Saturday 20 January 2018

Former FF ministers tried to water down drink-driving laws in private

Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent

FORMER government ministers privately tried to derail strict new drink-driving measures while backing them in public.

Confidential correspondence obtained by the Irish Independent reveals that former Fianna Fail ministers wrote letters, mainly on behalf of publicans, in an attempt to have the proposals watered down.

Under the new measures, to be introduced next month, motorists who have taken less than a pint of beer will be liable for penalty points and a fine.

The politicians who opposed the new legislation in private included then ministers Batt O'Keeffe, Tony Killeen and and Conor Lenihan.

They all wrote letters to then transport minister Noel Dempsey between 2009 and 2010 on behalf of publicans who were opposed to the legislation, which will become law before the October bank holiday weekend.

All of the Fianna Fail ministers and deputies who wrote to Mr Dempsey subsequently voted for the cut in the drink-driving limits when it came before the Dail in July last year.

Mr Dempsey only received correspondence on the issue from Fianna Fail deputies while he was drawing up the legislation. Fine Gael TDs did not make a single representation on the issue after leader Enda Kenny instructed his party to support the measure.

There were also no representations from Labour, the Greens, Sinn Fein or Independent TDs.

Mr Dempsey consistently rejected all the arguments against the changes

"I am trying to save lives," he told his ministerial and TD colleagues in his replies.

The current Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, was only one of two members of his party who lobbied to have the drink-driving limit cut.

Representations against the proposals were also privately made by ex-cabinet ministers John O'Donoghue, then Ceann Comhairle, and ex-junior ministers Noel Treacy and John Browne.

Under the new legislation, the drink-drive limit is being cut from 80mg per 100ml of blood to just 50mg of alcohol.

The Department of Transport kept details of the FF interventions secret, on the grounds that they were part of the "deliberative process". But the letters, obtained under the Freedom of Information system, reveal:

•Representation from then education minister Batt O'Keefe on behalf of Katherine Cahill of the Co Cork Vintners' Association.

•Tony Killeen, then junior agriculture minister, made representations on behalf of Clare publicans.

•Joe Neville, constituency co-ordinator for then science minister Conor Lenihan, wrote to Mr Dempsey on Mr Lenihan's suggestion over a publican's proposal that "first-time offenders be treated more leniently than offenders with previous motor convictions".

•Beverley Flynn sent a submission from Mayo vintners.

•Noel Treacy sent a letter on behalf of the Co Galway Vintners' Federation.

•Niall Collins wrote on behalf of Michael Roche, Limerick IFA county chairman who complained about "poor Paddy" who is caught with two and a half pints and is over the limit. l Margaret Conlon of Monaghan said pub owners strongly recommended that if changes had to be made, then no driver should lose their licence below 80mg on the first offence.

•Eamon Scanlon of Sligo asked about the possibility of considering a suggestion by Sligo publicans of extending the penalty points system for those just over the new limit to those caught as many as three times.

Just four of those who made representations remain Dail deputies today: Micheal Martin, Niall Collins, Michael Kitt and John Browne.

Irish Independent

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