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Kerry Council Slammed For Drink-Driving Vote

An Irish council that voted to allow drink-driving has been slammed for dragging the country back to "a darker day".

Road safety chiefs attacked Kerry councillors' "unthinkable" backing for special permits to excuse rural dwellers from nationwide drink-driving limits.

Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority , said the scientific and medical evidence proving that alcohol impairs driving is irrefutable.

"On that basis it is unthinkable that we would go back to a system that sought to increase our drink-drive limit," he said.

Describing the motion as "off-the-wall", Mr Brett said a change in attitudes and behaviour towards drink-driving had made a significant dent in road deaths over recent years.

"That is what is saving lives and proposals such as this bring us back to a much darker day," he said.

The drink-drive motion was passed, with 12 councillors absent from the chamber and another seven abstaining from the vote.

The five who voted in favour - Danny Healy-Rae, his son Johnny Healy-Rae, Michael Cahill, Bobby O'Connell and Michael O'Shea - are all publicans, former publicans or connected to the pub trade.

Kerry County Council will now ask Justice Minister Alan Shatter to issue licences that would allow people living in remote countryside to drive home from their nearest pub "after having two or three drinks on little-used roads, driving at very low speeds".

Councillor Danny Healy-Rae, the publican who proposed the motion, claimed the move would "greatly benefit" and even prevent suicide and depression among those who felt isolated because of more stringent drink-driving legislation.

But Conor Cullen, spokesman for Alcohol Action Ireland , said: "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.

The Irish Department of Transport has signalled its opposition to the Kerry proposals.

A spokesman said: "Unfortunately, rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland.

"We need to be looking at how to make our roads safer, particularly in rural areas, instead of trying to reverse existing measures which are clearly working."

Ireland introduced random breathtesting at police checkpoints in 2006 and lower drink-drive limits in 2011.

Latest figures show 161 people lost their lives on Irish roads last year, a record low at 25 fewer than 2011 and 51 less than 2010.