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Ireland in uproar over call for 'drink-driving permits' to combat depression

Permits allowing people to drink alcohol then drive should be issued to make it easier for those in isolated, rural areas to visit the pub, according to a motion passed by a local government in Ireland.

Kerry County Council, which governs an area with a population of more than 120,000, is to formally ask the Irish government to allow some drivers to have the equivalent of up to three pints of beer.

The motion -- passed by five votes to three with seven abstentions –-- said this would “greatly benefit people living alone looking at four walls and restore some bit of social activity in local pubs and may also help prevent depression and suicide.”

The idea has been condemned by leading politicians, including Ireland's Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, so it appears unlikely to be adopted. Kerry does not have the power to change the law itself, the country's justice department stressed.

However, Danny Healy-Rae, the councilor behind the motion, was sticking to his guns Thursday.

Healy-Rae, who runs a pub in the village of Kilgarvan, said because people couldn’t drink alcohol in pubs then drive home, they were instead buying it in supermarkets and drinking at home. This could lead to a downward spiral that ended with some taking their own lives, he argued.

“I know of instances where the local garda [police] have to call out to these people to see if they are all right, to see if they are still there,” he said.

'Wouldn't harm or hurt anyone'

Healy-Rae said that under his plan the permits would be issued only to people in isolated rural areas who use narrow country roads where it is difficult to travel faster than 25 or 30 mph. Police would decide who was eligible to drink the equivalent of two or three pints of Guiness and then drive.

“You have to travel the roads and travel the terrain to understand -- honestly what I’m suggesting … it wouldn’t harm or hurt anyone,” he said.

"It would allow these people to meet with their friends and neighbors and to discuss the topics of the day, the price of cattle and whatever,” he said.

The mayor of Kerry, Terry O’Brien, was among the three councilors who voted against the idea.

Asked why, he said “because it’s absolute lunacy to allow anybody behind the wheel of a car with a drink in them.”

“We’ve come a long way from those days,” he added.

O’Brien said wearily he had been “on the phone for the last two days explaining that.”

Varadkar admitted rural isolation was a problem, but added “the solution to it is not to hand out drink-driving permits. Obviously it's something we very much disagree with," according to the Irish Independent newspaper.

"Most of the accidents that are happening are happening in rural areas and on country roads," he added.

The number of people who died on Irish roads is at a record low, with 161 people killed in 2012, down from 186 in 2011.

Varadkar's comments prompted a fighting response from Healy-Rae, who said Varadkar was refusing to help ease the plight of people who were “greatly suffering from rural isolation.”

“He’ll be judged accordingly by those people in the upcoming election,” the councilor said.

“We’ll have to keep the fight on because I’ve got massive support right around the country and from different countries around the world,” he added.