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Andrew Lynch: How can our Justice Minister be so casual about drink driving?

The Leinster House old boys' network is a powerful force. While the nation has been focused on the Taoiseach's drinking habits, a much more obscure TD has owned up to alcohol-fuelled behaviour that has once again brought politics into disrepute.

You might have thought that the Minister for Justice would be first to condemn PJ Sheehan's disgraceful antics -- but instead, Dermot Ahern is apparently prepared to overlook the incident on the grounds that the Fine Gael deputy is "a good friend of mine".


By any standards, PJ Sheehan's behaviour in the Leinster House car park last July was completely unacceptable.

Not only did he attempt to drive his car while clearly the worse for wear, he verbally abused a young female garda after she quite properly tried to stop him from breaking the law.

According to an internal Garda report, he told her that she would never be promoted "when we get into power" -- which has unfortunate connotations of the urban legend about a policeman finding a Government minister drinking after hours and being asked, "Would you like a pint or a transfer?"

The political consequences of this story are hardly earth-shattering. Sheehan has offered an apology and resigned as FG's deputy spokesman on agriculture, which will strike some people as a pretty small sacrifice to make.

It is hard to believe that an ordinary member of the public would have got away so lightly -- but at the age of 77, the fate of this archetypal parish-pump politician does not matter much one way or another.


The reaction of Dermot Ahern, however, is another matter. As we all know, the scourge of drink-driving kills hundreds of people on our roads every year.

Ironically, Sheehan's drunken rant came on a night when the Dail had been debating a road traffic bill designed to reduce the legal blood alcohol limit.

When a public representative sets such a terrible example, any decent Minister for Justice should have plenty to say about the matter.

Instead, Ahern seems to believe that an intoxicated TD who gets behind the wheel of a car is really no big deal. His comment that, "I like PJ on a personal basis" seems to imply that his relationship with anybody accused of bad behaviour is the only thing that really counts.

If this relaxed attitude is typical of his approach to crime in general, then it's no wonder that Dublin's gangland criminals are not exactly quaking in their boots.

Ahern's tin-eared response to the Sheehan incident shows once again why he is not really a serious candidate to be the next leader of Fianna Fail.


He consistently displays a contempt for public opinion, embarking on personal crusades such as the blasphemy laws while throwing up his hands at the serious crime that actually destroys people's lives.

Back in the mid-80s, Ahern's namesake Bertie boasted that he could drink several gallons of Bass and still drive home in a straight line because "I'm immune to the bloody stuff."

Today, that casual attitude to drink-driving is no longer acceptable.

If the Minister for Justice can't see that, then it's just another reason why he is clearly not the right man for the job.