Kerry County Councillor Danny Healy-Rae has called for a special permit to be given to rural people to allow them to visit their local pub, have a few drinks and then drive home without fear of prosecution.
Successive Irish Governments have enabled a big crackdown on the ‘drink and drive’ culture over the last decade. The blood-alcohol limit has been reduced significantly on a number of occasions and there is now much greater enforcement of the laws. An Garda Siochana (Irish Police) can now breathalyse any driver in any situation – no ‘please walk a straight line’ test is needed.
The smoking ban that was introduced in 2004 had the dual effect of curbing the use of tobacco in the workplace as well as impacting severely on the number of times Irish people would visit the pub. People chose to stay at home where they could smoke, if they wished, and also not risk a driving ban if they used their car.
The result has been widespread closures of pubs across Ireland, especially in rural locations. Combine these factors with the devastating effect the recent recession and major tax hikes have had on Irish disposable income and the vista is a very bleak one for the famous Irish pub.
Against this backdrop Councillor Healy-Rae has launched his campaign for the introduction of some kind of scheme to allow rural pub-goers to be allowed to have two or three pints and then drive home. He makes the case that the rural lifestyle is being decimated by the recently introduced regulations and that many country people who live on the periphery of small towns and villages, or perhaps live even more remotely, are existing in a kind of state-sponsored isolation, afraid as they are to drive to a pub and have even a single pint such is their fear of being caught and banned, or even imprisoned.
The chance of any success with Danny Healy-Rae’s campaign is just about zero. Irish roads are a lot safer now than they were even a decade ago, both in terms of the physical infrastructure and the fact that there is a vastly reduced amount of drinking and driving being risked by the Irish citizenry. There will be no turning back that particular clock.
Nevertheless the Kerry Councillor has highlighted a real problem that does exist for many rural and lonely people who are unserved by public transport and unable to afford private taxis or hired transport. Many will remain in an increasing isolation and seclusion, at least partly because of the laws designed to protect us all.