Miriam Lord: Michael Healy-Rae gets on board the Local Link

Kerry Independents fume at drink-driving restrictions on rural socialising

Michael Healy-Rae: has he done a U-turn in his attitude to Local Link transport? Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Michael Healy-Rae: has he done a U-turn in his attitude to Local Link transport? Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The nurses may be out on strike and Brexit may be breathing down our necks but let us not forget the continuing plight of the scandalised innocents of rural Kerry, regularly enduring mortification by association as squads of Government-backed Garda blockade their boreens to check they aren’t driving over the alcohol limit.

Thankfully, there are some who will never forget. Never, as long as there is a Mattie in every month, a Healy with every Rae and a Winston for every Churchtown.

On Wednesday, it was the turn of Danny Healy-Rae to remind the Dáil how these abstemious people are being cast as drink-addled morning drivers by a heartless State acting on the cruel orders of Shane Ross, aka Winston Churchtown.

He told the Taoiseach how Winston’s Road Traffic Bill “has changed rural Ireland forever and the social fabric that was known to the people of rural Ireland has been blown to smithereens”.

Leo Varadkar appeared unconcerned.

People taking their children to school in the morning – women that never drank – are being stopped and they’re outraged at what’s happening

“Many people have found they can’t socialise and meet their friends and do the things that they have done traditionally since the foundation of the State,” fulminated Danny, adding that the much-vaunted rural Local Link night bus is not up to scratch.

Despite all the promises, an extension of the services has failed to materialise.

What has materialised is plenty of checkpoints with gardaí checking people going about their daily business.

“An elderly man last week was stopped coming home from Mass bringing his invalided wife home.”

Absolutely ridiculous carry-on, cried DHR. “People taking their children to school in the morning – women that never drank – are being stopped and they’re outraged at what’s happening.”

Which raises the question: should women who take a drink just suck it up?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was urged by one correspondent to “take a leaf out of Thatcher’s book” in relation to Brexit negotiations. Photograph: Tom Honan
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on rural checkpoints: 'It is about catching people who are burglarising people’s homes and farms and businesses.' Photograph: Tom Honan

People vs Garda

Leo’s Government has “turned the people against the gardaí”.

The legislation, which replaced penalty points with an automatic ban for first-time offenders caught driving just above the limit, was finally passed by the Dáil last July following a fierce rearguard action by a number of rural Independent TDs.

Danny has not forgotten the battle and neither he nor his brother Michael waste an opportunity to remind the Kerry electorate that their constituency rivals were not on the same side.

“I must correct deputy Brassil who said on Kerry radio this morning that Fianna Fáil abstained. That is not true – 11 Fianna Fáil Deputies voted for the Bill and that’s the truth.”

He added the Bill is also hitting provisional drivers because they can’t drive unaccompanied yet need a car to get to college or work or sports training.

The unhappy rural Independents got no succour from the Taoiseach, who reminded them the laws are to do with road safety

“What about their insurance?” the aforementioned John Brassil wondered aloud.

There was an ominous pause. Then Danny wheeled around, pointed straight at him with outstretched biro and let out an unmerciful howl.

“I never interrupted you and that’s the kind of blackguarding that you’re at when I’m representing the people of Kerry here. All you’re doing is interrupting me and that’s not fair.”

In fairness, young people in urban areas can avail of public transport much of the time.

These young people need to get on the road as soon as possible but, as Healy-Rae explained, they have to wait nine months for a driving test.

The unhappy rural Independents got no succour from the Taoiseach who reminded them the laws are to do with road safety.

“Last year fewer people died on our roads than in any year since records began and it is in rural Ireland where the lives are being saved. That is historically where most road traffic deaths have happened.”

He understands the new rules make it more difficult for people to get out for a social drink, which is why Local Link was established.

Political ploy

Then he looked across at the Healy-Raes, noting they criticised the initiative when it was introduced. “I’m glad to see that you now want that to continue and to be extended.”

MHR bridled. “None of us criticised it!”

Oh, yes they did. Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, directed them to read a 2017 news report where he dismissed it as a “political ploy”.

Varadkar then got stuck into DHR’s annoyance at the Garda checkpoints, which are not carried out under “political direction”. They aren’t just to catch people for drink- or drug-driving, or to check for tax and insurance.

Having previously described the bus scheme as 'a load of nonsense', Heydon was delighted to hear in the Dáil that Michael Healy-Rae now supports it

“It is also about denying the freedom of the road to people who are committing crimes . . . It is about catching people who are burglarising people’s homes and farms and businesses.”

Be that as it may, Danny was not happy.

“Taoiseach, you are hurting a lot of good people, good-living people” who “ never do harm or never do wrong on the road or never created or caused a fatality or did anything wrong”.

DHR finished up by taking a swipe at Public Enemy Number One: Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport.

His new law was about saving lives?”

“I’ll tell you what ‘twas about - ‘twas about saving Ross.” To keep him sweet at election time.

He challenged the Taoiseach to take Ross along with him, door to door, at the next election and see what reception he gets around the country.

Leo was unfazed. People who haven’t broken the law have nothing to fear. However, he conceded that the waiting lists for driving tests must be tackled.

Long grass

Meanwhile, John Brassil was waiting in the long grass for Danny after his jibes at Leader’s Questions.

“I think it’s interesting that on a day when the nurses in Kerry are down striking in the cold for improved terms and conditions that my colleague would choose the opportunity, the unique and influential opportunity, to raise his support for drink-driving,” he remarked.

Danny wasn’t in the chamber, but his brother Michael was on hand to defend his honour, loudly.

“It would serve you well to mind your own business,” he roared, up on his feet. And his poor defenceless brother, who had prefaced his earlier contribution by expressing support for the nurses, not there to defend himself.

Danny Healy-Rae claimed that “the social fabric of rural Ireland has been blown to smithereens”. File photograph: PA
Danny Healy-Rae claimed that the checkpoints were doing more harm than good. File photograph: PA

“Don’t be paying lip service to the issue now and trying to be a smart alec,” fumed MHR.

He was incandescent. The heat under his cap must have been Vesuvian.

The Ceann Comhairle struggled to maintain order.

“I am very sorry, but he’s a smart alec, or he tries to be one,” whinged Michael.

“Deputy Brassil without interruption, please.”

“But he’s goading me . . .”

Mattie McGrath was riding shotgun.

John Brassil had no business attacking Danny during Leader’s Questions. “It’s his tough luck that he’s not the leader.”

As the Healy-Rae hissy fits were in full swing, Fine Gael’s Martin Heydon was already rushing out a press release for their benefit headed “Heydon welcomes Healy Rae’s U-turn on Local Link”.

Having previously described the bus scheme on Prime Time as “a load of nonsense”, Heydon was delighted to hear in the Dáil that Michael Healy-Rae now supports it – “a late but welcome development”.

Now that’s goading.