Government ‘exploring ways to deal with rural isolation’

Minister for Transport Shane Ross introduces Bill to ban all drivers caught over limit

The Government is exploring a number of initiatives to deal with social isolation in rural areas, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The Government is exploring a number of initiatives to deal with social isolation in rural areas, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Government is exploring a number of initiatives to deal with social isolation in rural areas, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said.

He told the Dáil he had invited a range of organisations, State, private and voluntary, to meet him in September to explore ways in which the problem could be addressed.

“I have already invited the stakeholders to a second meeting this month,’’ he added.

Mr Ross was introducing the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 which proposes a mandatory driving ban for all motorists caught over the alcohol limit.

The Bill is being opposed by Fianna Fáil and supported by Sinn Féin and Labour.

Mr Ross said most of the opposition to the Bill was coming from people who argued that it would somehow undermine social life in rural areas and it had been presented as an urban versus rural issue.

Yet, said Mr Ross, a survey had revealed overwhelming support across the country for the Bill.

“This is not surprising; rural Ireland has suffered disproportionately from alcohol road deaths,’’ he added.

He said some 81 per cent of alcohol-related deaths occurred in rural areas.

“Those who portray this Bill as an attack on rural Ireland are missing the point,’’ he added.

“We want to save lives in rural Ireland.’’

He said the fundamental mistake of those critics who said the Bill would damage rural Ireland was they were conflating two very different issues.

“One is drink-driving, which is a public safety issue, and an issue on which I want to protect the public everywhere, in all areas, rural and urban,’’ he added.

“The other and entirely separate issue is the problem of social isolation in rural Ireland.’’

Mr Ross told the House he would amend the Bill at committee stage to “bring to an end to the all-too-common practice of learner permit holders driving unaccompanied by a qualified person’’.