Monday 9 December 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Shane Ross might fire blanks on sport - but his road safety drive is hitting target'

Despite all the niggles, when it comes to road safety, Shane Ross has been a hero of sorts.
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Despite all the niggles, when it comes to road safety, Shane Ross has been a hero of sorts. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gerard O'Regan

There was a time - and that time was not so long ago - when driving a car in varying stages of drunkenness was often seen as a bit of a laugh. "I have no memory of how I got home last night. I just remember getting behind the wheel. Good job the old jalopy knew its own way back to base," would be a typical justification for drinking and driving.

Puerile perhaps, but the black humour usually generated a laugh. Such behaviour was not uncommon. Was it not a case of needs must after a night out at the local boozer or some other drinking session? Why waste money on a taxi or, God forbid, stay sober, despite the risk of killing or maiming somebody?

Thankfully such days of dangerous self-delusion are no more. The law of the land no longer indulges drunk driving as it did in the past. But most importantly there has been a sea change in public attitudes. Being inebriated behind the wheel can now cast the culprit in the role of social pariah.

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Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Shane Ross is not everybody's cup of tea. His embrace of the sporting side of his brief has prompted more than a few guffaws. It's clear time spent at a posh English boarding school failed to imbue a real empathy for the achievements of footballers, boxers, athletes and the like.

Try as he might, he remains unconvincing when singing the praises of our latest success story.

However, this has not dampened his temptation to seek out well-publicised moments in Dublin Airport, when the latest sporting hero returns to home turf.

But he is neither the first - nor will he be the last - politician to muscle in on adulation intrinsic to high sporting achievement. Being part of the magical aura, in however peripheral a fashion, surrounding sports people in their moment of glory, is hard to resist.

And then there has been the saga of Stepaside garda station.

He may represent an affluent and largely urbanised constituency - but the minister is a slick exponent of good old parish-pump politics. Airily dismissing an expert policing analysis of the area, he kept up his high-profile one-man crusade for the premises to be manned on a round-the-clock basis.

But despite such niggles, when it comes to road safety, Shane Ross has been a hero of sorts. Despite relentless opposition from some quarters, he fought a tough battle to force down the drink-driving limit.

However, driving too fast remains the biggest cause of road deaths in Ireland - more than 40pc of fatal collisions are caused by somebody who just can't resist pressing the accelerator when they shouldn't. As a result, too many have died while countless others battle life-changing injuries.

Like the drink driving of old, there is still too much tolerance of speed merchants in both town and country. The proposals by the minister for a gradual scale of punishment, involving fines and penalty points, is a much-needed deterrent for those who refuse to obey the rules of the road.

Unfortunately, the guidelines were watered down somewhat because of inevitable opposition from some in the rural Ireland brigade.

This grouping is instinctively opposed to the tougher approach on drink driving. And exponents of this group also seek indulgence for those flouting the speed limits. The argument runs that such restrictions are limiting mobility in rural areas, such as travelling to and from the local pub. They hanker for a return to the old days, and often are grossly irresponsible in what they say.

What has been dubbed rural isolation is undoubtedly a growing social problem. There are obvious challenges unique to living in isolated places. But the risk to life and limb by indulging the driver who 'has a few pints', plus those who have a propensity for fast driving, is too high a price to pay.

So what matter if Shane Ross is dodgy when discussing a Katie Taylor body feint, as she dodges a left hook before landing an uppercut on her opponent. His initiatives on the road safety front will mean men, women and children will be alive this Christmas who would otherwise be listed on our tear-stained litany of road deaths.

That's a legacy any politician should be most proud of.

Irish Independent

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