Thursday 27 July 2017

Varadkar avoids Cabinet stand-off over divisive drink-drive proposal

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae stops outside the Dáil to talk to Julia Patton and Leo Lieghio, who are relatives of road crash victims. On the day the Cabinet discussed a new drink-drive bill, Mr Healy-Rae said he didn’t believe driving after drinking three glasses of beer caused any crashes. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae stops outside the Dáil to talk to Julia Patton and Leo Lieghio, who are relatives of road crash victims. On the day the Cabinet discussed a new drink-drive bill, Mr Healy-Rae said he didn’t believe driving after drinking three glasses of beer caused any crashes. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to recommend his TDs and senators back Shane Ross's controversial drink driving ban in a move that will prove to be a first real test of his leadership.

A Cabinet stand-off was avoided after Mr Varadkar ensured support for Mr Ross's road traffic legislation - despite a number of Fine Gael ministers expressing serious concern.

Meanwhile, it's understood the Government is willing to support rural publicans who may wish to provide their own bus services to drinkers on a Friday and Saturday night.

The Cabinet has asked Shane Ross to explore the prospect of the publicans providing weekend services.

The bill will see the introduction of a three-month mandatory ban for motorists found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50mg-80mg per 100ml.

At present, motorists detected to have reached this limit receive penalty points for their first offence.

Leo Lieghio, Clondalkin, father of 16-year-old Marsia Lieghio who lost her life in a hit-and-run in October 2005, and other victims’ relatives talk with Danny Healy-Rae at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Leo Lieghio, Clondalkin, father of 16-year-old Marsia Lieghio who lost her life in a hit-and-run in October 2005, and other victims’ relatives talk with Danny Healy-Rae at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke

Opponents say this limit is equivalent of a glass of wine and that Mr Ross's bill will seriously impact people living down the country. However, road safety groups insist the proposals are necessary and will bring Ireland in line with other countries.

While some ministers voiced concern at Cabinet over the plan, agreement was secured.

Now, Mr Varadkar will face his parliamentary party in September and ask that they do back the plan.

But if enough backbench TDs express opposition, Mr Varadkar may be forced to allow a free vote on the proposals, which have caused an urban-rural split.

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae was yesterday confronted outside the Dáil by family members of drink-driver victims.

Speaking on the 'Pat Kenny Show' on Newstalk, he repeated claims that driving after three glasses of beer was safe.

"Until the day I die, I don't believe that anyone that has had just two or three glasses [of beer] - a pint-and-a-half - that they're a liability or a danger on the road," he said.

Central to Mr Ross's bill will be the introduction of a three -month mandatory ban for motorists found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50mg-80mg per 100ml.

Opponents say this is the equivalent of a glass of wine and will seriously impact people living down the country.

However, road safety groups insist the proposals are necessary and will bring Ireland in line with other countries.

At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, a number of Fine Gael ministers expressed their reservations. These included Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Sources said Communications Minister Denis Naughten is also concerned at the move.

However, other ministers at the Cabinet backed Mr Ross's bill, which will now go before the Dáil in the autumn.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was asked to obtain an update from the Garda Commissioner on the enforcement of drink-driving laws and whether any future campaigns are planned. A spokesman for the Taoiseach last night confirmed the bill will be referred to the Fine Gael parliamentary party in the autumn.

Irish Independent

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