Monday 26 June 2017

FG ministers round on Ross for 'having anti-rural agenda' on drink driving

Transport Minister Shane Ross has drawn ire for his proposal. Photo: Arthur Carron
Transport Minister Shane Ross has drawn ire for his proposal. Photo: Arthur Carron
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Fine Gael ministers have rounded on Transport Minister Shane Ross over his plans to automatically disqualify motorists for drink driving.

Mr Ross has been accused of pushing an "anti-rural agenda" by Cabinet colleagues as a result of the proposals to replace penalty points with a blanket ban.

Several Fine Gael ministers were vocal in their opposition to the move at this week's Cabinet meeting - even telling Mr Ross that he needs to produce "research" to justify the proposals.

The Irish Independent has learned some of Mr Ross's own Independent Alliance colleagues have deep reservations too over the zero tolerance proposals.

Mr Ross's plan centres around drivers caught with an alcohol limit of between 50mg and 100mg per 100ml.

At present, drivers who record this limit receive three penalty points and a €200 fine if it is their first offence.

Mr Ross wants to replace this penalty with a three-month mandatory ban.

Those who voiced serious concern over the proposals include Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, Regional Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and Defence Minister Paul Kehoe. All four are based in rural constituencies.

Sources say there were tetchy exchanges at the Cabinet meeting as Mr Ross spoke of the needs to send out a "strong message" by closing what he described as a "loophole" in the law governing penalty points.

Fine Gael ministers challenged Mr Ross to produce evidence to show that cases that fall into the 50mg-80mg bracket actually result in road deaths. It was also stated that the laws do not address the most serious cause of road fatalities, which is speeding.

Fine Gael sources said there was concern the new laws would mean that drivers stopped the morning after they had been drinking could be put off the road.

"For us, this was a policy that was not thought through and we aren't going to back it," one Cabinet source said.

A second Fine Gael minister said there was a clear "Dublin-rural divide" in relation to the issue.

"A lot of people in Dublin when they go out drinking use public transport, that's not the case in Rural Ireland and Mr Ross seems to forget that."

Despite Mr Ross sending out a press release that stated that the legislation was "approved", several ministers said this was not the case.

They stated the bill has merely been sent for "pre-legislative scrutiny" - meaning that it won't be implemented for at least 12 months, if at all.

The stand-off is the latest to have occurred between Mr Ross and Fine Gael colleagues.

It comes as it emerged Mr Ross sought to delay the release of a statement by the Independent Alliance confirming its backing for the motion of confidence in the Government.

The TDs in the alliance were seen frantically discussing their approach in the Dáil bar - as senior government ministers took questions about their knowledge of the Maurice McCabe/Tusla affair in the Dáil chamber.

Irish Independent

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