A local council in County Kerry, Ireland, passed a measure Monday night in favor of loosening drunk-driving laws for residents in rural areas of the country. Councilor Danny Healy-Rae, who proposed the motion, argued that allowing people to consume two to three pints at the local pub prior to driving home would be beneficial for the community. “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 license,” he said in an interview with the online Irish news publication the Journal.ie.
The proposal has not been welcomed by the national government. The head of the Road Safety Authority called it “unthinkable,” and cautioned that “proposals such as this bring us back to a much darker day.” The Department of Transportation likewise indicated its opposition, citing a decline in traffic fatalities over the last several years since checkpoints were introduced and the legal blood-alcohol limit was lowered (it is currently “roughly equivalent to less than one pint of beer” for the average person according to the Journal.ie.)
Healy-Rae paints the current law as contributing to the breakdown of social cohesion in rural Ireland:
These people that are being isolated at present, all the wisdom and all the wit and all the culture that they had, the music and the singing, that’s all being lost to the younger generation because these older people might as well be living in Japan and Jerusalem because the younger generation don’t see them at all anymore.
These characters are being isolated now at home, and a lot of them falling into depression. . . .
I know there’ll be opposition. I know that it will be people in urban areas who have access to different outlets than the pub, but in rural parishes, that’s all we have — we don’t have anything else. All they want to do [here] is talk to neighbours, talk to friends, play cards, talk about the match and the price of cattle, about such a lady going out with such a fella, and it’s harmless.
According to a report in the Irish Times published last year, pub culture has been fading away across Ireland in recent years:
It isn’t all that long since the pub held a society in thrall. Birthday, Communion and funeral ceremonies would eventually make their way to its darkened interiors. Family members would be despatched to drag reluctant drinkers out of their locals. Early risers joined all-nighters for a pint on the way to work. People boasted about being locked into small, dank rooms for the night with a set of beer taps.
Now pubs are closing at a rate of one every two days — more than 1,100 since 2005. Their decline has frequently been cited as yet another example of rural decay, but pubs in all areas, and of all types, are calling time. . . .
But along with the economic factors, Byrne [a pub owner] spotted the same cultural shift remarked upon by others. “That element of Irish character — sociability — is slowly dying out. People are not doing that same social thing that they used to.”
In place of regulars communing at the bar about local matters, Byrne says his customers were more likely to be “young people who got hammered at home on cheap vodka and beer”.