| 12.7°C Dublin

Alcohol has nothing to do with road deaths, insists Healy-Rae

Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae has dismissed the 18-month wait for the new drink driving limit, saying that "alcohol has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of people being killed on our roads".

"The longer it's kept at bay -- the more I'll like it," he said.

His bizarre comments came as it was confirmed that 10-year-old equipment used to test breath samples will have to be replaced to incorporate the new drink-driving limits which will not now become effective until 2011.

His remarks echoed the controversial views of Fianna Fail backbencher Mattie McGrath, who indicated that one drink could relax nervous drivers.

Mr Healy-Rae added: "I don't want it at all. We can do without it. Any harm that's being done on the roads in Ireland is down to speed, and there's no question about that in my mind anyway."

The South Kerry TD said he would be voting against the Government for the first time in 12 years on the issue.

The hold-up in the implementation of the new law is because it has to be passed in both houses of the Oireachtas before new machines -- used to measure alcohol in a driver's breath -- can be bought by the State.

There are currently 64 breath-testing machines in garda stations around the country, but these cannot be recalibrated to the new limits proposed in the Road Traffic Bill 2009, published last week.

However, handheld machines used at the roadside can be recalibrated effectively.

Road Safety Authority chief Gay Byrne said yesterday the fact that new drink-driving laws will not be introduced before 2011 because equipment used to test breath samples must be replaced was not a delay as far as they were concerned.


"It's not a delay to us because we knew this was all part of the process that we have to go through," he said.

"There have been huge delays in the business of this country with Lisbon, and now with NAMA and the Budget, so it's almost impossible for the minister to get into Dail Eireann with this legislation before early next year," he said. He said it was up to Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to draft the legislation and put it to the Dail, but the recalibration of the instruments cannot be started until after this bill becomes law because there may be a change in it before it goes through.

"After that, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety has estimated that it will take between six months and a year to get the devices recalibrated."

Mr Byrne said he believed the legislation would pass without much opposition.

Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which provides and monitors the equipment, said the 10-year-old devices in use at the moment are coming to a stage where they must be replaced. AA Ireland's Conor Faughnan said the delay was "inevitable" but suggested that the law could be introduced ahead of the mid-2011 estimate. "I would hope it might be possible to do it faster than is indicated. If there is proper political will, it can be done quickly."

The new bill will reduce the blood alcohol limit from its current level of 80mg per 100ml of blood to 20mg per 100ml for learner, novice and professional drivers, and to 50mg per 100ml for other drivers. Breath testing will also become mandatory at crash scenes.

Irish Independent