Wednesday 11 December 2019

Cabinet prepares for 'all-out war' as rural ministers plot to derail Shane Ross' new penalty points plan

Pressure from Fine Gael as new speeding reforms viewed as 'attack on rural Ireland'

Controversy: Transport Minister Shane Ross faces opposition to his plans. Photo: Sportsfile
Controversy: Transport Minister Shane Ross faces opposition to his plans. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Rural Fine Gael ministers are plotting to derail plans for graduated speed penalties which will come before Cabinet tomorrow.

Transport Minister Shane Ross wants to introduce new laws allowing penalty points and fines to be applied based on how far above the speed limit a motorist is caught travelling.

Drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 30kmh will face a court prosecution and a €2,000 fine.

The Irish Independent understands a memo to be brought to Cabinet states Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and the Garda Commissioner are in favour of the changes.

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However, there is growing opposition in Fine Gael, which one minister predicated could result in "all-out war" at Cabinet.

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have indicated their support for the proposals, ministers Michael Ring, Joe McHugh, Heather Humphreys, Michael Creed, Simon Harris and Paul Kehoe are expected to speak against them.

In favour of change: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA
In favour of change: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Mr Ross previously ran up against a wall w hen trying to introduce a tougher penalty points system last year - but believed he had now compiled a workable compromise.

Meanwhile, many Fine Gael ministers are under pressure over the issue from backbenchers and are gearing up to fight their Independent Alliance colleague.

Mr Ross told the Irish Independent last night that no Fine Gael minister "has made any approach whatsoever to me expressing concern about the revised proposal".

"I'd be very surprised if any of them were in opposition to a measure which is carefully designed to save lives," he said.

"It is strongly favoured by the road accident victims groups, the Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority."

At present, a person caught speeding receives three penalty points and an €80 fine, regardless of how much they exceed the limit by.

Mr Ross wants the system amended so offenders are punished proportionately.

The sanction for those caught up to 10kmh over the limit will actually be reduced to two points and a €60 fine.

Anyone speeding between 10kmh and 20kmh will receive three penalty points and an €80 fine.

This rises to four penalty points and a €100 fine for those 20kmh to 30kmh over the limit.

The memo being presented for Cabinet approval then proposes the creation of a new offence of "exceeding the speed limit by more than 30kmh". A breach of this new law would be dealt with by the courts and a €2,000 fine.

Separately, Mr Ross wants to clamp down on motorists who drive without having their licence in the car. Currently gardaí have the discretion to allow such motorists produce their licence at a later date - but the minister wants an automatic €80 fine to apply.

Although this element of his plan is not likely to be debated tomorrow, the effort to remove Garda discretion is also seen as "a step too far" by some in Fine Gael.

"He just can't leave things alone," one senior Fine Gael minister said last night.

The minister noted that while it's hard to disagree with the principle, the changes will be viewed as "an attack on rural Ireland".

Another said "the mother of all rows" was being lined up because the proposals are "too heavy handed".

Those opposed to the changes argue that the law makes no differentiation between driving on national roads and motorways.

"Being 30kmh over the limit on a country road is a very different thing from being 30kmh over the limit on a motorway," a source noted.

Depending on the outcome of tomorrow's Cabinet meeting, the issue may be raised with the Taoiseach at a private Fine Gael party meeting in Leinster House on Wednesday evening.

Irish Independent

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