Rural TDs' spirited challenge fails to sway Dempsey
TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey succeeded in facing down a small group of rural Fianna Fail backbenchers who opposed his plan to lower the drink-driving limit.
Three TDs had vowed not to vote for the measure but these pledges became redundant after all parties agreed to support the Road Traffic Bill and pass it without a vote.
Mr Dempsey also overcame the opposition of independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae, who claimed he would have voted against the bill, given the chance.
"I'm very annoyed about it altogether. I'll tell you the truth: to put it very mildly it will hurt my side of the country in a terrible way altogether," Mr Healy-Rae said yesterday.
He referred to "small farmers", who would have driven to the pubs in his South Kerry constituency to swap stories. "Now there will be no pub because the days of drinking a pint or a pint and a half is all over. It's a very sad day for rural Ireland," he said.
But the Dail record shows that Mr Healy-Rae voiced no objections when the Ceann Comhairle asked if there was unanimous agreement to pass the bill to lower the drink driving limit from 80mg to 50mg. He also failed to call for a vote, which he would have been entitled to.
Fine Gael's road-safety spokesman Shane McEntee said it was not possible for Mr Healy-Rae to have it every way. "He never came down, he never opened his mouth.
"The bottom line is that people have accepted this. I've had no one ringing me or complaining," he said.
Fianna Fail Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan was another Fianna Fail backbencher who publicly opposed the lowering of the drink-driving limit, but did not have to vote on the issue.
He said yesterday he had "serious misgivings" about the lowering of the drink-driving limit.
"I'm very disappointed that Mr Dempsey failed to listen to the genuine and serious concerns that we have had, but then it wouldn't be the first time he failed to listen," he said.
The two other most prominent Fianna Fail opponents of the move, Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath and Cork South West TD Christy O'Sullivan, could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
But other rural Fianna Fail TDs had voiced strong support for Mr Dempsey's move to lower the drink driving limit, including Cavan-Monaghan TD Rory O'Hanlon, Laois-Offaly TD Sean Fleming, and Wexford TD John Browne. Mr Browne told the Dail during Wednesday evening's debate that one of his daughters had been killed in a road accident 12 years ago.
"One is always wondering if one's child were alive today where they would be working, would they be married or have gone abroad. No one can object to the minister improving road quality and safety, particularly for young people," he said.