The Kerry County Council in southwest Ireland has passed a controversial measure that could make it legal for some rural drivers to get behind the wheel after knocking back a few stiff drinks. While only three council members voted "no" on the proposed legislation, five apparently support the creation of special permits for driving in sparsely populated areas while intoxicated, according to the Guardian.
Nationwide, Ireland has been cracking down on drunken driving, according to Irish news outlet Independent.ie, which reports that drivers are now allowed only 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, "equivalent to drinking less than one pint of beer." But permits proposed in the Kerry measure would allow rural residents to consume "two or three drinks," per the Guardian.
Councillor Danny Healy-Rae , who spearheaded the motion, claimed that citizens drinking and driving in rural areas had "never killed anyone" and argued that the permits would actually help prevent "a lot of them falling into depression," reports Irish news site TheJournal.ie.
Healy-Rae also owns a pub in County Kerry, according to the Guardian.
“A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their licence,” Healy-Rae told TheJournal.ie.
The website also noted that 12 Kerry councillors were not present at the time of voting, and that seven abstained from voting on the measure.
The council's measure is only the first step for proponents of the plan, however. The council still has to petition Justice Minister Alan Shatter to issue the special permits, reports the Independent.
County Kerry's move prompted harsh criticism from Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority in Ireland.
"It is unthinkable that we would go back to a system that sought to increase our drink-drive limit," Brett told Independent.ie. "We have made substantial progress in Ireland in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads, particularly in rural areas which are hardest hit by road fatalities and injuries."
The BBC reports that alcohol awareness organization Alcohol Action Ireland also moved quickly to condemn Healy-Rae's motion by noting that "almost one in three crash deaths in Ireland is alcohol-related."
Alcohol Action spokesman Conor Cullen disputed Healy-Rae's claim that drunken driving laws are leading to the increased isolation and depression of older, rural Irish citizens.
"It should be noted that the link between alcohol use and suicide has been well established and alcohol will exacerbate, not alleviate any mental health difficulties that a person may be struggling with, such as depression or anxiety," Cullen told the BBC. “Those in rural areas who may be suffering from isolation will not benefit from putting their lives and the lives of the other members of their community at risk by drinking and driving.”