Tuesday 25 June 2019

Colette Browne: Ross takes another wrong turn in crusade to score just one win

Gardaí simulate a drink driving breath test with actors portraying the suspect and his family in Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo credit: Julien Behal/PA
Gardaí simulate a drink driving breath test with actors portraying the suspect and his family in Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo credit: Julien Behal/PA
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Been caught speeding recently? If Shane Ross has his way, your name could soon be added to a list of other offenders and posted publicly for the delectation of your nosy neighbours.

You wouldn't think it if you listened to Mr Ross, but the penalties for drink driving in this country are already pretty stiff.

The vast majority will receive an automatic driving ban, which can be up to six years long, and a hefty fine.

Coupled with this, guilty motorists will endure the ignominy of ending up before the courts with a high probability that news of the offence will be reported in their local newspaper.

Meanwhile, those who are found with a blood-alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml receive three penalty points and a €250 fine for a first offence.

They are disqualified from driving if caught again.

Mr Ross has spent much of his time in government trying to increase the penalty for the latter offence, so that drivers at the lower limit receive an automatic ban.

However, despite his incessant proselytising on the issue, he has been unable to convince even his Independent Alliance colleagues of the merits of this plan, and the Bill is very likely to be voted down in the autumn.

Cognisant of the risk of imminent defeat, of the only reform that the Transport Minister has championed in his brief, it seems that Mr Ross has had another brainwave.

Those convicted of drink driving, he believes, are not publicly shamed enough, so he intends to introduce legislation facilitating the publication of a list of names of offenders.

One can only assume that if the option of public stocks was still available, then Mr Ross would happily lock offending motorists up in village squares to be pelted with rotten fruit.

Mr Ross's road safety crusade doesn't end there.

Yesterday, he refused to rule out naming and shaming those convicted of other motoring offences, including speeding.

So, if you got penalty points for doing 60kmh in a 50kmh zone, prepare to have news of this travesty broadcast to the world.

Given that, in 2015, district courts dealt with 243,037 motoring offences, the vast majority of these minor matters, only the nosiest of neighbours would have the tenacity to trawl through that mammoth list looking for familiar names.

Regardless, Mr Ross does not seem to be deterred by either the petty, punitive nature of his plan or of its inherent idiocy.

As a minister who has accomplished precisely nothing in his brief to date, the pressure is on for him to score at least one win before the coalition collapses.

So, if he can't get instant disqualifications for those found with low levels of alcohol in their system over the line, he will at least try to ensure that each and every defendant is ritually humiliated.

The most risible part of Mr Ross's headline-grabbing plans, is that they deflect attention from the fact that this Government is not committed to road safety, and that it has stood idly by as the numbers of gardaí assigned to the traffic corps has been decimated.

The rot started under the previous administration but has continued apace while Mr Ross has been pontificating about his determination to reduce road deaths, with the strength of the traffic corps depleted from a high of 1,200 a few short years ago to just 681 today.

How exactly does Mr Ross expect to catch those who commit motoring offences if there are no gardaí on the roads to detect them? Will he be manning the checkpoints himself?

Speaking on RTÉ radio last week, Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy cited a recent measure that had an immediate and significant impact on the numbers of road deaths - a visible Garda presence.

Mr Troy said that in the run-up to Christmas last year the numbers of gardaí assigned to traffic duty was hugely increased.

The result was that there was a 34pc drop in road deaths compared to the same period in 2015, and a 27pc drop compared to 2014.

Does Mr Ross seriously believe that any of the measures he is currently proposing will have anything like the immediate and measurable impact of more gardaí on the roads?

This isn't a complicated argument.

It's not hard to grasp. If people don't believe that they will be caught when they commit a crime, they are more likely to offend.

The only people who benefit when new laws are introduced, when the old ones are not being enforced, are the politicians who enact them.

They get to look like they are achieving something when, in reality, their reforms are just pointless.

Those found guilty of drink driving already suffer serious consequences.

The loss of a licence, for some, can equate to the loss of a job, while the accrual of penalty points, which remain on licences for three years, can also result in the loss of a licence.

Pointing this out is not an endorsement of drink driving, which is always wrong, but rather a statement of fact.

Instead of introducing vindictive new laws that seek to pile further public opprobrium on drink drivers, perhaps the focus of the Government could be on actually detecting those who break the law - which is the oldest and best deterrent.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss