Drink-driving laws: ‘The days of fellas falling over stools on the way out are gone’

Rural communities reckon there should be more common sense on enforcement

JJ Jackson  and Bertie McNamara: “oral historians” and frequent customers at White’s in Carbally, Co Waterford.

JJ Jackson and Bertie McNamara: “oral historians” and frequent customers at White’s in Carbally, Co Waterford.

 

“Only for this now, I’d be lost and everybody else would be lost,” says retired fisherman Bertie McNamara. “This is our hub.”

The 82 year old is talking about White’s Ballymacaw, a public house in the townland of Carbally, located roughly halfway between Tramore and Dunmore East in Co Waterford.

He believes that tougher laws on alcohol have meant that locals slightly younger than himself, who are still driving regularly, are now “very nervous” about heading to the pub. He and his friend, JJ Jackson (79), get lifts from family members to Whites.

Under changes implemented last October a driver with blood/alcohol concentration between 50mg and 80mg faces a three-month driving ban.

“The days of fellas drinking to excess and falling over stools on the way out are gone and I’m delighted of that. But you could end up being a criminal now and your life could be destroyed,” McNamara says.

Last week, Minister of State Finian McGrath drew heavy criticism after he claimed that gardaí have been “over the top” in enforcing the new laws, and claiming Minister for Transport Shane Ross was being namechecked for blame by some gardaí at checkpoints.

McGrath quickly withdrew the remarks and apologised.

While Bertie McNamara thinks there’s a level of exaggeration in the Minister of State’s claims, he reckons there was a hint of the truth as well. “Probably the guards don’t like Shane Ross, and really I don’t know how anyone could like the man.”

Jackson agrees. “A fella in Dublin says ‘Jolly good, old man’ and we’re left with this. There could be more common sense on it I think.”

‘Straight-laced individual’

He thinks the alleged behaviour of any gardaí in enforcing the tougher laws could be explained by individuals “who go beyond what is required and lose the run of themselves”.

He remembers a member of the force who tried to enforce a stricter regime on factory workers travelling from the townland to Waterford city years ago.

“There was this straight-laced individual, he stopped people to check for drink on a Monday morning at half-seven on their way to the factory. There was war over it.”

“It didn’t last long,” Jackson adds.

The pub is a family institution, owned and run by husband and wife Michael and Eileen White, who feel the effects of the changes to the law need to be highlighted more. They bring customers home when it’s possible, but are unable to do this on busier nights.

Paul Gartlan, a Cavan landlord, in Alex Fegan’s film The Irish Pub: rural communities are feeling the pinch under drink-driving laws.
Paul Gartlan, a Cavan landlord, in Alex Fegan’s film The Irish Pub: rural communities are feeling the pinch under drink-driving laws.

It’s a similar situation some 40km away at Moloney’s in Skough, Co Kilkenny.

Owner Willie Moloney (71) says he is “embarrassed” by the drop in business over the past six months, figuring he is down 35 per cent on the same period a year ago. He has expanded his adjacent dairy farm to try to make up for the loss of income.

He describes how he noticed the first major sign of the effect the new laws were having on rural pubs when the turnout at his annual Christmas card game last December was well below normal. His customers are “very open” about their worries arising from the new laws.

Community transport

“Rural Ireland over the years was hopping. But you couldn’t say that any more. It’s not a level playing field unfortunately between us and Dublin in terms of transport. We struggle greatly to get taxis out to here, which I understand from the taxi companies’ point of view.”

In Carbally, there’s a plan to develop a community transport service. “It’ll be down the road I’d say but it is something that we’re working on and it is something that is badly needed,” says Millie Power, treasurer with the Carbally Community Development Project.

The group was formed three years ago with the intention of regenerating Carbally’s community centre, but it has expanded its remit since.

Power says they intend to make the community centre an outlet for people less interested in alcohol, while hoping that improvements in transport and implementing a walking track around the area’s backroads can help people make it to places such as Whites as well.

“People need somewhere to meet, just so they can get out for an hour or two. We’ve a lot of older people in the vicinity and it is so wrong for people to be confined in their homes.”

A number of the locals in the pub believe the wider community, numbering several hundred people, will lose out on oral history if the likes of Bertie McNamara and JJ Jackson stay away.

Local history teacher Lee Hutchinson (36) believes the Government may “destroy” sources of oral history for small communities. “We’re talking about local information that’s being passed from the older generation to a younger generation. Whether it’s fact or fiction or whatever, that’s needed. Especially in a rural area.”