Cabinet defers decision on free vote on drink driving Bill

Vintners are campaigning against law seeking to automatically ban all drink-drivers

The Cabinet has deferred a decision on whether to allow a free vote on controversial proposals to impose a mandatory driving ban on all motorists convicted of drink driving.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross brought his proposed Bill to Tuesday's meeting for approval.

The outline of the Bill was agreed by the Cabinet but any decision on how Independent members of Government will be allowed to vote will not be agreed until after the summer recess.

Members of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance have confirmed they will not support the legislation.

At the moment, a driver detected with between 51-80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in their system will receive penalty points rather than a ban for their first offence.

Mr Ross wants to replace this penalty with a mandatory driving ban so that all motorists convicted of being over the limit face a period of time off the road.

Vintners have lobbied hard against the move, arguing that it is unclear the move would improve road safety and claiming additional enforcement, rather than new penalties, is required.

Mr Ross is facing resistance from Cabinet colleagues including Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Government chief whip Joe McHugh, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring have outlined their objections to the measures.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated he will give Fine Fael TDs the same voting options as members of the Alliance on this Bill.

However, no official decision will be taken until the Bill comes before the Dail in September.

Speaking ahead of the Cabinet meeting, Mr Ross said Fianna Fáil, which is not supporting the Bill, and other political parties should support a free vote on the issue when it comes before the Dáil.

"This measure will save lives and would pass if there is a free vote," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Mr Ross said he believed in a free vote as do his colleagues in the Independent Alliance. He said he knew some of his colleagues had expressed reservations about the proposal.

“Fianna Fáil are going to whip people. I’d like to see Fianna Fáil giving a free vote to people who want to save lives. This measure to save lives could pass if there is a free vote.”

Susan Gray, founder of road safety group Parc, said most rural dwellers were in favour of the proposed change "despite what the vintners say".

She said the current law was a farce. Novice drivers face an automatic ban if caught with 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood but more experienced drivers are not banned if they have 51-80 milligrams.