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Last orders in rural pubs?

News Features

VFI welcome rural transport initiative

Anton McNulty

THE proposal by Minister Eamon Ó Cuív TD to introduce a rural transport scheme to accommodate rural pubs has been welcomed by the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), but they have yet to be informed how the scheme will be implemented.Dr Mick Loftus
Last week Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, indicated that the Government planned to introduce measures before the General Election to counter the demise of rural pubs. He said that extending the hours of the existing rural transport scheme may be a solution to the problem which has affected rural dwellers and pub-owners since the introduction of random breath-testing.
Mr Marty O’Hora, chairman of the Mayo branch of the VFI, said he welcomed any sort of transport system, but was not sure how it will operate. He said he was in touch with the VFI leadership and they confirmed they have yet to meet with anybody from the Minister’s department.
“We welcome the proposal, but we do not know what is involved, if it will be door to door or if people will have to go to the main roads to get a bus. We are not sure what is inside the Minister’s head and what buses will be used. It is all pie in the sky at the moment, but we will welcome it if it helps and benefits everyone,” he said
Mr O’Hora said that pubs in Mayo are being unfairly targeted, given that statistics show that most road accidents in the county occur between 1am and 5am, when pubs are closed.
In the last eleven months alone, 226 vintners members have gone out of business with many people now opting to drink at home, he pointed out.
The proposal was also welcomed by Fianna Fáil General Election candidate, Mr Dara Calleary who said it will provide a platform for discussion on the problem of rural isolation.
“This proposal is not an alcohol-centred idea. The intention of the Rural Nitelink mirrors that of the Rural Transport Initiative, which is already operating successfully in Mayo. The intention is to assist rural people who have no means of transport – be it personal or public – to get out in the evenings, and keep in touch with their community. For some this will mean a trip to the local pub, for others it may mean a night at Bingo,” he said.
However the initiative has not been welcomed by all, with the former GAA President and coroner for north Mayo, Dr Mick Loftus (pictured), from Crossmolina, saying it would give people ‘a licence to drink’. He said any effort to facilitate people’s drinking ignored the damage drink has done to Irish society.

{mospagebreak title= Councillor against random breath testing}

Garda checkpoint

Councillor against random breath testing

Michael Commins

Ballaghaderreen-based independent councillor John Kelly lends his support to the view that the current campaign in relation to random checkpoints and breath testing is ‘driving a wedge’ between the Gardaí and rural people.
“I believe the wrong people are being targeted. It is not the single bachelor man in rural Ireland that is causing these accidents nor is it the responsible publican that may be forced to close down due to lack of business. However, it is now more likely that these people will be the victim of an accident as a pedestrian while walking home from the pub as they cannot afford taxis.
“I met several people around Christmas and afterwards and certainly for them the tradition and culture of an Irish Christmas is over. One man in his fifties said that he just didn’t bother going out anymore, that it wasn’t worth it. Others told me that they couldn’t or didn’t call to see their relatives for fear of being breathalysed with two drinks on them.”
Cllr Kelly says the laws are framed in Dublin with no regard given to rural lifestyles. “What has now been created is a two-tier system: one law for the rurally isolated who have no transport network and the same for the Dublin 4 people who have easy access to pubs, restaurants, etc without even the need for a taxi.
“By the use of these draconian measures, the Minister for Justice is doing some serious damage to relations between the population of rural Ireland and the Gardaí and this at a time where people’s cooperation was never more needed in the solving of serious crime. Most guards that I know do not agree with this heavy-handed measure and state that the old system of having to form the opinion that someone was unfit to drive was the best method and the fairest.
“Furthermore, randomly breathalysing someone the next morning is putting the fear of God into people. Again the people in Dublin and all our major cities don’t need to worry about driving to work in the morning because they have the Dart, the train, the bus and indeed the taxis. We have nothing.
“All this is further driving a wedge between the public and the Gardaí. The ordinary man out there is no criminal but is being made feel like one and most of the Garda resources are now going into traffic and not where I believe it should be going and that is to tackle the serious drug problem in society and the weekly murders as a result,” said Cllr Kelly.❱❱

