Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)
Across the country, 390 postmasters and postmistresses have been told that while An Post will not close the door for them, it will give them money to close their doors themselves. They are being offered an incentive to shut post offices. Why am I mentioning post offices in a debate on a road traffic Bill? The Acting Chairman could try to shut me down on this issue but it is one that is closely related to the Bill because it is related to rural Ireland and keeping people living in rural areas. If one wants to live in a rural area, one cannot stay in a house or yard all the time. One has to move around every day to live, earn a wage, secure gainful employment, get an education or get on in the world. People in rural areas want to move around just as people in Cork, Dublin, Limerick and other places where various modes of transport are available want to move around. I never begrudged people in the cities anything. Did I ever criticise the billions of euro being spent in Dublin or argue that we wanted the same to apply in the rest of the country? No, but we would like basic infrastructure, including roads of an acceptable standard, train and airport services and buses to take elderly people to shops and collect their pensions and to take children to school. What we do not want is to have people attacking us. People in rural Ireland feel as if we are under attack.
When I refer to rural Ireland, I am not referring only to the countryside but also places such as Killorglin, Killarney and Kenmare. Others will argue that these towns are built-up areas but they are far from the main cities, airports and centres of employment. We need to survive, which means we must stand up for ourselves and we need to have politicians who will stand up in the Dáil and speak on behalf of the people.
It is sad when one looks at the big parties to see that Fine Gael is sound asleep and Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and all the rest seem to be blindly rowing in behind the Minister. It is shocking and beyond belief. Previous generations of politicians from these parties who have gone to their reward fought for rural Ireland. They would have had a boxing match over rural Ireland and would not have backed down from a row. There was many a good boxing match during elections and maybe it was no harm when one looks back on it. It was the way of life at the time and no one was seriously hurt in any case. They always fought their corner because they were fighters and they had to be a fighter to survive. In this world, one has to fight every day to survive and keep one's head above water.
When I speak of "we", I am referring to a small group of Deputies who are rebelling against this Bill and what it stands for. This legislation will not be the end of the story. People will see that the Government can get away with this. When the Minister and I are no longer here, other Ministers will conclude that because the Minister, Deputy Ross, got away with this legislation, they will be able to get away with doing something else. Where will it stop? We are asking that somebody listen to common sense.
Last night, I made a fair point, one which many people picked up on today, namely, that a Minister, long before any of us were elected to the Dáil, thought it was a great idea to do away with the rural rail network. That was a monumental error. Politicians from the party to which the Minister in question belonged are the first to admit today that the closure of the rural rail network was a mistake. It is too late when the horse has bolted, the legislation has been enacted and the changes have been made. If the legislation proceeds as proposed, there will be no going back and matters will only get worse.
Last night, I neglected to speak about a specific group of people, namely, publicans. I have to declare an interest, as I always do when I speak about matters such as this. I have a brother who is a publican and who, subsequent to my father, has run a respectable house. Every publican I know runs what I call a respectable house where he or she will refuse to serve a person who has had a drink too many. There is an automatic barrier or lawmaker in the pub, namely, the man or woman dispensing the drink. Publicans are the guards and adjudicators of what is right and wrong. They want to run respectable houses and hold on to their licences. They do not want to sully their excellent reputation for providing a service and they have never done so. All the publicans I have had the pleasure of knowing and dealing with over the years have run impeccable premises. This means people can say they never hurt anybody or allowed a person to leave their pubs and get into a car when they were not fit to drive.
They never let a row start inside a pub which they did not stop themselves. They never let something happen outside the door of their public house because they felt responsible and were the law-makers keeping public order at all times. When one sees the culture of drinking now where the publican is being removed from the picture, a person can buy a bag of drink where there is no measure and no dispensing. Whereas a shot of Paddy in a public house is a measured amount and whereas a publican will monitor how much a person is drinking, when someone has bought drink in an off-licence and drinks in a private house, the serving can be an entire glass. That is why one sees so many fights and murders late on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in such circumstances as people overindulge in the absence of such a thing as a measure. There is no such thing as a monitor. The guardian of the measure of the drink is gone. Being a proper publican is a vocation. It is like a trade. Publicans are dedicated to their service. When we lose them and the door of the pub closes, a whole way of life is lost. The younger generation coming up, who might have kept the door open, do not have that opportunity because their parents had to close the pub. Why did they have to close it? It is because of Governments and Government decisions. It is very wrong.
I am not a good person to travel because I do not like to go abroad. Any time I was outside Ireland and around Europe and I went into what is called a café bar, I experienced the most soulless, empty, cold, damp and depressing places into which any human being could ever have had the misfortune to go. They had plastic seats, plastic tables and all the horribleness that goes with them. I compare that to an Irish pub where the first thing that hits one when one goes in is a blast of heat from a fire or some other mechanism to keep the place warm. The first thing one will see is a friendly, smiling face behind the counter. One will meet nice people with stories to tell and conversations to have. We are losing all of that because of regulation and legislation like the Bill under discussion tonight.
We speak here about mental illness and depression. One of the major causes of depression, isolation and upset in people's minds is the fact of people being on their own. I know people who go to the public houses in their communities and the last thing on their minds is a drink. What they want is to go in and talk about what they were doing that day whether it was farming, a trip to the mart or a visit to the creamery where they heard a funny story which they want to relate. There might have been a funeral and they may want to lament the passing of the person who is dead. Someone might be pregnant or a child may have been born and they might want to talk about that. They want to talk about what is going on in their community. It is a source of jollity for them with all of the blackguarding and honest-to-God ball-hopping about politics, football, courting and everything else that goes on. All of that will be lost. When it is gone, it is gone forever.
During the recent spell of cold weather, many people were thanked for what they did and rightly so. I refer to fire brigade members, local authority workers, ambulance personnel and gardaí. One group of people who were not thanked but which was very important were our local publicans. People who had not been to their local pub for a long time went there in the ice and snow because they could walk to it. The publicans provided a great service and people had time to engage and have a bit of fun among themselves despite the bad weather. Where will they go if the pubs are closed in future?
It is no exaggeration to talk about the number of pubs which have closed. At one time, Cahersiveen had 52 pubs. One could have gone to a different pub every week and been barred but not have had to try to get back in for 12 months. One can be sure that there are not 52 pubs there now. Killorglin had between 36 and 38 pubs at one time but it does not have them now. We are losing a great deal in towns and villages. What are we going to finish up with? Is it these horrible, soulless café bars about which I told the Minister earlier?