Drivers in rural areas could soon be picking up extra cash by dropping customers home from the pub.
The Transport Minister is considering the introduction of a ‘community car’ scheme that would see designated drivers paid a fee to get customers home safely.
Minister Ross is looking at a range of options in response to concerns over the effect of the strict new drink driving legislation he is attempting to bring through the Oireachtas.
If passed, the drink-driving bill would see an automatic driving ban for first-time offenders detected at the lowest limit.
The proposal has been welcomed by road safety activists and the RSA – however it has seen strong opposition from the drinks industry.
Rural politicians have also warned that the bill will lead to further isolation for those in remote locations, who cannot easily get themselves home.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Minister Ross said he now believes it is “very likely” that the bill will achieve majority support in the Oireachtas.
“Initially we thought there was going to be a lot of difficulties with it because there was a lot of pressure from lobby groups on TDs to vote against it,” he said.
“That seems to have lessened at the moment.”
He said the Cabinet is “absolutely united behind it,” alongside Fine Gael and “four out of five” members of the independent Alliance.
“Smaller parties are behind it, Sinn Féin are behind so I think the only opposition left appears to be Fianna Fáil.
He said the Labour Party still has to make a decision alongside some independents “mostly from rural Ireland.”
“That is all,” he said. “I think we are heading for a majority but I am not certain.”
He said plans to alleviate the effect of the bill on rural Ireland are “in their infancy” but insisted his taking the issue of social isolation very seriously.
Some of the measures under consideration include free fizzy drinks for designated drivers, making breath tests available in pubs and introducing more rural hackney licences where there are not enough taxis.
The government is also assessing insurance costs for publicans driving their own customers home:
“I don’t expect it to be totally free of charge to anybody of course – because there may be insurance complications as well,” he said.
“If you get into a situation where publicans take people home, they may be acting in a commercial way, which might change their insurance premiums.
“So, we haven’t got down to the costs. We don’t think it will be very expensive because what we will be looking for, first of all, is for the communities to help themselves.”
"Not financially viable"
However Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae told Newstalk Breakfast that there are a number of practical difficulties with the idea:
He warned that it is “not financially viable" for a publican to leave the bar to take customers home - especially where they are living in separate locations.
"How practical is it for the publican to say to the rest of the people 'I have to leave the bar now for a while because I have to do a run?'" he asked.
You can listen back to Minister Ross’ appearance on the Pat Kenny Show here: