Sinn Féin TD for Offaly Carol Nolan is calling on the Government to put in place measures to incentivise local private transport operators or hospitality service providers to operate shuttle services from outlying rural areas to local towns and villages.
Deputy Nolan states that whilst there is a common good to be achieved by cracking down on drink driving, there is an obligation on the State to mitigate the impact on rural dwellers and rural businesses.
"It is incumbent on the Government to counter the social isolation imposed on rural people resulting from lower drink driving restrictions, by incentivising local transport providers or hostelries to provide local shuttle services from rural areas into and out of local villages and towns," she said.
"Access to community life and social networks is an integral part of everyone’s life, both urban and rural and many of these social gatherings involve alcohol. Having a meal in a restaurant, attending family gatherings in each other’s homes, birthday parties, weddings and socialising in a pub, are social events where many people partake of alcoholic beverages."
"People living in urban centres can engage in these activities within walking distance of their homes or by using public transport or taxi services. Rural areas simply do not have this infrastructure and the provision of such is an indicator of a progressive rural society. Such services are essential not just to service local residents, but also to accommodate the tourists to whom we are marketing our growing rural tourism products," Carol continued.
Deputy Nolan suggests that a menu of possible response measures must be put in place, as all local conditions cannot be shoe-horned into one standard solution.
"Some localities may be able to sustain a scheduled minibus shuttle services whilst others may work better with an on-demand response service. Other options to be explored include a car collection pick-up and drop-off service provided directly by the hostelry. Incentives may include VRT, VAT or Income Tax Relief; travel vouchers, Capital grants for community transport providers; employment scheme eligibility; and group insurance schemes," she suggested.
"There are many innovative responses which can be mobilised to address this problem in rural areas which simply requires political will and a comprehensive stimulus package."
Deputy Nolan concluded, “I will be prevailing upon Minister Ross to treat the issue of rural transport with the same degree of gravitas as he does the transport logistics of the Capital. The farmers who produce the fillet steaks for the diners in the leafy suburbs of Dublin, deserve no less opportunity to wine and dine in their local restaurants. Rural transport is a necessary component to redressing such rural inequities.”