{mospagebreak title= Garda fears over slide in relations with rural Ireland}

Garda fears over slide in relations with rural Ireland

Michael Commins

MANY long-serving members of the Garda Síochána are seriously worried about the impact the random breath testing procedure is having on relations with the rural communities. Now, genuine fears are being expressed by many members that years of excellent relationships with people throughout the country are being wiped out in a matter of months.
“We all want to see the death toll drop on our roads but many believe we are going about it the wrong way. We are driving a wedge between communities and the guards at a time when we need to be building bridges, especially in the aftermath of some incidents in Donegal and a number of other high profile cases which reflected poorly on a minority of the Garda Síochána,” a serving member told The Mayo News.
“People were used to meeting and talking to their local police officer face to face. A great bond and trust was built but this is now being eroded by modern technology and transport which means that often there is no longer direct contact except when people call to the station for passport forms, driving licences and such matters.
“Faith in the guards is being eroded by checkpoints manned by members of the Gardaí who are absolute strangers to the areas. It is causing disquiet among the rural communities and is reducing respect for the police force in general.”
Operation Surround is where different towns are targeted, mainly at weekends, and checkpoints set up by the Traffic Corps. “These are causing fear as well as hostility towards the guards. In other countries, this type of policing has been tried and can serve a purpose in a big population area where there is a lot of anonymity. In such places, they can help reduce breaches. But they are seen as indiscriminate and oppressive when imposed on small population areas like which exist in rural villages all over Ireland.
“It was also tried in the North of Ireland and caused a lot of polarisation, especially among the Nationalist community and heightened tensions between the community and the police. Such tactics are often viewed as oppressive and are seen by some as an infringement on the right to move around.”
A number of gardaí I have spoken to in the western region and the midlands and further afield confirm that they have noticed a huge increase in negativity in the past few months.
One member said: “Rather than hitting everyone with checkpoints and random breath testing, an intelligence-driven operation where regular offenders are specifically targeted and detected would find much more favour throughout the community. Mandatory testing takes away the discretion of the local guard who is au fait with his or her local community.
“We are seen as targeting the senior couples or senior single men who are used to going to the pubs for a few social drinks and meeting friends at weekends. There is little if any evidence to back up any argument that these people are responsible for road accidents. Often, some of them are there because of loneliness and need the company and it is the only place that they feel that sense of freedom and are completely comfortable, chatting and playing cards.
“These simple pleasures are now being seen to be denied to many of them and they are blaming the guards. This section of the population, by and large, have always had the height of respect for the law, the guards, and our legal system, and would not have an idea what the inside of a courtroom looks like.
“It is very unsettling to think that these people can become, in a matter of a few hours, criminals in the eyes of the law, especially when one considers the huge rise in gun crime, burglaries, and drug-related offences. One has only to look at the Padraig Nally case in Mayo to see how frightened people have become by the conduct of targeting the elderly people in rural areas by regular offenders.
“Serious reservations have been expressed not only by ex-members of the Garda Síochána who have huge experience in policing and who did so successfully since the foundation of the State, but also by many long-serving members of the Force in recent times.
“When a person is arrested for road traffic offences, there’s a ripple effect in that his or her family, neighbours and friends take sides against the police force and system. In other words, there is a negative knock-on effect for the Gardaí.
“The public have no problem with the rule of law being upheld but the general feeling out there at the moment is that the serious offenders, whether involved in crime or drugs or such related matters, should be the focus of far greater Garda activity and resources rather than concentrating on one aspect of policing - the Road Safety Act.
“It must be pointed out that the Gardaí have had excellent contact with people in rural areas over the years with many calling to visit elderly people who had their confidence and trust and who appreciated the bond of friendship. Now for many of these people, the only contact they have with the guards is when they are stopped at a checkpoint. It is easy to understand why the attitude is changing. We need to return to the basics of restoring those bonds with the communities,” said the garda.

{mospagebreak title= Case Study}

Lavelles Achill

“The embarrassing part is when you have friends at home you cannot stop in a pub anymore. You cannot even go for a meal and have a glass of wine”

