Lives will be lost, warns Gaybo
Road Safety chairman criticises cuts to garda resources as breath tests drop
GAY BYRNE last night launched an unprecedented attack on government cutbacks -- warning that lives will be lost unless gardai are given the resources to enforce road traffic legislation.
The chairman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said cuts in garda funding meant speeding and drink-driving laws were not being enforced, and that once word got out that gardai could not police the roads the death toll would rise.
His comments come after the Irish Independent revealed earlier this month that the number of motorists breath-tested over the October bank holiday weekend fell by almost half despite the introduction of lower drink-driving limits.
Senior garda sources said the reduction was because of cutbacks and a fall in the number of available gardai.
Mr Byrne told the Dail Environment Committee yesterday he was concerned that cuts in the number of gardai in the traffic corps were hampering efforts to improve road safety.
Gardai had also been forced to bear the €35m security bill for the state visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama, which had further stretched resources.
Last year deaths fell to a record low of 212 people killed he said. The number of fatalities so far this year was 31 fewer, but a "concerted effort" was needed across all state agencies to continue to reduce numbers, he said.
"Enforcement is a key pillar to our success to date and its role in maintaining behaviour change and road-user compliance cannot be over estimated," Mr Byrne said.
"I am concerned about the level of enforcement. The budget of An Garda Siochana has been vastly reduced and a great amount has been spent on the visits of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama. Numbers in the garda traffic corps have fallen from 1,200 to 900. As soon as word gets out that enforcement is down, the bad behaviour returns and starts again."
On top of the bill for the state visits, gardai have also been forced to introduce a ban on new recruits, make cost savings of €20m and reduce numbers.
The Department of Justice last night defended the cuts, saying it was up to the Garda Commissioner to manage his resources. "The allocation of resources, including manpower, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner in the context of his identified policing priorities," it said.
"As with every other public sector organisation, the reality is that the Garda Siochana is going to have to manage with reduced resources. This must be seen in the context of the plans agreed by the previous government, as part of its compliance with the terms of the EU-IMF agreement."