No, you can’t drink and drive in County Kerry

The reaction of the international media to a motion passed by Kerry County Council on Monday night displays an ignorance of how Irish local government operates; to the extent that one suspects it was even contrived for the sake of the ‘Funny Old World’ angle of the story. Less kindly, one could imagine how the story offered an opportunity to play on ‘drunken Irish’ stereotypes.

Image (c) Faduda

Image (c) Faduda

Honourable mentions must go, first, to US-based news website, Gawker, and Britain’s ITV News, for conjuring up a non-existent, formal mechanism where by a motion passed by a county council can even be ‘considered’ by the Minister for Justice (instead of, simply, being ignored.) Secondly, to the Toronto Star, which informed its readers that Kerry County Council had now ‘let’ people drink and drive: as if it could ‘let’ anything of the sort.

If local government in Ireland had such competence, we might have gay marriage in Cork city now, inter alia.

Local town, city and county councils can adopt resolutions and pass motions to their hearts’ content.

However, if those motions stray at all beyond the council’s delegated (and strictly delineated) powers, derived under myriad Local Government Acts of the Oireachtas, then they will have all the legal effect of shouting into a hurricane.

The supreme lawmaking power of the state rests with the Oireachtas (i.e. the National Parliament, per Art. 28 of the Constitution); notwithstanding that local government is also recognised (but no legislative role is specified – Art. 28A of the Constitution).

Road Traffic Acts from 1961 to 2006, passed by the Oireachtas, remain in full force and effect until the government tables (and the Oireachtas passes) further amending legislation. This would constitute a lengthy process; in which drink-driving ‘exemptions’ would likely die (amid peals of laughter) at first reading before even entering committee.

This also assumes that all sense would leave the Minister for Justice and he would embarrass himself by even bringing such a proposal to cabinet, for government approval, in the first place.

Michael Healy-Rae, TD, may, of course, table a private member’s bill to give effect to brother Danny Healy-Rae’s drink-driving proposal: but the government can ensure that doesn’t pass (like nearly every other bill proposed by the opposition.)

A more intriguing question, belied by sensational reporting, is this: does Ireland have any local government of substance to speak of? Certainly that is a matter for a forum other than Facts Are Sacred – but this particular case would only seem to highlight that we, in fact, have one of the weakest forms of local government.