Saturday 21 October 2017

Ross in 'offensive' attack on road safety chief amid increase in deaths

Transport Minister Shane Ross Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Transport Minister Shane Ross Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Details of an extraordinary exchange between Transport Minister Shane Ross and Road Safety Authority (RSA) chairperson Liz O'Donnell, which took place at a time when road deaths were dramatically increasing, are revealed by the Sunday Independent today.

The correspondence between the two public figures ultimately responsible for road safety relates to the appointment of board members to the RSA, their attendance at meetings and, bizarrely, also to typographical and other errors contained in a draft of the RSA annual report.

In an email to - and letter exchange with - Ms O'Donnell, the Transport Minister accuses the RSA of being "amateurish and inexplicably cavalier" in its approach to detail; describes its annual report as a "sloppy piece of work" with "embarrassing" misprints and "grammatical howlers"; accuses board members of having "sporadic interest" in board attendance; and says he is not convinced that the reappointments of certain board members "are in the interests of road safety or assist in the mission of the authority".

In reply, Ms O'Donnell "regrets that the tone" of his letter is "unnecessarily confrontational"; takes exception to his suggestion that the RSA is "amateurish and inexplicably cavalier"; describes certain of his comments as "ill-judged and offensive"; refers to another of his comments as "untrue and misleading"; questions other of his assertions; expresses surprise at one point at a statement he made; and says his suggestion of poor performance by board members is "misconceived".

Last September, Mr Ross decided to reduce the RSA board membership by two to six members, which ensured a functioning board. In a letter dated the same month and seen by the Sunday Independent, Ms O'Donnell appealed to the Transport Minister to reconsider this decision, noting that the country was "experiencing a significant increase in road deaths" compared with 2015.

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She said the rise in fatalities made it "all the more important" that the RSA board performed its statutory functions to its full potential, supported by the necessary expertise of board members to oversee proper governance of the authority.

Last year there were 187 road deaths, a 15pc increase on 2015 when 162 people were killed on the country's roads.

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To date, the Transport Minister has declined to reconsider his decision to cut the RSA board membership.

In her letter, Ms O'Donnell also said that Mr Ross did not share the high regard the RSA was held in by the public and members of the Oireachtas.

The Sunday Independent today publishes extensive correspondence which informs the background of the Transport Minister's decision to reduce the number of board members.

It has also been learned that Ms O'Donnell wrote a second letter to Mr Ross in October, informing him that the RSA board had expressed "serious concern" in relation to corporate governance, specifically the current skills/competency mix of the board and difficulties in reconstituting the audit and risk committee.

Mr Ross has consistently expressed concern at the manner in which appointments are made to State boards.

Last night, a spokesperson for the Transport Minister said: "There is no comment as regards content or details of letters published in the Sunday Independent today."

However, Mr Ross said: "Saving lives on our roads is absolutely the top priority for the RSA and I. This is our bottom line.

"This is why I am introducing legislation to ensure that all drivers caught driving over the alcohol limit will receive a disqualification and that disqualified drivers are 'named and shamed'.

"This is why I am committed to tackling the recent increase in road deaths in every way I can as minister.

"The support of the RSA behind these measures is welcome and I will continue to encourage the RSA's improvements at board level."

Sunday Independent

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