Anton McNulty

IN TED Lavelle’s pub on a windy Thursday night, the fire is burning bright but there are few people around it.
Situated in Cashel, in the middle of Achill Island, its central location ensured that Ted Lavelle’s was always a hub of the community, a place where locals gathered to meet and discuss the issues of the day. However, like many rural pubs, over the last five years it has begun to feel the pinch, with many regulars opting to stay at home rather than go out for a pint or two.
Tonight, six locals – all within walking distance of the pub – prop up the bar, enjoying their pints and arguing and talking amongst themselves. They disagree on a lot of things, but one belief unites them: rural Ireland and pubs are on their last legs.
“It is a waste of time coming to the pub since the breathalyser came out,” according to Aenie McNulty from Saula. “You cannot come out for a few pints in the evening. There is nobody in the pub and you cannot meet friends anymore. One time you would come in here, everybody from Saula would be here. There is nobody here now.”
Over Christmas, a short film made by Heinrich Boll in Achill several decades ago, was screened. Among the features of the film was a clip of men going for a few pints after a day’s shark fishing. Now, the few pints, like the shark fishing, is just a fading memory.
Random breath-testing and the associated fear factor has upset a lot of people here, with many believing that outside gardaí see people in Achill as easy targets. Colm Cafferkey, the publican in Ted Lavelle’s, has noticed how locals are uneasy when having a few drinks and are always fearful of losing their licence. He feels the time has come for some sort of action to be taken.
“There are a few old people who are so used to coming out and having a few pints that if they cannot come out they are isolating themselves. But now bucks are looking over their shoulder and they are not enjoying themselves.
“Breath testing is here and, fair enough, something has to be done about the deaths on the roads, but how communities deal with it has to be considered. Something like a group of four or five fellows agreeing for one person to stay off the drink each night, pick them all up and then leave them home is maybe the way forward,” he says.
The introduction of a rural transport system would be broadly welcomed among the locals in Ted’s, but how it is managed is another matter. Would everyone have to wait in the rain after closing time for the bus to arrive? How frequently would it operate? The cost of the journey is another issue for some people, with many reluctant to pay over €5 for a one-mile journey.
But without transport in Achill you are left in limbo, and if you want a drink it is becoming increasingly difficult.
“The embarrassing part is when you have friends at home from England you cannot stop in a pub when showing them around the island anymore. You cannot even go for a meal and have a glass of wine. There were locals back here for New Year and they said it would be the last New Year they would be back here, they could not even leave the house,” explains John McNulty.
The main concern seems to be that the culture of the island is being eroded, as legislation is being introduced without regard for how it will affect rural life. The custom of visiting your neighbours is dying, you can no longer kill your own animals and fishing has been seriously restricted. Many feel it has gone too far, that we are now living in a Police State and that rural areas are being beaten down.
“As far as I can see, they are trying to run everyone off the island - they do not want anybody on it. With planning permission restrictions and now with the pubs they are making it so hard for you to live here that people are being pushed into the towns and cities. It will not be a place to live, young couples from Achill getting married these days and looking to living here haven’t a hope.”
Can that hope be restored?

{mospagebreak title= A lack of common sense}

A lack of common sense

Michael Commins

The universal spirit of the laws of all countries is to put always the strong against the weak, and him who has against him who has nothing. This disadvantage is inevitable and it is without exception - Rousseau

