, saying the consumption of alcohol at funerals “has become quite terrible”. “We treat funerals in a very solemn way,” Gonsalves said, adding that he hopes this tradition continues as the government moves to ban the consumption of alcohol at funerals. “In America, in New York City, you see funerals down the street blocking up the road? You don’t see it in London, in other parts of the world. But we have that tradition and people, motorists and other users of the road, are satisfied that they would go along with the inconvenience and wait a while,” Gonsalves said.

He said however, that people can have their ‘jump-up’ because it is a celebration “and you can play your music and the rest of it and you beat your boom drum if you want to do that. But this drinking of alcohol in the procession and the icebox behind the hearse, people selling three for 10, surely, in our civilization, you go down the road, eight, nine out of every 10 persons will tell you, ‘Man, that wrong’” Gonsalves said.

The Public Order (Amendment) Bill, 2024, which is on the Order Paper for Parliament, will be sent to a select committee of Parliament. The government is encouraging the public to submit comments on the proposed changes, which will provide a fine of EC$200 for people who supply or consume alcohol in a funeral procession or at public cemeteries. The Prime Minister said it is unfortunate that the situation has reached the stage where the government has to regulate it, adding “good sense should have prevailed because we have always had singing and music and dancing going behind coffins, going to the cemetery from the church and long may that continue”.

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, said he saw a problem with the draft law because while cemeteries have boundaries in law, the public are unaware of the boundary marks. “So, if you are going to make a law in that regard, you have to make sure, I believe, to help persons to know at which point they can do what,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has spoken to the drafts people on the matter. “So, we may well see it focuses on what is really the central problem: people drinking rum and beer and some of them drunk in the funeral and behaving quite badly”.

Gonsalves said he knows that some people may wish to go even further than what the proposed amendment provides for. “But I say to them, let’s express in the law disapproval for that”, he said, noting that the law would not affect shops “just outside the cemetery gate, or just across the road from the cemetery” that are licensed to sell intoxicating liquors.

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