Kerry County Councillor Danny Healy-Rae has put forth new legislation that would grant people in isolated areas in Ireland special permits that would allow them to drive after consuming some alcohol. The new measure has since been widely criticized as “dangerous” and “ridiculous.”
Speaking to The Journal on Tuesday, Councillor Healy-Rae explained his proposed measures were meant 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 put forth by Danny Healy-Rae calls for the Minister for Justice to permit Gardai to issue special permits to people in the most isolated parts of Ireland, such as around Healy-Rae’s constituency in Kerry, that would allow them to drive after drinking some alcohol.
The motion passed on Tuesday afternoon in Kerry with a vote of 5 in favor to 3, with 7 people abstaining from the vote, and another 12 people absent.
“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,” Healy-Rae 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 don’t see any big issue with it.”
Ireland introduced lower alcohol limits for drivers and alcohol checkpoints which have in turn seen the level of fatalities on Irish roads drop significantly over the past five years. In October 2011, alcohol limits were reduced from 80mg per 100ml to 50mg/100ml, and to 20mg/100ml for drivers on their learners’ permits.
The year 2012 saw the lowest amount of road deaths in Ireland and showed a welcome 56 percent decrease since 2007.
Referring to the legislation that helped curb road-related deaths over the past few years, Healy-Rae said "That law was put in place and there was no debate. It's unfair that the same rule applies to someone driving a tractor as someone driving a coach or a lorry carrying a 30-ton load."
Under Healy-Rae’s legislation, he envisions drivers managing tractors or other machinery that wouldn’t be capable of high speeds, especially on desolate rural roads. He also sees the limit to be around two or three pints of alcohol.
The Kerry County Councillor did acknowledge that his legislation that wouldn’t be suitable for the entire country: “A blanket rule for the country will not work. You can’t paint the whole country with the one brush and hope that everything works out.”
Behind the new legislation is Healy-Rae’s growing concern about the mental health of those who are forced to be isolated in their rural homes: “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 the singing, that’s all being lost to the younger generation because these older people might as well be living in Japan and Jerusalem because the younger generation don’t see them at all anymore.”
“These characters are being isolated now at home, and a lot of them falling into depression.” Healy-Rae asserts that being permitted to drive after having a reasonable amount of alcohol would help draw these isolated people out from their homes, in hopes of reviving a dying or reclusive generation.
Healy-Rae was cognizant that there will be opposition to his ideas: “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, about such a lady going out with such a fella, and it’s harmless.”
Indeed, the criticism has been laid on hard.
Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority in Ireland, was particularly critical of the Healy-Rae motion: "It is unthinkable that we would go back to a system that sought to increase our drink-drive limit.”
“We have made substantial progress in Ireland in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads, particularly in rural areas which are hardest hit by road fatalities and injuries."
Co Kerry Mayor Terry O’Brien also said to RTE that Healy-Rae’s motion is “incredibly dangerous. I don't know how anybody can be allowed to say: 'You've had two pints, so you're justified to drive.’”
“I don't know what expertise one would have to look at someone in a bar to give them a permit to drive a car after any alcohol.”
Kerry Councilor Gillian Wharton-Slattery refuted Healy-Rae’s link between being stuck at home and suicide: "Depression causes suicide. It's not caused by not being able to go to the pub," Wharton-Slattery told the Guardian.
Irish radio host Ray D’Arcy even hung up on the Kerry Councillor while speaking to him about the matter: “...You come up with harebrained ideas like this and waste everybody’s time. I have to say goodbye. This is my show. Good luck.”
But where there is criticism, there is also some support. Independent Galway Councillor Michael Fahy spoke out saying that he supports Healy-Rae’s new measure, and may bring the issue up at the next policing committee in Galway.
Said Fahy, “We don't want to see people drunk, we're only talking about up to three pints. This would have to be monitored, maybe by the publican or through some sort of stamped card system."
Similarly, Fine Gael’s Bobby O’Connell, a Castleisland, Co Kerry publican, strongly supported the motion. “Rural isolation is a big problem. People are afraid to go out,” he said.
Other Co Kerry politicians Fianna Fáil councillor and Milltown publican Michael O’Shea agreed, as did Michael Cahill, a Rossbeigh licensee and councillor.
With the motion passed in County Kerry, it will now proceed to the jurisdiction of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Healy-Rae said, “I, as a public representative, feel obliged to try and do my best to move this idea. All I’m asking from the Minister for Justice is that he consider this. I think it is a worthwhile idea.”