Over The Limit?

By Publications Checkout
Over The Limit?

Danny Healy Rae's recent controversial suggestion that 'drink-driving' permits be issued to those in isolated rural communities, in order to facilitate their social engagement, inspired news reports around the world. These were generally unfavourable. Hospitality Ireland asks whether it is a proposal entirely without merit.

Kerry County Council recently passed a motion, proposed by independent councillor and publican Danny Healy-Rae, that called for the Gardaí to be allowed issue permits to people in the most isolated parts of the country in order to allow them to drive home after having ‘two or three’ drinks. Danny Healy-Rae said the idea was to help “those people in every parish who are isolated and who can’t get out of their place at night... A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their licence.” The motion was passed at a Council meeting this by five votes to three. It is believed that seven councillors abstained while 12 were absent when the vote was taken towards the end of a long meeting. So out of 27 only 5 voted for the motion. “The pub is invariably the only social outlet left in rural Ireland and they’re getting scarce now – just one or two in every village,” he said. “I see the merit in having a stricter rule of law for when there’s a massive volume of traffic and where there’s busy roads with massive speed. But on the roads I’m talking about, you couldn’t do any more than 20 or 30 miles per hour and it’s not a big deal. I know there’ll be opposition. I know that it will be people in urban areas who have access to different outlets than the pub, but in rural parishes, that’s well we have – we don’t have anything else. All they want to do [here] is talk to neighbours, talk to friends, play cards, talk about the match and the price of cattle, and a lot of them falling into depression”. The level of fatalities on Irish roads dropped significantly over the past five years with the introduction of lower alcohol limits for drivers and alcohol checkpoints. The councillor called on Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to consider the move and said all parts of Ireland should not be treated the same when it comes to drink-driving rules. When asked for his response the Minister called the motion ‘grossly irresponsible’. Responding to the motion last week the Department of Justice referred queries to the Department of Transport which immediately dismissed Healy-Rae’s proposal. A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland. We need to be looking at how to make our roads safer, instead of trying to reverse existing measures which are clearly working.” The VFI, contacted by Hospitality Ireland, responded simply, “we expressed a view at the time the most recent blood alcohol legislation was passed. That view has not changed.” Interestingly Kerry County Council did not rule out looking into a possible conflict of interest raised by Healy-Rae being a publican and proposing the motion. Reaction The public reaction was predictably one of outrage at the idea of any kind of leniency towards drink driving. The story of the bizarre (and unenforceable) motion passed by the councillors has been picked up by newspapers and news websites around the world. Predictably, some of the stories have focused on Irish attitudes to alcohol. One US journalist tweeted: “So Ireland is considering legalising drunk driving. Or as the Irish call it, ‘driving’. Many other media outlets focused on the serious points raised by the motion. The Huffington Post focused on the argument put forward by Healy-Rae and others that the permit system could help to stop depression among older house-bound people. Reliably-contrary columnist Declan Lynch of the Sunday Independent was virtually alone rowing against the tide of outrage. He deemed the idea was eminently sensible. He made the point that the ‘poor old fellas’ of rural Ireland have no one to speak out for them. He also praised Healy Rae for mentioning the spectre of depression being a major problem in isolated rural areas. “The general reaction was that it was outrageous, embarrassing and barking mad in the way that only the peasantry with their deeply superstitious ways can be. But I would stick with ‘eminently sensible’"