Should we allow rural drink-driving?

Rural isolation has been on the media agenda for quite a few months now. A rise in suicides and depression awoke a general concern in the population. Being mindful of your mental health is now as important as being mindful of your physical health.

It affects a large chunk of the population, especially lone farmers and the elderly. The Irish landscape as beautiful as it may be often becomes a barrier for people. In the mountainous regions of Leinster or the vast terrains of Kerry it’s not hard to spot scattered housing amongst the green.

Those people can’t go far without a car and when that proves impossible – whether due to health problems or calving cows – they naturally get lonely. The solutions are often simple, better transport in the community, a mini bus or cheap van hire or neighbours taking turns to drive you home from the pub.

Kerry County Council decided on a different option; allowing citizens who live in very isolated areas to drive home under the influence of alcohol on a Garda permit. The motion was proposed by Councillor Danny Healy-Rae, of the infamous Healy-Rae political family, and passed by Kerry County Council.

Those who voted in favour of the idea were Mr Healy-Rae, his son Johnny Healy-Rae, Michael Cahill, Bobby O’Connell and Michael O’Shea. What should be noted is that all five are in some way connected with the pub trade. Despite that, the councillors claim this has not influenced the idea for the proposal.

The passing of this motion met with immediate uproar from the Ministry. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter called it ‘grossly irresponsible’ while Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar thinks rural isolation should be solved but not by allowing drink-driving.

Kerry County Council will now ask Minister Alan Shatter to issue licences that would allow people living in remote countryside areas to drive home from their closest pub. However, there are some rules – this permission can be given to people who had one or two casual pints and are driving home on remote country roads (where perhaps the other casual drinkers will be walking home in the dark). The permits would be issued by the local Gardaí.

The move by Kerry County Council can be seen as promoting social drinking and fatalities on the road, the years have shown us that no matter how aware you think you are after drinking, you can still cause a serious accident.

Around 161 people died on Irish roads last year, which is 25 less than in 2011 and 51 less than in 2010. Although we can’t necessarily claim this has been the result of stricter drink-driving laws in Ireland, we can certainly say that things have improved.

According to Councillor Healy-Rae he’s not “asking to break the law. What [he’s] asking is that a different law be implemented to cater for these kind of people. Two or three drinks would be the amount. [He doesn’t] want to cause any deaths.” Perhaps this is true, but failed livers and broken lives are not the way forward. Two or three drinks could just be enough to cause an accident.

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