Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross TD, today met with key stakeholders* representing rural Ireland and transport groups to discuss ways of addressing transport in rural Ireland in order to enhance social life and combat rural isolation.
Minister Ross said;
“We all know that there are more alternatives to using one’s own car in urban than in rural areas. Some possible solutions are car-sharing, vintner-provided transport, or wider rural transport solutions, but there are challenges for all of these options. If solving the problem was easy it would have been done long ago, but I am heartened to hear some possible, and in some cases innovative, ideas from stakeholders today. These will be followed up with a view to analysing how effective they may be in tackling the problem.”
The meeting was initiated by the Minister in response to matters raised following publication of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Bill proposes to ensure that all drivers guilty of drink driving will receive a disqualification, whereas at present some drivers are permitted to receive penalty points instead. The evidence is that this Bill has widespread support, including in rural areas, which have suffered particularly from the effects of drink driving.
During the discussion of the Bill, queries were raised about the impact of the proposal on social life in rural Ireland. While the Minister has emphasised that the Bill will in fact have a positive impact on rural areas, which suffer disproportionately from drink driving deaths, the Minister has also indicated that there are quite separate but real issues to do with rural isolation which need to be examined. Transport is a major factor in these issues.
Minister Ross said ‘We often talk of transport in economic terms, but we need to remember that it is essential to social life. In the course of discussion of my proposal to eliminate the scandal of allowing drink drivers to get penalty points instead of a disqualification, a number of people have raised the issue of social life – particularly getting to and from the pub – in rural Ireland. While I do not for a moment accept that my proposal will be damaging to rural Ireland, I do agree that there is an issue of social isolation in rural areas and a need for creative thinking to help people get out and about, meet friends and have a drink, and get home safely.
I convened this gathering of key rural and transport groups to explore the issues and look creatively at possible solutions. I do not expect instant answers, but I do believe that together we have taken an important step, and that together we can find a way forward which can promote better – and safe – access to social life for people living in rural Ireland.’
Present were members of:
Irish Countrywoman’s Association
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association
Irish Farmers Association
Irish Rural Link
Licensed Vintners Association
National Transport Authority
Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland
Vintners Federation of Ireland