Taoiseach says all Ministers will have to support drink-driving Bill

Four Ministers of State oppose controversial proposals put forward by Shane Ross

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that all officeholders would be subjected to a whip when the Dáil votes on the proposals from Minister for Transport Shane Ross. Photograph:  Brenda Fitzsimons

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that all officeholders would be subjected to a whip when the Dáil votes on the proposals from Minister for Transport Shane Ross. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that he expects Ministers of State to support the Government’s controversial proposals to automatically ban anyone over the legal drink-driving limit.

Mr Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that all officeholders would be subjected to a whip when the Dáil votes on the proposals from Minister for Transport Shane Ross.

Mr Varadkar’s announcement followed uncertainty around whether Ministers of State would be expected to support the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017 when it comes to a vote after the summer recess.

The announcement may create new tensions within the government ranks, as the move will force several Ministers of State to support legislation which they personally oppose.

The Irish Times understands that at least four junior ministers – Patrick O’Donovan, Brendan Griffin, Seán Kyne, and Kevin “Boxer” Moran – are opposed to the measures contained in the Bill.

Unfair

Each believe the proposal is unfair to those in rural Ireland, particularly in isolated areas where a local pub may be the only social outlet for older people.

The proposal may also conflict with the position of the Independent Alliance, which expected its members outside of Cabinet to have a free vote on the Bill.

Two of the Alliance’s five members – Mr Ross, and the Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath – sit at the Cabinet table and would have been expected to support the Bill.

However, Mr Moran and the Minister of State at the Department of Education John Halligan would have expected a free vote, as would the other Alliance member Seán Canney.

The position outlined by Mr Varadkar now means that only Mr Canney will have a free vote on the matter.

Mr Varadkar is understood to have criticised the position adopted by the Independent Alliance questioning why a group who proposed a Bill would later seek a free vote when addressing the Fine Gael meeting.

He also confirmed it would be a decision for them as to whether a free vote should be allowed for TDs and Senators but stressed he would be asking them to support the measure.

Mandatory disqualification

Mr Ross’s contentious Bill proposes to increase the penalties on motorists caught drinking in excess of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, and replace the possibility of penalty points with a mandatory disqualification from driving.

Six senior Ministers, including the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, spoke against the Bill when it came before the Cabinet on Tuesday.

The decision to impose a whip on Ministers of State increases the prospect of the Bill surviving its first Dáil vote, as at least 27 of Fine Gael’s 50 TDs will now be instructed to support it.

Fianna Fáil has indicated it will oppose the Bill, believing that increased enforcement offers a better prospect of reducing road deaths.

However, the Bill is likely to win the Dáil support of Sinn Féin, Labour and the Green Party.