Give Me a Crash Course In ... drink-driving penalties
Why is everyone fighting over new drink-driving legislation?
Minister for Transport Shane Ross has proposed to close a loophole in current legislation, first introduced in 2009 by Noel Dempsey. Currently, drivers caught with 51mg-80mg in their system can escape with a fine. However, Ross wants them automatically banned from driving for six months. This would mean every driver caught over the limit would face automatic disqualification from driving.
Why is this proving to be such a difficult thing to do?
Many TDs, including a number of Cabinet Ministers, believe enforcement of current drink-driving legislation should be Ross’s priority. They also feel the automatic ban will have consequences for those living in rural Ireland, who have limited access to transport and rely on the pub as a form of social inclusion. Some Ministers are also sceptical of Ross’s intentions and feel he may use the progress of this legislation to further lower the blood alcohol limit.
So, who supports it?
Ross has the support of Sinn Féin and the Green Party. He also has the backing of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and other road safety groups. However, Fianna Fáil will not support it. The Labour Party and Social Democrats have reserved their position until they hear evidence from the RSA and others. A number of Independents, including Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae, have been vocal opponents of the measures.
Does Fine Gael support it?
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Simon Harris, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Labour and Social Protection Regina Doherty are strongly in favour of the measures. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring, Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and Government chief whip Joe McHugh do not support it.
A number of Ministers of State have also spoken out against the measures, including Sean Kyne, Patrick O’Donovan and Brendan Griffin.
Ross is also facing resistance from his Independent Alliance colleagues. Minister of State Kevin “Boxer” Moran and Sean Canney have not supported it. What happened this week then?
Ross brought the legislation to Cabinet on Tuesday. Six Ministers outlined their objection to the measures but agreed to support its progression to the Dáil. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also confirmed he was examining a free vote for TDs and Senators in the Fine Gael party. However, he said Ministers of State would be bound by the Cabinet decision to support the Bill.
So, what does that mean for Ross’s measures?
Well, if Ministers and Ministers of State are “whipped”, the Bill is likely to pass through the Dáil. The Seanad may be another matter. There are a number of issues yet to be resolved, including whether Shane Ross will secure a free vote for the Independent Alliance and whether Leo Varadkar will grant something similar for his party’s TDs and Senators. The matter will be brought before the Dáil in the autumn.
Transport Minister Shane Ross’s proposed new law would mean every driver caught over the limit would face automatic disqualification from driving. PHOTOGRAPH: FRANK MILLER