Gay Byrne blames road deaths rise on 'creeping complacency'
BROADCASTER Gay Byrne has warned progress in reducing the number of deaths on Irish roads is "unravelling before our eyes".
The chairman of the Irish Road Safety Authority (RSA) blamed the decline on cuts in garda resources and a creeping complacency among road users.
Mr Byrne labelled 2013 as a "bad year" for road safety after breaking the record last year for the lowest number of road fatalities in 50 years.
"Following last year we thought that would continue and we all got a terrible fright and shock to realis e that it doesn't happen like that," he told the Irish Independent.
"We are already 23 or 24 fatalities up on last year coming into Christmas, the most dangerous time of the year for road users. We are not about to panic, but we are seeing an unravelling from the progress made last year and that's a great pity."
He added: "We have asked the gardai to increase their enforcement over Christmas and the New Year if they can and they have promised to do that, which will help us."
The 79-year-old was speaking at this year's 'Leading Lights in Road Safety' Awards in Farmleigh, hosted by radio star Ray D'Arcy.
Mr D'Arcy was among the 29 people honoured and received a Special Recognition award for his station's dedication to the road safety issue. However, the star of the day was Dublin woman Gertie Shields, the founder of the Irish branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who was awarded this year's Supreme Award.
Mrs Shields, now 83, had been a tireless campaigner for change in relation to drink driving since 1983, when her daughter Paula and five friends were killed when the car they were travelling in was hit by a drunk driver.
"At the time when Paula and her friends were killed, there were 400 people dying on Irish roads, more people than were being killed in the troubles in the North at the time," she said.
Mrs Shields, who is now retired from MADD, said that Paula is still to the forefront of her mind and described her as a "happy, pretty little thing".
"It destroys families so we decided that we had to fight back," she told the Irish Independent.