Monday 23 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'TDs should lay off gardaí for enforcing the law'

TD Danny Healy-Rae is unhappy about Garda checkpoints in his area
TD Danny Healy-Rae is unhappy about Garda checkpoints in his area

Ciara Kelly

Is it just me, or is it not incredible to hear elected representatives in Dail Eireann criticise gardai - not for failing to do their job - but for actually doing it? This week Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae, of the Healy-Raes, political, publican dynasty complained angrily about the presence of Garda checkpoints enforcing road safety in his constituency. "People are checked going to Mass and coming from Mass… does the Minister want to close the churches now, as well as the post offices?" he demanded.

Now, I for one, am confused, because most complaints we hear about gardai are not that they're everywhere - it's that they're nowhere to be seen. Complaints usually centre on the lack of Garda enforcement of the rules of the road! And indeed the perceived lack of gardai and Garda stations in rural Ireland is normally cited as a factor in rural crime. So gardai out checking that people aren't speeding, or over the drink-driving limit, is something most people would see as a welcome development in their community.

Not Deputy Healy-Rae though. He was one of the most vocal opponents to the Road Traffic Amendment Bill with its new stricter penalties for drink-driving, even suggesting at one stage that eating a big meal might be just as detrimental to your driving as having a drink could be - although there is no evidence that this is the case. But this is more grist to his particular mill.

The practice of breathalysing drivers the morning after the night before is sometimes seen as 'unfair' by people. As if you somehow might deserve to be done for drink-driving if you hop in your car immediately after having a feed of pints, but you don't if you've gone home, slept most of it off, and only hopped in your car then. But the reason drink-driving is illegal isn't because it is some kind of box-ticking exercise - and if you're a good citizen and walked, or got a taxi the night before, you should be given a pass the following morning. The reason drink-driving is illegal is that having elevated levels of alcohol in your bloodstream impairs your cognitive function - and your reaction time - which makes you more likely to cause a crash.

That's the case, whether your blood-alcohol level is raised morning, noon or night. And if you've drunk enough the night before to still have an elevated level the next day - despite your body metabolising alcohol all through the night - well then you're still a danger on the roads and you need to be put off them. I should also point out Deputy Healy-Rae often talks about people being thwarted in their desire to have two pints - two pints would be long out of your bloodstream by the following morning. The only people who'd still be over the limit after eight hours' sleep are people who have had far in excess of that.

The truth is, either we take road safety seriously, or we don't. And recent changes in the law means that drinking alcohol and driving is very likely to have you put off the road. Most people now don't drink any alcohol if they know they're going to be driving. And that makes our roads, including our rural roads, safer for all users. Enforcement is key though. People do what they think they'll get away with, so Garda checkpoints impact on people's behaviour. And if gardai don't breathalyse people in the morning - then people will think being over the limit in the morning is grand. Danny Healy-Rae may, indeed, be worrying about the closure of rural churches - although it seems unlikely they will close because someone is delayed for five minutes on their way to one because they've been stopped by gardai. But I'm sure he's also worried about the closure of rural pubs.

Publicans as a group - which, of course, includes Healy-Rae himself - and the drinks industry, lobby consistently against any measure that they think might infringe on their business interests. And people drinking less is not good for business - despite it benefiting the common good. Being a garda standing at the side of the road, in the cold of a winter's morning, is not a pleasant job. But it's necessary. Road safety matters. Rural lives matter. And TDs giving stick to gardai for doing this job is a disgraceful anachronism.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays 12-2.

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