Healy-Rae drink proposal criticised

An alcohol awareness charity has criticised a Kerry councillor's call to allow rural drivers have two or three drinks before …

An alcohol awareness charity has criticised a Kerry councillor's call to allow rural drivers have two or three drinks before driving home, while an organisation representing vintners said it hoped the proposal started a conversation on the issues facing rural Ireland.

A motion tabled by Danny Healy-Rae at yesterday's meeting of Kerry County Council called for special derogation from the alcohol limit for rural drivers, including small tractor drivers. The independent councillor's motion was passed by five votes to three. Seven councillors abstained and 12 were not present for the vote.

Communications officer with Alcohol Action Ireland, Conor Cullen, said that even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability.

“Almost one in three crash deaths in Ireland is alcohol related. Even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability - any amount of alcohol increases the risk of involvement in a fatal crash,” he said.

“Alcohol Action Ireland would like to see increased, sustained and visible enforcement of mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints by gardaí in order to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on roads. Greater enforcement will increase the risk of drivers being caught drink driving, shift attitudes and behaviour, and save lives.”

Mr Healy-Rae claimed today that strict drink driving laws were leading to isolation and in some cases, were a factor in suicide. Mr Cullen disagreed with this claim, saying that alcohol was a cause of mental health issues.

“It should be noted that the link between alcohol use and suicide has been well established and alcohol will exacerbate, not alleviate any mental health difficulties that a person may be struggling with, such as depression or anxiety.

“Those in rural areas who may be suffering from isolation will not benefit from putting their lives and the lives of the other members of their community at risk by drinking and driving. We need constructive solutions to help those people, such as greater investment in community resources, and socialising is an important part of this, but alcohol does not have to be.”

Chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland Padraig Cribben said he hopes Mr Healy-Rae’s proposal starts a conversation on issues facing rural Ireland.

"Successive governments have failed to recognise the plight of people living in rural communities. Indeed they have compounded this situation by closing rural post offices and Garda stations," he said.

"Hopefully Cllr Healy-Rae's actions will at least succeed in getting people talking and debating the issues that face rural Ireland on a daily basis – issues that many in government and at administrative level seem blissfully unaware of."

Age Action’s senior information officer Gerard Scully said increased investment in rural public transport would be worth looking into.

Senior council officials are now to write to the Department of Justice seeking the introduction of rural permits.

A spokesman for the Road Safety Authority said drink driving was not a suitable solution to social problems.

"Drink driving has devastated communities throughout the country and has caused carnage on our roads. The vast majority of people say drink driving is not something we as a society will tolerate anymore," he said.