Give Me a Crash Course In ... drink-driv­ing penal­ties

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - SARAH BARDON

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

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