A group of Irish councillors has passed a proposal suggesting that rural residents receive permits allowing them to drink and drive. The measure, voted on by Kerry Country Council, is intended to fight depression and suicide in isolated rural communities. The independent Councillor Danny Healy-Rae, who tabled the motion, said that it "might give people something to live for."
Healy-Rae told me by telephone, that the permits would allow locals living in remote rural areas to have two to three drinks before driving home. The councillor argued that the risk of accidents would be reduced by insisting that permit-holders drive at very low speeds. Permits would be distributed at the discretion of the police.
The vote passed by five votes to three, with the remainder of the 24 councillors absent or abstaining. The Council will now write to Ireland's justice minister to ask that the current law on drink driving be altered.
Healy-Rae said that the initiative was intended to provide isolated people with a social outlet: "These isolated people are trapped at home, looking at four walls, often with a bottle of whisky. This would be a way to help get these people out, to talk to their communities, to talk about- I don't know- the price of cattle."
Healy-Rae said he tabled the motion in response to requests by his constituents to raise the issue. "People in poor, isolated areas have been left behind. We've had suicides. I'm not saying we can stop all of them with this, but every one we stop is another life saved."
Asked how the two to three drink limit would be enforced, the councillor suggested permit-holders could be trusted: "These people don't break the law- that's why they sit at home at the moment. They won't stab anyone, they won't take drugs."
Kerry mayor, Terry O'Brien who chaired the Council meeting said the he had opposed the motion on the basis it « made no sense ». While saying he had sympathy for Healy-Rae's concerns about rural isolation, the mayor asked, "Who has the authority to judge who can drive home after drinking? A medical doctor couldn't tell you."
Mr O'Brien said the motion had passed because the meeting had been held early in the morning, when most councillors were absent. Three of the five councillors who voted of the motion were publicans, leading some to suggest the councillors' motives were financial. Healy-Rae described this claim as "unfair."
The proposal has quickly come under attack at the national level. Chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, Noel Brett criticised the idea in the Irish Independent, saying the largest number of road deaths occurred in rural areas.
Healy-Rae said he understood that people living in urban areas had concerns about drink driving, but said that, "They live in a different world as far I'm concerned."
The Healy-Raes are a political institution in Kerry, with two generations currently serving as elected representatives. Danny Healy-Rae's father, Jackie was a well-known political deal-maker. In addition to his public duties, Danny Healy-Rae runs the family pub in the tiny town of Kilgarvan. A regular fixture of Kerry local news, Danny Healy-Rae was fined in 2010 for keeping his pub open after hours.