Monday 20 November 2017

Varadkar faces Ross showdown over free vote on drink driving

Shane Ross wants a free vote for members of the Independent Alliance. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shane Ross wants a free vote for members of the Independent Alliance. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

A fresh Cabinet stand-off is on the cards over controversial new drink-driving laws.

Transport Minister Shane Ross last night confirmed that he will push for a free vote on the measures, which have been labelled "anti-rural" by some TDs.

But the Irish Independent understands Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will resist the demand for the removal of the whip when the legislation comes before the Dáil in the autumn.

Mr Varadkar is believed to be concerned about the prospect of setting a "precedent" by allowing the Independent Alliance a free vote on an issue that is not considered a matter of conscience.

Mr Ross's proposals would see the introduction of a three-month mandatory ban for motorists found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50mg-80mg per 100ml.

Opponents say this is the equivalent of a glass of wine.

As previously revealed by the Irish Independent, several Fine Gael ministers and Independent minister Denis Naughten have strong reservations surrounding the proposals.

However, Mr Ross is today preparing for a Cabinet showdown as he seeks a free vote for the Independent Alliance.

"The minister is in favour of free votes on issues of conscience and those of which are not covered in the Programme for Government," a spokesman for Mr Ross said.

"The minister hopes that all TDs will strongly consider voting for this Bill, which has widespread support from the RSA, the public and has received particularly strong endorsement from victim support groups, who know this will save lives.

"This will be a key deterrent to those who are willing to put theirs and other lives at risk."

Privately, senior Independent Alliance sources said the matter has not yet been discussed between Mr Ross and Mr Varadkar and that the prospect of a free vote remains up in the air.

While the bill is supported by Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil says it will vote against the measures unless they are significantly changed.

This means the support of Fine Gael is crucial to the proposals being passed.

Other Fine Gael politicians, such as Brian Hayes MEP, have said Mr Ross is "doing the right thing" by clamping down on drink driving in this fashion.

On the prospect of a free vote, a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said last night: "There is no decision on whether to allow a free vote on the Bill.

"No decision will be taken until the Dáil debate commences in the autumn."

Clarity

Meanwhile, Mr Ross and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney are also due to bring proposals to Cabinet surrounding the issue of mutual recognition of driver disqualification.

Mr Ross wants to bring clarity to cases whereby drivers who hold an Irish licence are disqualified in the UK, and vice versa.

There has been confusion surrounding these cases since the UK pulled out of an EU directive in 2014.

Government sources said the issue of mutual recognition also needs to be clarified in light of Brexit.

Irish Independent

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