Drink-drive penalty points may be reduced

 

THE NUMBER of penalty points to be issued for lower-level breaches of the proposed new drink-driving legislation is expected to be lower than originally envisaged, in order to persuade Fianna Fáil backbenchers to back the Road Traffic Bill.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey did not deny reports yesterday that the penalty point sanctions for some offenders which he outlined to a heated meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last week would be reduced.

She said he was determined to have the blood alcohol content (Bac) limit reduced from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood, and to 20mg for inexperienced and professional drivers. “The Minister will publish the new Road Traffic Bill shortly. It will contain the new limits of 50mgs and 20mgs.”

Last week Mr Dempsey said motorists with a Bac of between 50 and 80mg should receive six penalty points and a €200 fine for a first offence, if they did not challenge the case in court. There is speculation this could be reduced to three or four penalty points. Some backbenchers are understood to want the number reduced to two.

Chief executive of Irish Rural Link Séamus Boland said Fianna Fáil backbenchers were hopeful of achieving a concession from the Minister on penalty points. “I’m aware of a move within the Fianna Fáil backbenches to rethink their stance on alcohol levels, hoping for a concession on the points as some sort of victory for them.”

Mr Boland said some backbenchers were facing a critical reaction over their stance on the issue, particularly from women in rural areas. “Women in particular are saying, ‘would they ever cop themselves on. We don’t want our children injured, or causing accidents either’, ” he said.

He added they would prefer to hear about “raucous” parliamentary party meetings over issues like the closures of rural schools and Garda stations.

John Cregan, the deputy party whip, is understood to have liaised with backbenchers following the parliamentary party meeting last Tuesday, at which 22 TDs and Senators spoke critically about Mr Dempsey’s proposals.

A small core of backbenchers particularly opposed to the Cabinet-approved proposals are understood to have met informally in Leinster House the night after the meeting to discuss their strategy.

Meanwhile, Kerry South Independent TD Jackie Healy Rae has indicated he is prepared to vote against the Government when the legislation comes before the Dáil. The legislation is due to be published before Christmas. A number of Ministers are understood to be unhappy with the timing of the controversy because it coincides with delicate budget negotiations.

Mr Dempsey has proposed that offenders with a Bac of between 80 and 100mg be disqualified for six months and receive a €400 fine, if they do not challenge these sanctions in court. He has also proposed that learners, recently-qualified and professional drivers with a Bac of between 20 and 80mg 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 would be disqualified for six months for a first offence and for one year on a subsequent offence.

These elements of his proposals are not expected to change.

Mr Dempsey will meet the North’s Environment Minister Edwin Poots at a North South Ministerial Council meeting on November 4th. Mr Poots has said it was “not a problem” for the North and the Republic to “move forward together” on the issue.