Vintners say rural Ireland needs an urgent sustainable transport solution to combat the effects of new drink-driving legislation.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland is set to make the call tomorrow during its AGM in Cork.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, VFI chief executive, Padraig Cribben, launched a strong attack on the Government, accusing it of abandoning rural communities in the wake of the law changes which were introduced last October.
Previously, drivers who drove above the legal blood-alcohol limit got penalty points. But under the controversial new law, all drink drivers receive an automatic three-month driving disqualification.
But the VFI said the legislation has a "disproportionately negative impact" on rural areas compared to major cities. The VFI also said the lack of clarity about when it’s safe to drive has induced fear in local communities and urgent sustainable transport solutions for rural Ireland are needed.
“If you live in Dublin you can take the DART or Luas but obviously, those options are not available elsewhere,” Mr Cribben said.
The legislation was introduced in isolation without any thought about providing alternative transport solutions for rural communities. Rural Ireland is desperate for access to a sustainable transport service.
A simplified application process for rural hackneys would alleviate some of the problems, the vintners boss said: “The National Transport Authority said in February that it would simplify the licence application process but three months on all we have is the promise of a limited pilot programme.
“An Uber-style rural taxi service was also mooted but we see scant progress. What we have is warm words but no action."
In the meantime, the VFI said it is repeating its call for the introduction of ‘limited’ licences for drivers convicted in the 50mg-80mg range.
“Limited licences have proven successful in countries like New Zealand where if a person convicted of a driving offence can prove disqualification will cause undue hardship to their family they can apply for a licence that allows them to drive to and from work.
“We think this system should be introduced in Ireland for a first offence and we have submitted a proposal to the Department of Transport outlining how it could work," Mr Cribben said.
Mr Cribben added: “While rural areas continue to decline, we hear nothing constructive from Government. The blatant disregard for rural communities beggars belief.
“While the desire to reduce road fatalities is laudable, the new drink-driving legislation has instilled fear into local communities particularly with the increased use of checkpoints during the so-called ‘morning after’.
“Six months on since the law was changed road fatalities have actually increased, which would suggest that instead of targeting rural communities during the morning Garda resources would be more productive elsewhere."