A local authority has backed a call for “gardaí permits” to be issued to allow rural dwellers have a drink or two above the legal limits.
Kerry County Council approved a motion to allow “less severe drink driving regulations” for people in rural areas.
The drink-drive limit is 50mg for all drivers and 20mg for learner or newly qualified drivers.
However, the council supported a call for rural gardaí to issue permits to allow people in rural areas drive on little-used roads from their local pub after having “two or three drinks” and travelling at very low speeds.
The motion, put forward by Independent councillor Danny Healy-Rae, was narrowly passed by elected members, although quite a number of councillors abstained.
The councillor asked for “a special derogation” for rural drivers, including drivers of small tractors, to allow them to have two or three drinks.
Mr Healy-Rae called for legislation which would allow rural gardaí to issue such permits.
The councillor, who is a Kilgarvan publican, was supported by other publicans/councillors at the meeting, who insisted they were not acting as vested interests but out of genuine concern for elderly rural dwellers.
The meeting heard strict drink-driving laws were leading to isolation which, in some cases, was a factor in suicide, said Mr Healy-Rae.
It was unfair, he said, to impose the same restrictions on fellows with small tractors and jeeps as on commercial lorry drivers.
“These vehicles wouldn’t be exceeding 30km/h on third-class tertiary roads and cul-de-sacs,” Mr Healy-Rae said.
“There’s no reason a fellow could not drive his small tractor to collect his messages, have a few drinks and go away home.”
Gardaí — if any were to be left in rural areas — would manage the permits, he suggested.
Fine Gael’s Bobby O’Connell, a Castleisland publican, strongly supported the motion.
“Rural isolation is a big problem. People are afraid to go out,” he said.
Fianna Fáil councillor and Milltown publican Michael O’Shea agreed, as did Michael Cahill, a Rossbeigh licensee and councillor.
But Labour’s Gillian Wharton Slattery strongly objected to the linking of suicide with not being able to drink.
Alcohol and drugs were huge factors in depression which, in turn, contributed to suicide, she stated.
Most of the councillors abstained in the vote.
Council officials are now to write to the Department of Justice seeking the introduction of rural permits.
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