Government considers tax break for publicans to tackle twin problems of drink driving and rural isolation
The Government is considering the introduction of a tax break for publicans who agree to ferry their customers home after a night out, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Tourism Minister Brendan Griffin confirmed that he is exploring a number of measures ahead of the budget for publicans, including in the area of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) and fuel.
The insurance industry has also been called on to provide formal cover for groups which enter into car-pooling systems at weekends.
The range of measures is being considered ahead of the expected passing of Shane Ross's controversial drink-driving bill.
The legislation will see the introduction of a three-month mandatory ban for drivers found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50-80mg per 100ml.
The Cabinet this week backed the bill - despite a number of Fine Gael ministers voicing concerns that the proposals will negatively impact rural communities.
Although Fine Gael has yet to adopt a formal position on the plan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is keen to avoid permitting his TDs a free vote.
At Wednesday's parliamentary party meeting, Mr Varadkar whipped his junior ministers into backing the bill and said the matter would be discussed again in the autumn.
And senior Government sources have confirmed that Mr Varadkar spoke to Mr Ross about examining measures surrounding local transport so that rural dwellers are not discommoded. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Griffin - the junior minister in Mr Ross's department - said he was to spend the summer recess examining the prospect of tax breaks and other measures for publicans who agree to provide their own transport.
"I want to spend the summer exploring what can we do from a budgetary point of view to assist the publican," Mr Griffin said.
"Can we give them a VRT break on their vehicles so it makes up for the cost of dropping their customers home?
"Can we give them additional tax incentives to pay for fuel or pay for certain things?"
Mr Griffin confirmed that as a result of the direction given by Mr Varadkar, he would be voting in favour of the bill when it came before the Dáil in the autumn.
"What is the concern by people opposed to this bill? The big concern is that it may have an adverse effect on rural publicans and rural pubs and rural dwellers who may not be able to get to and from the pub," the Kerry TD said.
"So, the big gain is that it makes the roads safer and saves lives."
And he said that aside from budgetary measures, the Government was encouraging pubs and their customers to set up roster systems of designated drivers.
But he said the insurance industry must also take part and agree to provide cover for such schemes.
"I want the insurance federation to come together with the vintners and the Department of Transport to ensure such schemes would be workable," the Kerry TD said.
"From a road safety point of view, it's a no-brainer. From a rural isolation point of view, it's a no-brainer.
"From a business point of view and from a tourism point of view, anything that helps save our small pubs is saving a part of our tourism product that is hugely important to Ireland."
The legislation itself is expected to be passed in the autumn despite opposition from Fianna Fáil.
Mr Varadkar has begun consulting his rural backbenchers who have concerns over the proposal to introduce the three-month mandatory ban.