Delaying drink-driving bill is ‘an insult to the memory of Ciarán’

Strong criticism of politician’s opposition to tougher rules voiced at RSA conference

Strong criticism of politicians who are delaying tougher drink-driving measures, and of the publican's lobby that is influencing them, has been voiced at the Road Safety Authority (RSA) annual conference in Dublin.

The chairwoman of the authority, former Progressive Democrat TD for Dublin South, criticised some of her former colleagues in Leinster House as "drink driver deniers" .

The most heartfelt criticism came from Gillian Treacy, the mother of four-year-old Ciarán who was killed in April 2013 when their car was hit by a drunk driver in Portarlington, Co Laois.

Mrs Treacy, her family and first responders who helped her and sought to save the life of her child, are the face of a current RSA television advertising campaign.


Speaking in a clear, unfaltering voice to some 200 road safety experts and campaigners at the Dublin Castle conference, she said some politicians and publicans were insulting her and her family.

The fatal crash in which she also sustained serious injuries had created a living daily nightmare for her family and a pain that never goes away.

“I am also very disillusioned by a campaign that has been mounted by the vintners to undermine efforts to save lives,” she said.

"Equally shameful is the reluctance of some of our public representatives, who on the one hand say they don't condone drink driving but yet refuse to support the measures that the Minister (for Transport Shane Ross) is making to protect people's lives – people like me and my family, people they represent and who are living in rural Ireland from drink driving.

“In fact I would go as far as saying that the opposition to this bill is an insult to my family and the memory of Ciarán.”

Drink driving did not happen by chance; it was a choice, she said.

‘Time we stopped kidding ourselves’

“People make a conscious effort to drive after drinking and it is simply unacceptable behaviour. That’s why I am fully behind the minister and his efforts to introduce harsher penalties for those caught drink driving between 50 and 80 because we still have a problem with drink driving in this country and it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves that we don’t.

“There are no degrees of drink driving because it is an established scientific fact that any amount of drink impairs your driving.”

Appealing for politicians to support the mandatory three month ban proposed in the new Bill, she received a standing ovation for her comments.

The Kerry TD and publican, Michael Healy-Rae, who has been a vocal opponent of the bill and claimed, without producing evidence, that it was safe to drink up to two pints and drive, was not mentioned by any speaker but was a presence nonetheless.

Shane Ross said there was a "huge responsibility on us in the Oireachtas" to reduce the death toll on Irish roads caused by drink driving.

The Minister continued: "It is fair to say that that responsibility is not being taken seriously or energetically enough by a large numbers of members of the Oireachtas. "

A proposal to place a mandatory three month ban on drivers found to have over 50 milligrams of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood in their system was “based on scientific evidence” and was “essential legislation to save lives”.

“I am at a loss to understand how the legislation has been delayed deep in the dungeons of Leinster House in the hands of an Oireachtas committee for three months now,” he said.

“The committee appears to be in no hurry. Hopefully, none of its members have been unduly influenced by the assertions we have heard from the publicans lobby, the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

“Three weeks ago, I think it is fair to say, those who have been remarking that some of my colleagues are puppets of the publicans are not far off the mark. Meanwhile, as the Bill languishes in Leinster House for three months, lives have been lost on the roads.”

He said the evidence showed that seven to eight people a year were killed by drivers driving with the lower blood alcohol levels in their blood that would attract the three month ban proposed by the Bill.

“I urge the Joint Oireachtas committee in concluding its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, to accept the independent evidence that supports it. That they accept the integrity of the RSA and its work in making Irish roads safer but most importantly, that they move this Bill forward and help reduce road tragedies.

“This is such an important issue that we have to get the message across to everyone driving on our roads.”

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times