Fine Gael seeks €1m from Ross for rural night buses
Healy-Rae says plan is a sop on back of drink-driving law
Transport Minister Shane Ross is to come under pressure from his Fine Gael colleagues to provide €1m to off-set the impact of stricter drink-driving laws on rural Ireland.
Party representatives have supplied the Independent Alliance TD with a list of 38 bus routes they want extended. The move comes on the back of promises from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to find ways of combating rural isolation.
However, Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae told the Irish Independent the plan for late-night buses is "political ploy".
A significant number of Fine Gael TDs are known to be wary about new laws which will introduce a mandatory ban for drivers found with an alcohol level of between 50-80mg per 100ml of blood.
Many have privately voiced concerns that the stricter rules will stop older people from visiting the pub.
However, Mr Varadkar has told TDs and senators they will have to back the measure, which is being opposed by Fianna Fáil.
The new proposal would see existing routes in 15 counties extend their operating hours until around 11pm between Thursday and Sunday nights. The scheme would be provided by the Local-Link service and cost €1.06m.
A spokesperson for Mr Ross was last night unable to say whether he views the idea positively. His controversial drink-driving legislation is due back on the Dáil agenda before Christmas.
Mr Healy-Rae said any TD who votes in favour of the mandatory bans "is voting to attack rural Ireland".
"Politicians who support this are desperately trying to come up with a sop. What we're being offered now is a sop," he said.
The Kerry TD argued the Fine Gael idea is unworkable because "you would need thousands of buses on the road every night" to serve remote parts of the country.
Fine Gael's Martin Heydon said he believes they can have an impact.
"I've focused on existing routes. There is no capital outlay - these are routes that have existing buses, that are branded to Local-Link buses, that have existing drivers. That keeps the cost to a minimum," he said.