Gay Byrne blames garda cuts as road deaths rise
ROAD safety chief Gay Byrne has blamed cutbacks in garda funding for the first annual rise in road deaths in eight years.
The veteran broadcaster said the alarming rise in road deaths in 2013 was down to a lack of enforcement.
And the 79-year-old poured scorn on a new speed-camera initiative planned for Irish motorways, insisting it will be "damn all use" in the fight to save lives.
The number of people killed on the roads rose to 188 this year, up from 162 last year. It's the first time since 2005, when 396 were killed, that the progress in road safety has been reversed.
Mr Byrne, the chairman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), said the Government was becoming over-reliant on technology and new laws.
The real deterrent to speeding and dangerous driving should be a tangible garda presence, he insisted.
But he accused the Government of failing to provide gardai with adequate resources so that they could "do their job properly and implement the law". And in a direct message to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, he said: "I am appealing to him to make more money available to gardai."
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar this week outlined plans to bring in legislation to allow for new speed checks on
motorways, using number-plate recognition to track the motion of a specific vehicle. The automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) systems are gaining popularity worldwide.
But Mr Byrne claimed the proposal would have little or no impact because enforcement was "not up to scratch".
"The announcement was rather stale news. I keep saying the same old thing. You could bring in 92 new laws tomorrow morning, but if there's nobody on the roads to enforce them then they just sit there and they're damn all use," he told the Irish Independent.
"All the great plans and strategies are completely useless unless there is law enforcement in place.
"It will require huge investment to bring about what he (Leo Varadkar) is talking about but the money simply isn't there. And without the investment, it simply won't work.
"The gardai are short of motorbikes, cars and manpower -- they don't even have money to pay overtime or subsistence. And that's why we are not getting the enforcement people deserve.
"At the moment, enforcement has gone down, and everybody in the country knows that. That perception has gained ground in the last 18 months, and of course it's of serious concern.
"If enforcement is not up to scratch, and people know they are extremely unlikely to encounter a yellow jacket around the corner, then carelessness and complacency sets in."
Mr Byrne said a lack of enforcement has contributed greatly to a sharp spike in road deaths this year.
"The figures have deteriorated greatly. And while it's not a cause for panic, it is very, very disappointing," he added.
Fatalities reached an all-time high in 1972, when 640 people lost their lives.
By 2012, this figure had plummeted to 162 deaths -- a record low and a milestone which was greeted with great fanfare and expectation for the future.
However, this downward trend has now ended, with 188 deaths recorded so far this year.
Mr Byrne has regularly been at loggerheads with Mr Shatter, who in turn has insisted that the RSA chief is using "completely wrong" logic in his claims.
"Gay Byrne has a genuine concern about road deaths, but it doesn't mean that statistics are always interpreted the same way," Mr Shatter said recently.
Mr Byrne also criticised the time it will take to introduce the new speed cameras, which Mr Varadkar said would not be fully operational until 2015.
"He is talking about some time in the future, while I'm talking about what needs to be done tomorrow," he said.
"I'd rather things were happening now and that money was given to gardai now so that they can go out and do the job they're supposed to be doing."
The RSA will publish a comprehensive crash report for 2013 today.
A particularly dark period over Christmas saw seven people lose their lives in the space of a week. With further heavy rainfall expected in the coming days, Mr Byrne said it was crucial that all road users, especially drivers, take extra care.
"We're coming into New Year's Day, a relaxed period, and people let their guard down . . . Don't take chances and try to concentrate."