For 60 years, the makers of Guinness have delivered free beer to Dublin’s Mansion House, regardless of who was currently home as lord mayor.
This allows the mayor’s official residence on Dawson Street to provide hospitality to guests with “some of the city’s most iconic products”, said a spokesperson for Diageo, the company that makes Guinness these days.
The founder of what would become the Guinness Brewery was lord mayor in the early 18th century. A member of the Guinness family was also a lord mayor in the 19th century.
There’s a relationship between Guinness and the Mansion House stretching back more than two centuries, she says.
In recent years, the supply of free beer has been capped at 120 kegs per year – that is approximately 10,560 pints. Each lord mayor of Dublin is informed of the limits to Diageo’s generosity at the start of their term.
But in January this year – a little more than halfway through his term in office – the current lord mayor, independent Councillor Nial Ring, surpassed that limit. This far outpaces the two lord mayors before him.
Faced with this problem, the Mansion House formally requested that Diageo provide a substantial amount of extra beer. The company agreed – it wouldn’t say by how much – and Ring is on course to top even that increased limit soon, he says.
Ring says he doesn’t plan to cut the amount of beer on offer. Instead, he’ll search for another sponsor. “We have enough to keep going until mid-March,” he says.
As of last week, Ring had served up 194 kegs at Mansion House, according to a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
The beer might be free from Diageo, but the bill for wine is coming out of Dublin City Council coffers. And Ring is pouring that faster than his predecessors too, the council spokesperson said.
Over the Limit
The keg limit has, since 2007, been held at 120 kegs, said a council spokesperson.
Only once before has the council had to renegotiate with Diageo for a bit more of the black stuff. “Guinness made a small number of additional barrels available on one occasion to coincide with a series of historical anniversaries which involved the house,” they said.
On that occasion, the additional kegs of beer agreed proved sufficient to keep the functions in the Mansion House oiled for the rest of the year, it seems.
This wasn’t a problem for Diageo, a company spokesperson said. “We provide a set amount of kegs each year, and we are open to adjusting the amount if requested by the Mansion House to cover exceptional events.”
The company also provides guidance on responsible drinking: two drinks per person. “We reiterated this advice to the Mansion House recently,” the spokesperson said.
Ring took office in late June 2018 and the number of kegs he’d served at Mansion House – which as of last week was 194 – equates to approximately 17,072 pints.
Assuming a value of €2 per pint, which is the price of a can of Guinness in Tesco, that means this has been a €34,144 donation from Diageo.
By comparison, during the same time period, the previous mayor, Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha used 54 kegs, and his predecessor, Labour Councillor Brendan Carr wasn’t even approaching the limit: he used just 31 barrels of beer in his first six months in office.
It is up to the lord mayor who he invites to the Mansion House – which is also his family home for the year, says the Dublin City Council spokesperson.
When asked if he was aware that he was going over the limit set by Diageo, Ring said: “The Mansion House is belonging to the people of Dublin. It is not for me or anyone else to say, ‘I’m sorry but you can’t come in.’”
Diageo won’t be offering any further supplies when he next runs out of beer, says Ring. “I certainly wouldn’t be going back to Diageo, because they have their own responsibilities,” he says. “They are a publicly quoted company and it’s a political donation in effect.”
Ring says that the bill for this excess beer consumption will not have to be shouldered by the taxpayer from mid-March onwards when the Diageo-donated drink runs out.
As the beer flows at Mansion House, the wine is too, and it’s Dublin City Council paying for that.
Ring’s spending on wine so far has already come to €19,431.72, according to a council spokesperson.
For comparison, up to the end of February of their terms in office, Mac Donncha’s wine bill was €8,599, and Carr had spent just €6,741 on vino.
Spirits are not served in the mansion house, says the spokesperson.
Ring says he is simply more sociable than his predecessors.
His total drink consumption is higher than theirs because he invites more people to the Mansion House, he says. The council declined to confirm the numbers of visitors to the Mansion House under each of the last three mayors.
Ring says he has invited 16,000 people to the house, and 8,000 of them came in the evening, so for each evening guest there was an average of two pints consumed, he says.
(Of course, that doesn’t include wine – assuming a bottle costs about €10 if bought in bulk, and each bottle provides five small glasses, that would be another 9,715 drinks.)
Ring doesn’t think it is of any benefit to him politically to give away free drink to lots of people. “I’d be horrified at any suggestion that I was using the bar in the Mansion House to buy votes,” he says.
The people and groups he has invited have been evenly spread across the city and are not focused on his own local area of the north inner city. He has absolutely no plans to run for a higher office at any stage, he says: “I’ve reached the pinnacle of my political career.”
Ring says that as well as handing out alcoholic drinks in the evening, he also hosts free afternoon teas during the day “to rival the Shelbourne”, including high-end cakes and sandwiches. A piano player performs at those events, he says.
Ring’s favourite event so far was an autism-friendly Santa Claus for children last Christmas. He says he wishes people would focus on that instead of the amount of drink consumed during his term.
“Why not concentrate on the parents who were crying on the phone because their children could go to see Santa?” he says.