Gaybo to leave road safety body saying garda failings have led to a 'drink your skull off and drive' attitude
Published 15/06/2014 | 02:30
GAY Byrne will step down next month as chairman of the Road Safety Authority after eight years.
The decision illustrates the end of the veteran broadcaster's patience with the level of enforcement by gardai of road traffic legislation.
As a consequence of this, Byrne believes the attitude around the country is that: "You are as safe as houses now in Ireland drinking your skull off and driving any day of the week provided it is not a bank holiday weekend.
"They make a big song and dance about saying: 'This bank holiday weekend we are going to be out in force.' And they are. For the bank holiday weekend," Byrne says, adding that he and his wife Kathleen Watkins drove to Donegal and back last week – and "saw not a garda in a single yellow jacket of any kind. I have been complaining for the last year about the lack of resources, the lack of equipment and the lack of fleet given to An Garda Siochana to do the job they are supposed to be doing.
"If you speak to people in rural areas, who are deprived of a garda presence because the local garda station has been closed down, this is what they are complaining about.
"My remit is only in relation to road safety, but I continue to complain that enforcement has gone off completely and totally," Byrne said.
"And once the perception gains ground that there is little likelihood of you meeting a yellow jacket around the next bend, then you start being complacent and you start being relaxed and you start breaking the law. You forget about speed limits. You forget about seat belt wearing. You forget about mobile phone use. You forget about manners. You forget about lane drill. Why? Because you haven't seen a garda on a motorbike for a long time and you haven't seen a garda in a yellow jacket for a long time. And so there is no enforcement.
"And that is what I will be going out complaining away," he said as he prepared to step down from the RSA post he was appointed to in 2006. "That's my big complaint."
Last year Byrne appeared to question Justice Minister Alan Shatter's commitment to road safety, with regard to the level of enforcement by gardai of road traffic legislation and the link, as Byrne saw it, to the rise of fatalities on the roads in Ireland. In response, Mr Shatter said that traffic enforcement was a Government or garda priority and accused Byrne of creating "an entirely false impression".
"Alan Shatter told me I didn't know what I was talking about," Byrne says. "He said in public I didn't know what I was talking about.
"And the smash rate is going up. The accident rate is going up. The fatality rate is increasing. That's why we keep on doing extra commercials on radio and television to say, please will you watch out, you're in danger. And people are. We are only starting into the summer now."
The former Late Late host believes that An Garda Siochana are doing their best but they plainly lack the adequate resources to implement the law.
"They don't have the motorbikes." he said.
"There is a stack of them laid up, in some bloody place where they put worn out motorbikes.
"They can't afford to maintain them because they are beyond maintaining and they can't afford to buy new ones. There are no motorbike cops on duty around the place. All you have to do is say to the average person: 'When did you last see a motorbike cop creeping up on you?' The answer is: 'Not in God knows how long!'"
Byrne has already notified Transport Minister Leo Varadkar of his decision to retire from the position.
"He asked me to stay on for an extra two years and I have said no. I just want to get out because of my 80th birthday," Byrne says in reference to the milestone on August 5.
"The minister couldn't have been more courteous, gracious, or appreciative in thanking me for my services.
"So the last meeting I will chair will be in July. I am also stepping down from the board of Crumlin Hospital I'm just letting go. That's all.
"I'm reaching my 80th year. I want to come across a day or two when I open the diary and there is nothing in it for that day. That to me is a holiday and there have been very, very rare days over the years when I have opened the diary and there has been nothing in it. So I am looking forwarded to a few of those days."
Watch Barry Egan's exclusive interview with Gay Byrne on www.independent.ie.