Healy-Rae's rural drink-drive permits dragging country back to dark ages, say road safety chiefs
KERRY County Council’s backing for permits allowing people to drink and drive has been slammed for dragging the country back to the dark ages.
Road safety chiefs attacked Kerry councillors' "unthinkable" backing for the special permits to excuse rural dwellers from nationwide drink-driving limits.
Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said the scientific and medical evidence proving that alcohol impairs driving is irrefutable.
"On that basis it is unthinkable that we would go back to a system that sought to increase our drink-drive limit," he said.
"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.
"I think we need to proceed with that and continue with the life-saving policies that we have in place."
Describing the motion as "off-the-wall", Mr Brett paid tribute to Irish motorists for a sea change in attitudes and behaviour towards drink-driving that had made a significant dent in road deaths over recent years.
"That is what is saving lives and proposals such as this bring us back to a much darker day," he said.
Kerry County Council will now ask Justice Minister Alan Shatter to issue licences that would allow people living in remote countryside to drive home from their nearest pub "after having two or three drinks on little-used roads driving at very low speeds".
Councillor Danny Healy-Rae, a publican who proposed the motion, claimed the move would "greatly benefit" and even prevent suicide and depression among those who were isolated because of more stringent drink-driving legislation.
But Conor Cullen, spokesman for Alcohol Action Ireland, said: "Those in rural areas who may be suffering from isolation will not benefit from putting their lives and the lives of the other members of their community at risk by drinking and driving.
"We need constructive solutions to help those people, such as greater investment in community resources, and socialising is an important part of this, but alcohol does not have to be."
Mr Cullen added that alcohol will exacerbate, not alleviate, mental health difficulties such as depression or anxiety.
The motion was passed, with 12 councillors absent from the chamber and another seven abstaining from the vote.
The five who voted in favour - Mr Healy-Rae, his son Johnny Healy-Rae, Michael Cahill, Bobby O'Connell and Michael O'Shea - are all publicans, former publicans or connected to the pub trade.
The Department of Transport has signalled its opposition to the demands.
A department spokesman said stricter drink-driving rules have helped make Ireland the sixth safest country in the EU for its roads.
"Unfortunately, rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland," he added.
"We need to be looking at how to make our roads safer, particularly in rural areas, instead of trying to reverse existing measures which are clearly working."
Ireland introduced random breathtesting at Garda checkpoints in 2006 and lower drink-drive limits in 2011.
Latest figures show 161 people lost their lives on Irish roads last year, a record low at 25 fewer than 2011 and 51 less than 2010.
The seven councillors who abstained were Michael Connor Scarteen, Brendan Cronin, John Joe Culloty, Norma Foley, Michael Gleeson, Breeda Moynihan Cronin and John Sheahan.
The 12 absent councillors were Paul O'Donoghue, John Brassil, Anne MacEllistrim, Jim Finucane, Pat McCarthy, Liam Purtill, Seamus Cosai Fitzgerald, Toireasa Ferris, Robert Beasley, Pat Leahy, Matt Griffin and Tim Buckley.