State-funded 'drink-link' bus will service 50 rural communities
A new State-subsidised bus service will transport rural residents to and from their local pubs this summer, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross will this week announce 50 'drink-link' bus routes across the country.
The new routes will be in operation in 19 counties and operate mostly on weekends between 6pm and 11pm.
The scheme is aimed at allaying fears over rural isolation ahead of the introduction of strict new drink-driving laws. Around 188 weekly pub-runs will be in operation from June until December on a trial basis and at a cost of €450,000.
Counties Kerry, Cork, Donegal, Kildare, Waterford, Wexford, Cavan, Monaghan, Offaly and Laois will have their own 'drink-link' routes from June until December.
The new routes will be operated as an extension of the Local Link service in rural communities.
It is hoped this will allow people living in rural communities to visit their local pubs in the evenings and at the weekend. Rural TDs have argued that plans to introduce a three-month mandatory ban for drivers found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50-80mg per 100ml will negatively impact their constituents.
Mr Ross has been locked in an ongoing battle with rural TDs and senators over his decision to increase penalties for motoring offences.
Yesterday, the minister hit out at the "filibustering and parliamentary guerrilla warfare" against his drink-driving legislation.
"It's reckless and it's going on since Christmas, which is basically calling quorums at every opportunity to delay matters, calling a vote on every procedural issue and putting in speakers who are being told to stop repetition by the Ceann Comhairle," Mr Ross told the Sunday Independent.
"It's absolutely deliberate and they will be back doing it again this week when it's debated in the Dail," he added.
Figures compiled by the Department of Transport show a dramatic increase in the amount of Dail time designated for debates on the Road Traffic Bill.
In 2016, a debate on the legislation took four hours while a debate on the same bill last year took nine hours and 40 minutes.
The 'drink-link' routes were not proposed in direct response to concerns over the road traffic legislation but it is hoped the new bus services will alleviate fears over the impact of the laws in rural Ireland.
Minister Ross asked the National Transport Authority (NTA) to examine extending the Local Link service to allow people living in rural Ireland to visit the pub without using their car.
Yesterday, the minister paid tribute to his Fine Gael colleagues for proposing the idea.
"I would like to thank Deputy Martin Heydon and my colleague and Minister of State Brendan Griffin for their help and input to the development of these new services.
"I would also like to acknowledge the work that the NTA and the Local Link Offices have put into this initiative," he said.