Saturday 7 December 2019

John Downing: 'Penalty points plan re-runs city-versus-country battle but maybe it's time Fine Gael got over their Shane Ross complex'


Controversy: Transport Minister Shane Ross faces opposition to his plans. Photo: Sportsfile
Controversy: Transport Minister Shane Ross faces opposition to his plans. Photo: Sportsfile
Tourism minister Shane Ross. Photo: INPHO
John Downing

John Downing

Some of his best political buddies have long ago dubbed him 'Lord Ross' in a mixture of camaraderie and ongoing combat.

Shane Ross has a mixed record as the minister responsible for transport, tourism and sport since May 6, 2016. The more casual observer of politics might not remember his long and often fractious relationship with Fine Gael, as a councillor for that party in Wicklow, and an unsuccessful candidate for them in Dáil and European Parliament elections.

He was for 30 years a member of Seanad Éireann for Trinity College, and then an Independent TD for Dublin Rathdown since 2011. Along with his politics, he was a long-time business editor of this newspaper's sister paper, the 'Sunday Independent'.

Yet for all of that experience, he had a difficult transition to the business of government which is much slower, harder, and more difficult in which to show results than either opposition politics or journalism.

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Add to that the reality that many of his former Fine Gael colleagues harboured some residual dislike and mistrust for Shane Ross.

Now, fresh from hardening penalties for drink driving for those found with lower alcohol limits, Mr Ross wants to introduce new laws allowing penalty points and fines be based on how far above the speed limit a motorist is caught travelling. It is a re-run of the city-versus-country battle we have already been through, and rural Fine Gael TDs see it as further sustaining the political legend that this Government is "agin the country".

Before a Government showdown today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have signalled support for the graduated speed penalty proposals. Rural ministers Michael Ring, Joe McHugh, Heather Humphreys, Michael Creed, Simon Harris and Paul Kehoe are opposed.

But Mr Ross points out that road safety campaigners and bereaved relatives of road accident victims are lined up with him, along with An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority.

The Transport Minister argues that a person caught speeding receives three penalty points and an €80 fine, irrespective of how much they exceed the limit. It seems entirely reasonable to amend the system so offenders are punished proportionately.

The devil will, of course, be in the detail. This writer frequently batters through a 90km round trip commute to Dublin and let's just say that Mr Ross is on to something here. It is wearying to find drivers sitting on your bumper, flashing, and goading you to break the speed limit.

Against that, what truly wearies people is being pulled for exceeding limits by a small margin, especially on rural roads. Driving up to 10km too fast on a national road or a motorway is vastly different from doing that in a built-up urban area.

Maybe it's time Fine Gael got over its "Rosser complex" and talked speed details.

Irish Independent

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