Cormac MacConnell: Why pub taxis can be a rural lifesaver

Rural publicans will have to arrange transport for their patrons, if the mandatory suspension of all drivers who fail the breath test arrives, as expected.

There are major scandals in the carpeted corridors of power in Dublin at the time of writing, with new developments about every hour, as the Government totters in a hot week.

But I, as a countryman, am still more engaged by the provincial implications of Transport Minister Shane Ross’s move to have a mandatory driving suspension imposed on all drivers found to have been driving whilst over the limit.

The road death toll strongly supports the thrust of the Minister’s drive to have mandatory suspensions imposed upon all drivers who fail the breath test, rather than the current system of fines and penalty points.

Assuming that our fragile Government survives this week and a few months to come, it is most likely that the Minister’s move will become the law of the land soon.

One has to instantly concede that if Shane Ross’s strategy saves even one or two extra lives from joining the mortality list, that is a move in the right direction.

One has also to say that this Minister has a track record on about every issue of being right and proper in his political positions.

Whilst he has been behind the scenes and silent at the start of this political week, I also hold the view that some position which he will adopt in the future, again a correct position on some as yet obscure issue, is more likely than anything occurring just now to fell the Government of which he is a member.

Time will tell. A potentially pure truth.

However, when one widens the focus in relation to mandatory driving suspensions for drink driving in rural Ireland, one encounters immediately a host of connected issues and problems.

In an increasingly more sparsely populated countryside in all four provinces, with an ageing population, and fewer public services such as shops and banks and Post Offices, it is a fact for most of us who live in the country that the local pub is infinitely more a social and community centre than a mere bar.

It is equally true that, in the normal absence of available taxis and hackneys in many areas, and few or no buses at night, countrymen of all occupations and ages need their cars and driving licences infinitely more than town or city dwellers.

That, for sure, is the pure truth.

I have lived and worked in all the provinces and, truthfully, have known many decent people living in remote locations everywhere who can easily go through the length of a day, even days, without any social contact.

Often, these people have been farmers, maybe the son who stayed at home to care for aged parents, left alone after they passed on, genuinely lonesome afterwards.

Such men and women have always used their local pubs as community centres for conversation and craic and life, far more than the source of pints of porter.

The stricter drink-driving laws of recent years, even before this latest move, have terrorised many of them into staying at home and often, sadly, alone and drinking far more heavily, on supermarket slabs and spirits.

There is a very real and terribly sad rural suicide spike linked to that reality.

One could argue easily that this new suspension strategy will save lives on the roads of rural Ireland, but maybe lead to the loss of more at home. I think that is likely enough.

Hundreds of country pubs have closed down across the country in the last decade and more. The stricter drink-driving regulations, the recession, and the linked emigration from the parishes, have all contributed.

Ironically, Minister Ross’s move comes at a time when the publicans of the land have again been arguing they should be allowed open on Good Fridays.

That’s a perennial thing. However, it is equally true that far too many rural publicans have almost criminally failed their customers down the years, by not looking after their welfare at the end of the night. 

But the “good” publicans, and I know many, have always ensured that their regulars who took a drink too many got home safe and sound. 

Often they brought them home themselves, in the absence of taxi services, and many would bring them back to their cars the following day. That is the heartening truth too and, because of it, those pubs, however remote, still do a good trade.

Their colleagues who do not follow that practice, and have suffered accordingly, could balance the effects of incoming mandatory suspensions, by organising shuttle buses, or car pools where necessary.

I am certain that the overwhelming majority of their customers would not grudge paying a little bit extra for their drinks, for example, for the establishment of an ad hoc fund for safely getting home.

This is a problem that could be relatively easily solved, by some of the genuine goodwill on both sides of the bar that has been, for so long, so important to rural living.

I will leave it at that.



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