Will drink-driving proposals destroy rural Westmeath?

Mixed reaction locally to proposed lowering of drink-driving limits

Government proposals to lower the drink-driving limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood have met with mixed reaction locally, with many concerned that the implementation of the new legislation will sound the death knell for rural pubs.

While Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey appears determined to press ahead with his proposal to reduce the legal limit, in spite of divided opinion within his own party, debate was rife at local level this week on the potential effects of the move.

Athlone’s Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran was one of the first to voice his opposition, saying the move would “kill off pubs altogether”.

“I have never had as many people contact me about an issue. I have been speaking to publicans from Glasson to Baylough to the centre of town,” he said.

“I am not in favour of drink driving, but I know that business is bad for publicans. If you talk to any publican, they are frightened.

“I think the Minister needs to go down the country and see what people do on a Sunday evening. It’s the only way for people to get out. You might have a wife having one drink while her husband has a few pints, or vice versa, and now they are hit with this. I see nothing wrong with people going to the pub after work and drinking one pint. Yes, be responsible when out on the road, but we have to be a small bit open.

“Great work is being done to bring down the death toll. There is a good campaign out there at the moment; let’s not kill off pubs altogether.”

However, Moate-based Irish Rural Link, which campaigns for sustainable rural development, has come out strongly in favour of the reduction in the limit.

“Our position is very clear. We agree with Minister Dempsey’s proposals, which are in tune with international limits. We regard safety as a number one priority, and safety means drinking and driving are not compatible,” said Seamus Boland of Irish Rural Link.

“In order to tackle rural isolation, we would call on the Vintners Federation [VFI] and the Government to sit down together and have a meaningful discussion regarding the problems facing rural pubs and communities.

“Reducing the alcohol level from 80mg to 50mg won’t save rural pubs, but it might save lives,” he added.

Meanwhile cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Fine Gael’s Cllr Fintan Cooney, said it was difficult to be opposed to any plan that could reduce the number of deaths on the road.

“I can see the negative impact on rural communities of reducing the limit, but it is very hard to oppose anything that will improve safety on our roads. The statistics show that drink is a factor in the majority of accidents. I don’t know if there is any other way around it.”

Cllr Cooney added that while many people may be capable of driving carefully after one drink, there had to be one standard for everyone.

“I work in a rural area, and many of my clients go for a drink and drive home. While I don’t think they will be causing any accidents, you can’t have one rule for people who are responsible and another for those who are not. I would certainly like to see more Garda patrols on the roads.”

While reluctant to take an official line before the proposed legislation comes out, Senator Nicky McFadden said she was disappointed there might be a six-month delay before the proposals come to light.

“I heard a commentator on the radio say that because of the delay in the Government bringing the bill forward, another 10 lives may be lost.

“I am interested in any possible way of reducing deaths on the roads,” she added.

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