Healy-Rae says gardaí checking for drink-drivers outside Mass
Harsh drink-driving laws are being so rigorously enforced that people are being checked by gardaí on their way to and from Mass, Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae has said.
Mr Healy-Rae accused the Government of now trying to close the churches along with post offices and most other things in rural Ireland.
But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit back and said the stricter drink-driving law was designed to save lives on the road - especially in rural Ireland where there was a higher risk of accidents.
The Independent TD said rural people were now furious because they were being left isolated. Under the new legislation, he said, people who previously drank a small amount of alcohol to socialise found they could no longer do that.
"People are being checked going to Mass, they're being checked coming from Mass. And I'm not blaming the gardaí, or indeed I'm not blaming individual superintendents, because it's across different divisions and it's across county boundaries," Mr Healy-Rae said.
He asked whether these checkpoints were being ordered by the Taoiseach, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, or Transport Minister Shane Ross, who had insisted on the stricter drink-driving law.
"Is it the way you want to close the churches now as well as the post offices? You've mostly everything else closed. I suppose you want to close the churches as well now in rural Ireland," Mr Healy-Rae added.
He said bars were deserted and many were now closing and so were nearby businesses.
Replying, the Taoiseach said there was a time when between 600 and 700 people died on the roads every year. Now that number had been reduced to below 200 - which was still 200 too many lives being lost.
"That's the purpose of the road traffic legislation. It's not to discommode people - it's not to make their lives harder to lead. It's to make the roads safer," the Taoiseach insisted.
Mr Varadkar said checkpoints were a matter for senior gardaí and not the Government.