Irish Politician Moves to Relax Drunk-Driving Laws for Rural Residents

An Irish councilor has proposed a motion to allow rural drivers to drink a few pints over the limit before driving home

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Bar tender and customer at bar in Vat House.

An Irish government official in County Kerry has put forward a motion which would allow people in rural parts of the country to have an extra drink or two at the pub before driving home. Danny Healy-Rae, a councilor from the region of Killarney, in the west of the country, tabled a motion at the local county council meeting on Monday calling for a change in the alcohol limit for rural drivers, reports the Irish Times. With 12 councilors not present for the vote and another seven abstaining from taking part, the motion passed, five votes to three.

Healy-Rae’s motion, which will now be presented to the Minister for Justice, has caused outrage around the country. There were 161 road-related deaths in Ireland last year, the lowest number on record — and the Irish Road Safety Authority (RSA) and alcohol awareness groups have highly criticized Healy-Rae’s call for change. Most such accidents, Noel Brett, the Chief Executive of the RSA, told the Irish Independent, occur in rural locations. “There is very strong evidence which makes an irrefutable link between consumption of alcohol and impairment,” he explained.

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Meanwhile Conor Cullen, speaking on behalf of Alcohol Action Ireland, told the Irish Times how “almost one in three crash deaths in Ireland is alcohol related.” The maximum blood-alcohol level accepted on Irish roads is 50mg per 100ml of blood — equivalent to less than a pint of beer. The recent fall in Irish road fatalities correlates directly with the introduction of lower alcohol limits and more checkpoints across the country. However, councilor Healy-Rae believes that the drop in deaths has more to do with the country’s finances than with alcohol. “The volume of traffic on the roads has gone down because of the economy,” he told TIME. “People aren’t going out as much and there is less interest in nightlife, people don’t have the money.”

Healy-Rae, who owns a pub in Kilgarvan, County Kerry, is determined to convince Ireland’s Justice Minister to issue alcohol allowance permits to rural drivers. He believes a change in drunk driving legislation would provide a real solution to rural isolation in his own county. “Things have changed with the big collapse in the last 10 years,” he says. “There were six pubs in my local town and now there are only two.” Without access to the social networks pubs provide, he believes people living in the isolation of the rural west are falling into depression and resorting to suicide. As he told the Journal, “these people that are being isolated at present, all the wisdom and all the wit and all the culture that they had, the music and they singing, that’s all being lost to the younger generation because… [they] don’t see them anymore.”

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More than 1,100 pubs have closed since Ireland’s booming “Celtic Tiger” economy began to falter in 2005. With the introduction of a nationwide ban on smoking in the workplace in 2004, changes to drunken driving laws in 2003 and the collapse of the economy, Irish people have had what one professor called  “fundamental lifestyle change” in an interview with the Irish Times. “I know there’ll be opposition,” Healy-Rae admitted to the Journal. “We don’t have anything else. All they want to do [here] is talk to neighbors, talk about the match and the price of cattle, about such a lady going out with such a fella, and it’s harmless.”

“These people never cause any serious accidents or injuries in their cars,” he explained to TIME. “They’re an older generation who are isolated and don’t have any contact with young people. Sure, they may as well be living in Japan or the Middle East.” Its just a few aging locals, traveling on small, narrow roads, with tractors – there can’t be any danger to that?