Kerry county councillors have backed a motion calling for a permit system to allow isolated rural people to drink and drive over the current legal limit.

The motion, tabled by Councillor Danny Healy-Rae, was passed yesterday by five votes to three, with the remainder of the councillors either absent or abstaining.

Councillors said the permits would be issued at the discretion of local gardaí.

Mr Healy-Rae said a permit system would go a long way towards tackling rural isolation.

He said people living in rural areas cannot avail of buses or trains and have limited access to taxis.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Healy-Rae said the motorists would only be travelling at low speeds on local roads.

He said: "I'm not asking to break the law. What I'm asking is that a different law be implemented to cater for these kind of people ... Two or three drinks would be the amount.

"I don't want to cause any deaths. What I'm trying to do is prevent deaths because it has been known, and it has been mentioned by our coroner, that suicide is becoming an ever-increasing problem.

"While I'm not saying that this is the cause of all the suicides, we must start somewhere and prevent everyone that we can."

Kerry Mayor Terry O'Brien said he opposed the motion because it did not "make any sense" to him.

The Labour councillor said: "It is incredibly dangerous. I don't know how anybody can be allowed to say 'You've had two pints, so you're justified to drive'.

"I don't know what expertise one would have to look at someone in a bar to give them a permit to drive a car after any alcohol."

A number of the councillors who passed the motion are publicans, but Mr Healy-Rae denied that the councillors' professions influenced the vote.

The council will write to the Department of Justice to propose the law change.