Monday 15 July 2019

Varadkar puts the brakes on Ross's road safety crackdown

On hold: Shane Ross was informed of how his crackdown played out in rural areas. Photo: Damien Eagers
On hold: Shane Ross was informed of how his crackdown played out in rural areas. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Transport Minister Shane Ross has been warned to ease up on his plans for new road safety laws, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has intervened to express the concerns of Fine Gael TDs and some ministers about Mr Ross's plans for a tough penalty points system.

A large section of Mr Varadkar's party believes Mr Ross has already caused enough upset in rural Ireland with his clampdown on drink-driving.

Rural TDs are said to have "got it in the neck" over Christmas, with anecdotal reports of people being breathalysed on their way to morning Mass.

At a meeting between Mr Varadkar and the Independent Alliance on Tuesday night, the Taoiseach expressed the concerns of his party to Mr Ross.

A number of sources told the Irish Independent that while the exchanges were cordial, Mr Varadkar's intent was clear.

"The message was 'enough is enough'. He got his drink-driving legislation through and the continued changes are causing upset in rural Ireland," a source said.

A separate source confirmed that the Taoiseach told his minister that the clampdown "got a negative reception over Christmas".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney also rowed in, telling Mr Ross that he should realise the growing opposition based on conversations that had taken place at Cabinet earlier that day.

During that Cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was among a number of Fine Gael representatives who outlined objections to what is being perceived as a crusade against motorists in rural Ireland.

Mr Ross has put forward proposals to introduce tough penalties for motorists caught speeding and automatic fines for not carrying a driving licence.

Fine Gael has sought to delay any changes by pushing them to a Cabinet committee for assessment.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Ross defended his record in the job to the Taoiseach, making the point that road deaths have continuously fallen since he came into office.

Last year, there were 142 fatal collisions resulting in 149 fatalities on Irish roads. This is seven fewer than in 2017.

Of the 149 fatalities, there were 62 drivers killed, 21 passengers, 42 pedestrians, 15 motorcyclists and nine cyclists.

The meeting between the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Independent Alliance was scheduled as a "start of term" get-together.

Some in the Alliance were expecting dinner in Government Buildings but were only offered a bowl of fruit.

The Alliance ministers were given an opportunity to outline their priorities for the months ahead.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath is understood to have raised Beaumont Hospital and the potential recognition of the state of Palestine.

OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran and Junior Education Minister John Halligan are understood to have spoken about issues relating to the cost of living.

A Government source insisted that the relationship between Fine Gael and the Alliance is "strong despite difference in some areas".

Mr Ross has also been privately targeted by Fine Gael ministers after a poor performance at a press conference on Brexit contingency plans.

Irish Independent

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