Angry FF debate on drink-driving

 

Fianna Fáil backbenchers intervened angrily at tonight’s parliamentary party meeting following the Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey’s presentation of his plans to curb drink driving.

Mr Dempsey revealed new penalties for drink driving offences and said mandatory breath testing would take place at the scene of all accidents.

He said the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit would be reduced from 80mg to 50mg per
100ml.

At the meeting, which lasted from 5.30pm until after 8pm and was attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Mr Dempsey confirmed the main features of the Road Traffic Bill in a slideshow titled The case for making Irish roads safer.

Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath said he was not convinced by Mr Dempsey’s presentation.

“It was a long meeting. There was a lot of very constructive argument. The overwhelming majority, bar one maybe two at most, was in support of the status quo,” Mr McGrath said.

“There’ll be a period of reflection for a week or two and we expect results.” Another backbencher, who did not want to be named, described the mood of the meeting as angry.

“People were very angry, upset, one on the issue but also because Dempsey has backed himself into a corner, people feel on purpose,” he said.

“He’s upped the stakes, strategically, he’s put it out in the media tactically to up the ante. The implication is back me or sack me. Very clever, but it’s certainly not endearing himself to anyone in the party.”

Under the new regime proposed by Mr Dempsey, experienced drivers with a BAC of between 50 and 80mg will receive six penalty points and a €200 fine if they do not challenge in court.

Experienced drivers with BAC of between 80 and 100mg will be disqualified for six months and receive a €400 fine if they do not challenge in court.

Learners, recently-qualified and professional drivers found to have a BAC of between 20 and 80mg will be disqualified for three months and receive a €200 fine.

In the event of a court appearance and conviction, drivers found with BACs of less than 80mg will be disqualified for six months for a first offence and for one year on a subsequent offence.

There will be no change to the regime for those with BACs of greater than 80mg: disqualification for one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence.

Mr Dempsey quoted an online poll from The Irish Timesfrom May 2008 saying 56 per cent agreed with the statement that the blood alcohol limit for driving should be reduced.

Those who attended the meeting, which is never open to the media, said there were between 25 and 30 contributions, with just one or two speaking in support of the Minister.

A motion, signed by 18 TDs and three senators, opposing any reduction in the drink-driving limits, was withdrawn earlier this week.

The United Kingdom (0.08) and Malta (0.09) are the only other EU countries with the same or higher level than Ireland.