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Irish pols protest proposed drunk-driving limits

The proposed 0.05 percent BAC would only cover one pint of Guinness.

A man drains a pint of Guinness in the Phoenix Bar in Dundalk, County Louth Ireland April 12, 2001. Irish politicians are considering a proposed reduction in the country's legal blood alcohol limit. (Paul McErlane/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland — In recent months the Irish government has taken some measures that have been deeply unpopular with its own backbenchers, including pay cuts, reduced privileges and an income tax.

Finally one action has provoked them into open rebellion — the introduction of a bill to lower drunk-driving limits.

When transport minister Noel Dempsey introduced his Road Traffic Bill to a closed meeting of backbench TDs (members of parliament) of the majority Fianna Fail party one evening this month there was an uproar.

The measure provides for a reduction in the permitted blood alcohol limit from eight to five grams of alcohol per 10 liters of blood, or from a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 percent — the legal limit in the United States — to 0.05 percent.

The resistance came mainly from rural TDs who argued that the new law would discriminate against country people in isolated areas who traditionally socialize in the village pub.

Many country pubs have already shut because of lost business due to the economic crisis, a smoking ban and increased enforcement of drunk driving laws.

Jackie Healy Rae, an independent TD from County Kerry, who supports the coalition government, said he would vote against the bill even if it meant bringing the government down.

“It’s the poor fella that calls in for a pint and a half on the way home from the likes of Castleisland or Kenmare Mart, that’s who I’m looking out for,” he told the Kerryman newspaper.

The present limit — the same as in the United Kingdom but higher than in most European Union countries — allows a driver to drink roughly two pints of light beer or two glasses of wine, depending on body weight, according to "The Facts about Drinking and Driving," published by the U.K. Transport and Road Research Laboratory.

Lowering the limit would likely restrict a customer to a maximum of one pint of Guinness, opponents of the measure say.