THE random breath testing introduced by the Government with the support of the main opposition parties is having a hugely detrimental impact on relations between a vast swathe of rural Ireland and the Garda Síochána. This is one of the big stories of the debate which, amazingly, has hardly been touched upon by the national media commentators.
Years of good relations between the Gardaí and country people have been virtually wiped out in the last few months. Let’s be up front about this. Most rural areas can police themselves 99.9% of the time. People in the rural parts and small towns and villages have been the most law-abiding people you will find anywhere.
And some politicians and the Garda authorities wonder why so many rural people are outraged by the lack of common sense being shown by officialdom to ordinary people who for years went about their lives quietly and away from the glare of unwanted attention.
Rural Ireland has its own culture. It is not just drinkers who frequent the pubs. Many pioneers enjoy the atmosphere of the Irish rural and small town pub, a traditional meeting place which has played a central role in the fabric of rural life. The closure of rural and small town pubs continues at an alarming pace. And these are the very places at the heart of so much of our tourism and what makes Ireland unique to many visitors.
It is the view of almost 100% of people I’ve spoken to, and I have sampled a huge amount of opinion in Mayo, Galway, Roscommon as well as among friends up north, in the midlands and down south, that the wrong people are being targeted in the current campaign.
There is genuine outrage that country people on their way home from the local pub with a drink or two are being made feel like criminals and are being subjected to such scrutiny at a time when gangland murders are soaring in Dublin and the country is awash with hard drugs.
“I’ve been going to Tierney’s of Foxhall for over 30 years and I don’t know of anyone who even broke a tail-light on the way home. I would love to see them produce figures to back up their claims in relation to people involved in serious accidents coming home from the local pubs. Speed is the main killer on the roads.
“If they really want to make a dent on the amount of deaths on our roads, the first thing that should be introduced is a ‘limiter’ on the power level of cars used by young male drivers. That would get support from all the community,” said one local farmer.
The widespread availability of drugs is seen as a major contributor to many accidents. Ordinary people believe that far more resources should be directed in trying to crack the local supply routes than check on local people who feel their traditional social life is under serious threat. It goes without saying that the patrons in places like The Country Club in Hollybrook or Keane’s of Crossboyne or Tuohy’s of Newbrook and other such venues are not known for sniffing cocaine. No, they are salt-of-the earth country people who enjoy the social cohesion of the local pub, meeting neighbours and friends and enjoying a drink or two in the process.
Another man told me ‘you’d be lucky to meet an ass on the road at half 12 or one o’clock when they are going home from the country pubs’ in a certain part of north Galway, close to the Mayo border. “These are not the people who are causing the problems on Irish roads,” he said.
No one can condone the man or woman who takes to the road well above the limit. But the laws were always in place to deal with such circumstances.
“What is emerging is a much more damaging trend of excessive drinking at home where young children are being raised in circumstances where they perceive such heavy intake of drink as ‘natural’. When people went to the pub, the vast majority knew their limits and regulated themselves accordingly. Home drinking will lead to vastly more problems and long-terms deaths,” said another person that I spoke to in recent days.
“There is a danger that we are regulating ourselves out of existence. People in small shops in Mayo are working twice as long as the average worker for less than half the average industrial wage. The entire small town and rural issue has at last become a major political issue. I believe the problem in relation to the random breath testing has arisen due to the delegating away from the local gardaí and bringing in the outside gardaí,” an elected representative in Mayo told me last week.
Figures issues by the National Road Safety Council claiming that random testing has saved 50 lives are mere speculation and without any proof whatsoever. Every year, there will be fluctuations in the number of tragedies on our roads. Some years they increase, others they decrease. There was an identical drop in percentage terms in the amount of deaths on the roads in Northern Ireland in 2006 as in the Republic and the random testing system is not in operation in the North.
A whole range of issues come into play including high speed (without doubt the most serious of all), tiredness, state of mind, distractions in the car such as radios or CDs and so on.
I am sure that many of the people in officialdom who are now so supportive of the new random breath testing system were themselves, Gardaí and politicians, up to a few months ago, driving home many at night after a few drinks and never once felt that they were incapable of driving or that they were committing any serious offence.
It is easy for Gay Byrne and others to sit in Dublin and preach to us down the country. When asked the other night on the Vincent Brown show on RTÉ Radio could he provide figures for the amount of people over the age of 40 and from rural Ireland who were involved in accidents coming from pubs, he was unable to do so. They can produce the figures that suit their case but when asked for the specifics in relation to those at the heart of the current crisis, they are unable or unwilling to do so as they know that the real figures would completely undermine their campaign.
When Tipperary Fine Gael councillor, Michael Fitzgerald, expressed a very valid viewpoint reflecting the concerns of his people, he was expelled from the party. That a man had the party whip taken off him for the expression of an opinion held by thousands and thousands of people all over the country reflects poorly on the party. If a person has not a right to their own mind, they have nothing. I understand he is running as an independent in south Tipperary and I hope he is elected to Dáil Éireann by the people.
Many of the rural deputies and councillors have been getting the same message loud and clear. They have begun to sense that there is already a drift to Sinn Féin and independents as people prepare to protest their vote in the upcoming General Election.
Breathalysing people on their way to work, some crawling along at less than 10mph entering the big towns and cities, is seen by the vast majority of ordinary people as intimidation. Many gardaí serving in the small towns of rural Ireland are now experiencing first hand the cold winds emanating from this procedure, even though it is out of their control.
Over the years, many gardaí have given outstanding service in the communities in which they serve and live. They have earned the respect and trust of the local people, sharing in the community life and enjoying the best of relations with the people in those regions. They have been terrific ambassadors for the ethos of the Force.
From close observation in recent times, I am detecting a shift in that loyalty. People who have been hugely supportive of the Gardaí over the years are beginning to withhold that support. For many, it has already become ‘us and them’, the bonds of trust and friendship are being severed in two. The only winners in this situation will be the real criminals when the information will no longer be given willingly to the Gardaí.
A highly-respected and recently retired member of An Garda Síochána told me in recent days that he cannot believe how the wisdom of the ages is being replaced by consultants and advisors and how untold damage is being caused to the long-standing friendship between many in the Garda Síochána and the people of rural Ireland.
“I knew every village within miles of where I was stationed and I could go into many houses and have the tea with them. You earn the trust of the people by being among them and working with them. I believe the system in place up to a few months ago where gardaí had to form the opinion that a person was well on it and over the limit served this country very well. Trust is a two-way thing and when that is broken, it is very hard to win back the trust.
“Within days of the introduction of random testing, I knew it was very serious for relations with rural people. Common sense went out the window. But the whole situation has been coming for some time. Many of the younger members don’t seem to want to know the people in the communities in which they serve like we did. Even in the days when Gardaí would go out on their bikes to check for buchallans (rag wort), it was really a way of getting out and meeting the people and knowing the families. Now, a lot of them don’t know who lives across the road from the station. Many of them don’t live in the community in which they work. There is a disease called ‘promotionitis’ which has taken precedence with some over serving the people.
“Noel Conroy should stop listening to a lot of his advisors and invite many of the respected retired members of the Garda Síochána to a special gathering and I can assure him he would learn much more from us than he ever will from the consultants. Unfortunately, common sense is in short supply these days.”