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Wednesday 19 June 2019

Signpost to 'zero tolerance' there for all to see

TREACY HOGAN

WHEN the Government announced plans before Christmas to cut the drink-driving limit without identifying a specific new level, many suspected it was pulling a fast one.

The suspicion was that Fianna Fail, bracing itself for a major backlash from rural Ireland and the mighty publicans, and with the prospect of local elections in the not too distant future, had bottled it once again.

The draft road safety strategy had specifically set out a new limit of 50mg, down from the current 80mg.

When the strategy was launched by the Taoiseach this had been dropped.

While committing to cutting the limit, the Government instead handed over the "hot potato" of what that limit should be to an advisory group.

This body was tasked with deciding whether it was appropriate to plump for a new limit of 50mg, 20mg or indeed zero tolerance.

This achieved two purposes. No matter what limit was eventually decided on, it was drawn up by an expert body. This had the potential to turn down any political heat.

Secondly, there was always going to be issue of whether the new limit was too high or too low, and whether a separate limit should be introduced for the more vulnerable learner drivers.

The advisory group will today go before the board of the Road Safety Authority with their recommendation: a blood/alcohol of 50mg for qualified drivers, and 20mg for learner, novices and professional drivers such as truckers. This amounts to an effective zero tolerance for learners.

Intervention

This will in turn be passed on to Transport Minister Noel Dempsey who just two months ago pledged he would act "immediately" once he got the recommendation, under his own road safety strategy, and has to have it in place by June 2009.

After all, it took an intervention by Gay Byrne to embarrass the Cabinet into giving the green light for the delayed private speed cameras. In fairness to him, Noel Dempsey pushed hard for the initiative against the tide of opposition emanating from the Department of Finance, arguing it was "a no brainer".

The lower drink-driving limit does not depend on start-up funding, but it needs public goodwill and already strains are appearing.

A motion opposing the reduction was passed at Kerry Co Council with the backing of a number of publican councillors.

There is increasing sympathy for the plight of people living in isolated parts of the country who depend on the local pub for their social life and fear being consigned to a life behind doors, a prisoner in their own homes.

Gay Byrne, Noel Brett and the rest of the board of the RSA, however, are not going to be swayed by this argument.

From their point of view this is cut and dried.

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