Wednesday 16 August 2017

Drunk boaters get off lightly, officials admit

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

DRUNKEN boaters are escaping with just cautions for misbehaving on the nation's waterways, it has emerged.

Waterways Ireland said its approach was to warn boaters rather than request the gardai take prosecutions.

Its director of operations, Brian D'Arcy, said that "having a drink or two" was part of the experience for many boaters who enjoyed the 1,000km of waterways on the island.

"We would advise people if they are displaying signs of drunkenness not to continue on [their journey]," he said.

At the Public Accounts Committee, Fine Gael's Jim O'Keeffe said it seemed like the by-law governing the consumption of alcohol on the waterways was merely a "pious aspiration".

According to the law, people operating pleasure craft are banned from drinking alcohol, and passengers can only consume alcohol as long as they do not disturb the person in control of the craft.

Those who break the law can be fined €150 or prosecuted in the District Court.

Mr D'Arcy said that while gardai had the power to test boat drivers for intoxication, there was no system of prosecuting drunken boaters because of the low number of offences.

If the inspectors employed by Waterways Ireland came across dangerous situations involving alcohol, drugs or careless boating, they would address it "generally by education", he said.

Defended

Mr D'Arcy defended the cross-border body's approach, saying the situation was not comparable to deaths and injuries caused by drink-driving on the roads.

"It has to be said, the experience is that it has proven to be very successful. The incidents we would have of unruly behaviour on the waterways are quite limited," he said.

Most cruisers on the waterways go at a speed of 4km per hour -- which means they are much less likely to be involved in fatal accidents, even if their drivers are drunk.

Waterways Ireland is the largest of the six cross-border bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement and is responsible for maintaining the inland waterways across the island. The Public Accounts Committee heard that it raises around €500,000 annually in commercial revenue.

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