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Thursday 22 August 2019

McGrath remarks about garda enforcement of drink-driving crackdown an 'insult' - road traffic victims' relatives

Finian McGrath
Finian McGrath
Finian McGrath: Calls for him to step down as a cabinet minister. Picture: Frank McGrath
Christina Donnelly holding a picture of her son Brendan, who died in a crash caused by a drunk driver
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Grieving relatives of road victims have branded remarks made by Finian McGrath about the Garda enforcement of a drink-driving crackdown an "insult" and a "slap in the face".

There were demands for the Cabinet minister's resignation and an apology to the families of victims in the wake of his extraordinary comments.

Mr McGrath last night said he apologised unreservedly to the families and the Garda for the remarks.

He sustained severe criticism since he claimed in a 'Sunday Independent' interview that gardaí have become politicised and have been "over the top" in the implementation of tougher drink-driving laws.

He also claimed that gardaí are blaming Transport Minister Shane Ross for the laws when they stop motorists at checkpoints. Mr McGrath withdrew his comments on Sunday evening and said they were "wrong" in the midst of a furious response from Government colleagues and gardaí.

However, people who have lost loved ones also criticised Mr McGrath.

Christina Donnelly, who lost her son Brendan (24) in a 2009 crash caused by a drunk driver, said she was "incensed".

She said Mr McGrath's suggestion that the implementation of the drink-driving law was over the top was "an absolute insult" to bereaved families. She said he was "not fit to hold office".

Ms Donnelly added: "I'm speaking as a mum who lost a beautiful son and on behalf of bereaved families."

She appealed to the Disabilities Minister to make an apology to "all families who have lost loved ones to drink-drivers and who have to visit the side of the road with flowers".

PL16362661Christine Donnel.jpg
Christina Donnelly holding a picture of her son Brendan, who died in a crash caused by a drunk driver

Aisling Reid, from the Parc Road Safety group, lost her cousin Karl Robertson (28) in a hit-and-run incident. She also called on Mr McGrath to resign. She said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that gardaí had an ulterior motive in enforcing the law and that retracting the remarks doesn't change the fact Mr McGrath made them.

Ms Reid said the comments were a "slap in the face" and Mr McGrath should step down as a minister.

Donna Price, the chairperson of the Irish Road Victims Association, said her organisation was "absolutely shocked" by Mr McGrath's remarks. Ms Price, whose son Darren (18) was killed in a 2006 collision, said the comments were "unacceptable" coming from a Government minister. She said people have nothing to fear from Garda checkpoints if they're not breaking the law.

Donna Price (left) of PARC Road Safety Group and Caitriona Quinn hold a pictures of their children Darren and Cait. (Julien Behal/PA)

Ms Price is a board member of the Road Safety Authority but said she wasn't speaking on that organisation's behalf.

She said Mr McGrath should apologise but noted that he supported the drink-driving crackdown during the legislative process and did not call for his resignation.

Despite Fine Gael's anger at Mr McGrath's intervention, ministers sought to draw a line under the controversy yesterday. Richard Bruton said: "Like any of us, he can make mistakes and he's been man enough to admit that this was a mistake."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he believes Mr McGrath's withdrawal of the remarks brought an end to the matter.

Mr McGrath last night apologised unreservedly. He said he was aware his comments "caused hurt". He said this was never his intention and that "families and victims suffering the aftermath of drink-driving have always been my priority".

He said he voted for, and fully supports, the drink-driving law brought in by Mr Ross which automatically disqualifies motorists found to have consumed alcohol.

Mr McGrath added: "I will continue to support all road safety initiatives and measures."

Irish Independent

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