Friday Fun: Only in Ireland… Drunk Driving Permits to be Issued

At the dinner table, the young lad said to his father, “Dad, are we Irish?” And the father sharply responded, “shut-up and drink your whiskey.” I love that joke. It’s my birthright.

And it is in that same spirit that I want to congratulate Ireland, specifically, Kerry County, for passing an ordnance that creates what the Irish are calling, unfortunately, the “drunken driving permit.” No, I am certainly not advocating for drunk driving, but the motion backed by Kerry county councilors would allow police to issue permits that override the current legal limit. Councilor Danny Healy-Rae, who proposed the motion, said it would only apply to “older people” who “are being isolated now at home, and a lot of them falling into depression.” Mr. Healy-Rae, who was one of five Kerry County Council members who voted for the motion pointed out that only three had the guts to vote against the measure with seven councilors abstaining and twelve others who didn’t even show up. Apparently, there are several members of Kerry’s town council with presidential aspirations.

Mr. Healy-Rae, who also happens to own a pub and comes from Kerry’s most influential political family, says farmers “should be allowed to drive tipsy on their tractors” because they can’t go fast enough to kill anyone –and the odds of them even seeing anyone are next to zero. He said those drinking two to three pints at their local pub should be issued a permit allowing them to drive home so long as they stay below 30 mph.

And there you have it.

Obviously, the new law’s detractors are horrified and point out that the action amounts to handing out permits that allow drunk driving. Justice Minister Alan Shatter shot down the proposal during a speech in parliament Thursday as “grossly irresponsible.” “There is no question of this government, or indeed I don’t believe any future government, facilitating individuals drinking in excess of the blood alcohol limits,” Shatter told lawmakers. But the backers say the measure is needed to combat an epidemic of boredom and depression on farms ever since Ireland imposed tough new blood-alcohol limits on drivers in 2011. FYI, for the Americans reading this post, the legal limit in Ireland is .5. In other words, the legal limit essentially prohibits drinking outside of one’s home.

A generation ago, drunken driving was commonplace in Ireland. But over time the country has steadily improved its road safety standards, introducing mandatory driving tests, blood and breath tests and above all a penalty-points system that takes licenses away from dangerous drivers, especially drunks. The effort has slashed road-related fatalities from more than 400 annually in the 1990s to just 162 in 2012, a modern low for a country of 4.6 million.

Kerry County pub owners say their business has plummeted right along with that nationwide carnage — yet deny any connection between the two trends. And they’re not altogether nuts for making that assertion. As said, the condition of Ireland’s roads today versus what they were just 15 years ago is night and day. So when they describe the often narrow and lightly trafficked roads near their businesses as safe for people to navigate even after three pints of beer, and when they point out that more than 90% of the referenced fatalities occurred in highly trafficked urban areas, they’re simply applying their own local experiences –which don’t include fatal driving accidents related to alcohol. Apparently, farmers who like to drink a few pints and tell an old story are safer behind their tractor’s wheel than the rest of us are behind the wheel of a car, regardless of whether we’re impaired.

Does that really surprise you?

The pub owners point out that farmers “are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind. 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.” “These older people might as well be living in Japan or Jerusalem, because the younger generation don’t see them at all anymore.”

But alas, the government emphasized that Kerry’s motion would be dead on arrival. “While rural isolation is a real problem,” said Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, “the solution to it is not to hand out drink-driving permits.”

________

Three expats are sitting in a bar:

“As good as this is,” said the Scotsman, “I still prefer the pubs back home. In Glasgow, there’s a wee place called McTavish’s. The landlord goes out of his way for the locals. When you buy four drinks, he’ll buy the fifth. “Well, Angus,” said the Englishman, “at my local pub in London, the Red Lion, the barman will buy you your third drink after you buy the first two.” “Ahhh, dat’s nothin’,” said the Irishman, “back home in my favorite pub, the moment you set foot in the place, they’ll buy you a drink, then another, all the drinks you like, actually. Then, when you’ve had enough drinks, they’ll take you upstairs and see dat you gets an intimate ending to your evening –if you get me meaning– and it’s all on the house! The Englishman and Scotsman were suspicious of the claims, but the Irishman swore every word was true. “Did this actually happen to you?” they asked. “No not meself, personally, no,” admitted the Irishman,”but it did happen to me sister quite a few times.”

________

It’s a shame that Mr. Healy-Rae and his colleagues didn’t consider a slightly lower profile and more discreet tactic. Whether or not the town councilors are familiar with the concept of a designated driver is unknown to me, but there were undoubtedly other, more discreet options, they might have considered.

Leave it to the Irish to step up and essentially invite a barrage of insults aimed squarely at its own stereotype. One thing is for sure: in a country where “slagging” is an art form and the humor tends to be quite dry and self-deprecating, I’m not the slightest bit worried about how they’ll handle it.

 

—Tom Finn

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