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Friday 19 April 2019

Why those living in rural areas feel they are being targeted by drink-driving purge

Reopening the debate: Independent TD Finian McGrath made controversial comments around “political policing” and the enforcement of drink-driving laws. Photo: Mark Condren
Reopening the debate: Independent TD Finian McGrath made controversial comments around “political policing” and the enforcement of drink-driving laws. Photo: Mark Condren
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Cashel Mart manager Alison de Vere Hunt said her mart was full of irate farmers at a recent Saturday morning sale.

The farmers had started to come in that morning, vehicles and tractors pulling trailers of cattle for the busy sale that day.

Brexit looms and the potential impact on the Irish beef sector could be devastating for them, but it was something much closer to home that had them annoyed.

They were enraged after being stopped to be breathalysed at a checkpoint on the way to the mart that morning.

"Many of the farmers felt they were being discriminated against. They felt only drivers with cattle trailers were stopped," said Ms de Vere.

She said the incident highlighted the real anger in rural Ireland over early-morning breathalysing by An Garda Síochána.

"People cannot understand why they are being breathalysed in the morning going about their daily work while they don't see the same visible Garda presence at night."

While she stressed that she did not condone drink-driving in any circumstances, she said there was a huge fear in rural Ireland of losing your licence.

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"If you lose your licence and you live in rural Ireland, you really are screwed. People in rural areas do not have the public transport options that those in urban areas have access to. We don't even have taxis down here," she said.

An Garda Síochána says it continues to focus on the offences that contribute most significantly to road traffic collisions, and in particular the offences of driving while intoxicated and speeding.

"There is no place on our roads for people who do not comply with legislation; these people are putting not only their own lives at risk but also the lives of all other road users," a spokesperson said.

Under new drink-driving legislation, anyone caught over the limit faces being put off the road automatically.

But it was widely reported that rural Fine Gael ministers were met with a backlash from constituents during the Christmas recess after Minister Shane Ross's drink-driving clampdown resulted in the tolerance level for drink-driving further reduced.

The debate was reopened last weekend when Finian McGrath made his controversial comments around "political policing" and the enforcement of drink-­driving laws. Mr McGrath's comments were soon followed by demands for his resignation from the families of road ­victims.

Christina Donnelly, who lost her son Brendan in a 2009 crash caused by a drunk driver, said she was "incensed" by the comments.

Figures from the Road Safety Authority show alcohol is a factor in 39pc of all driver fatalities in Ireland.

While Mr McGrath apologised directly to his Cabinet colleagues for his controversial remarks about gardaí, he was roundly criticised from all quarters in print, across the airwaves and online.

However, a significant number of texts into the radio shows that discussed the issue during the week, and reaction on social media, were supportive of his stance.

The fact is, regardless of its merits, the tougher stance on drink-driving has not gone down well in rural Ireland, and TDs from constituencies outside the pale know it.

Indeed, the Minister of State Seán Canney publicly said gardaí should focus on other crimes instead of stopping motorists.

For rural dwellers, there are no viable options when going to the pub on a Saturday night or getting a lift home.

And many rural people retain the mindset they can have a few pints and drive home safely. It is in this context that our policymakers face a challenge to convince rural Ireland that the stricter rules are there for their benefit too.

According to Ms de Vere Hunt, the fear of getting caught drink-driving has seen farmers going out to pubs less and instead turning to the mart as a social outlet.

An Garda Síochána pledged that "activity across the country continues to focus on the offences that contribute most significantly to road traffic collisions, and in particular the offences of driving while intoxicated and speeding".

Irish Independent





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