independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar dismisses Council’s calls to legalise drink-driving

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has rubbished attempts by a county council to legalise drink-driving for people in rural areas.





Mr Varadkar said country roads are already the most dangerous in Ireland and granting some people a permit to flout the law sends the wrong message internationally.



"Most of the accidents that are happening are happening in rural areas and on country roads," said Mr Varadkar.



"While rural isolation is a real problem, the solution to it is not to hand out drink driving permits.



"Obviously it's something we very much disagree with."



Kerry County Council sparked outrage among road safety chiefs after it voted in favour of a motion to exempt people in isolated areas from national drink-driving laws.



Councillor Danny Healy-Rae - a publican who proposed the move - argued that allowing people to drive while under the influence could save lives.



He said it would prevent depression and suicide among people living in remote areas by allowing them to drive to and from their nearest pub.



The five council members 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.



Twelve councillors were absent from the chamber when the move was passed, while seven other councillors abstained from the vote.



The 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 while over the legal limit - provided they drive slowly.



As the transport minister and Road Safety Authority chief executive Noel Brett officially launched new European standard credit card style driving licences for motorists, the pair insisted Ireland's city roads and motorway network were among the safest in Europe as a result of the stringent drink-driving laws.



"Councils of course are entitled to pass any motion they like, that's not for me to prescribe to them," Mr Varadkar said.



"But what is the case, is our cities are now very safe. Dublin is now the safest city in Europe. Our motorway network is very safe."



Road safety chief Mr Brett accused Kerry County Council of trying to drag Ireland back to "darker days".



He said while Ireland was working hard to raise its profile as the sixth safest country in Europe in terms of road safety, this would undo all its good work.



"It's not enforceable, it's not insurable and it's not practical," Mr Brett added.



Ireland introduced random breath-testing 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.

Press Association

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