Ministers criticise increased drink-driving checkpoints as 'over the top'

Garda checkpoints are ‘over the top’ and akin to ‘police state’, Cabinet member claims

Drivers are told by gardaí to blame increased checks on Minister for Transport Shane Ross, according to one Minister. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Drivers are told by gardaí to blame increased checks on Minister for Transport Shane Ross, according to one Minister. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

Increased drink driving checkpoints by An Garda Síochána, particularly in the mornings, as a result of tighter drink driving laws have come in for heavy criticism from Ministers, including the Minister for Justice.

The Cabinet this week heard a number of concerns about the latest efforts by the Garda roads policing unit in rural Ireland. Among those who spoke on the issue were Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minster for Rural Development Michael Ring.

One Minister, speaking privately, said increased checkpoints in the morning were “over the top”, adding that they were akin to a “police state”.

‘Over-zealous’

The issue also dominated a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party this week, and Independent rural deputies have also begun voicing their objections. Another Minister said community policing was the backbone of how An Garda Síochána worked and suggested “stopping people going to Mass” could undermine that. Yet another described the force as being “provocative” and “over-zealous”.

“We think the guards are being political,” the Minister said. “They are really stirring it – stopping people going to Mass. Come on. The old-fashioned common sense policy is gone.”

One Minister privately claimed to The Irish Times drivers were told by individual gardaí to blame increased checks on Mr Ross, who has overseen a tightening of drink driving laws. “The scapegoat is Shane Ross, ” a source said.

Responding to the Irish Times story, Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development, Seán Canney said gardaí­ should concentrate on other illegal activities rather than focussing on early morning check points to detect drink driving.

There needed to be balance, he told Newstalk Breakfast. “Joe Public is feeling persecuted. The ordinary person going to work is being pulled in. It is a challenge getting to work with the traffic as it is without having garda check points,” he said.

“I do not support anyone who gets behind the wheel with drink taken, but there has been a huge increase in the number of check points in the mornings.”

He said the checks were having an impact on people “trying to go about their daily lives” such as taking their children to school. “I don’t know anyone who would drive their children to school while drunk.”

The Galway East TD said there should be more balance and gardaí needed to step up prevention and detection for other crimes such as illegal dumping and drugs.

When asked if he blamed Mr Ross for this escalation in Garda activity, Mr Canney replied: “Shane Ross is not the Minister responsible, it is the gardaí­.”

‘Morning after’ checks

Garda sources said the arrival of new management, particularly the appointment of Commissioner Drew Harris, had led to “a bounce” in the area which delivered higher garda visibility on roads and a probable ramp up in intoxication and other checkpoints around the country. There has also been an increased focus on “morning after” checkpoints.

“There is certainly an emphasis on it. The emphasis is always on changing the behaviour rather than catching people,” a source familiar with the strategy said.

Official statistics for early 2019 are not yet available but there is a view that more investment in roads policing has aided further operations.

With increasing recruitment too, gardaí are anticipating further advances in roads policing in the immediate future.

Earlier this month, garda statistics for the Christmas campaign revealed almost 950 drivers were arrested on suspicion of drink- or drug-driving over the festive period.

One in 10 of those arrested were found to be over the limit after having consumed alcohol the night before.

In December, 2017, there was a total of 812 arrests for intoxicated driving.

Under changes to the Road Traffic Act, drivers who are found to have between 50 and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood are automatically banned from driving for three months and receive a €200 fine. Previously, drivers who tested positive for that amount received three penalty points on their licence.