Many rural pubs are virtually deserted on week nights, but there’s a marked pick up on Saturday nights, as most people don’t have to drive the following day.
There’s widespread resentment in the county about “morning after” breath testing as people drive to work, or return to pub car parks for their vehicles, according to publicans.
Pat Gill, of Darby O’Gill’s, on the Mallow side of Killarney, could hardly be investing €2m in his premises — including the upgrading of two bars — at a worse time.
“The situation is very severe at the moment. People are afraid to have even one drink. They’re in absolute fear and it’s a total disgrace,” he said bluntly.
“While I’d never condone drink driving, I believe someone can drink one or two pints and drive away absolutely fine. But, people are now so terrified they won’t come out for a drink. What are people supposed to do for a night out? It’s like a Taliban regime.
“If some bit of commonsense doesn’t come into this whole thing, a lot of pubs will hit the wall. We’re not going to be able to trade. It’s extremely worrying,” he went on.
Mr Gill also said people were now also afraid to have a drink at home because they might fail a random breath test the following morning.
Ann Buckley, of Cahill’s Bar, Rathmore, said trade was “devastated completely” and she had never seen it as bad in her 40 years in the business.
“This pub has been in the family for 110 years and, from going back over the books to times that were supposed to be very bad, I don’t think anything was as bad as this,” she said.
Rural pubs, she said, were now down to one good night, Saturday. Even Sunday night, a traditionally busy night in such pubs, appeared to be on the way out.
Ms Buckley felt that when people got taxis, or had someone drive them home, after a night in a pub, it was “very wrong” that they should have to undergo a test the following day.
“I’ve never seen customers so frightened by anything. The message has well and truly got home at this stage. People are so terrified that the gardaí need not stand on the road any more,” she said.
Kilgarvan publican Danny Healy-Rae called on the gardaí to re-examine the issue of testing people in the mornings.
“Accidents are not happening in the mornings, but at all hours of the night when the gardaí don’t seem to be out at all. Is the minister just sending out these fellows in the morning to use up so many bags?” he asked.
“I believe the wrong people are being targeted in this road safety campaign and many elderly people have become prisoners in their homes, as a result.
“They have no social contact any more. Mental institutions may have to be opened up again because of all the problems that are going to be created by loneliness and isolation. It looks as if small pubs are rapidly going the way of small shops and will soon be closed,” he said.