Ross drink-driving law efforts likely to pass through Oireachtas
Most TDs and Senators either supportive of the measures or unwilling to oppose them
Minister for Transport Shane Ross: his Road Traffic Bill has met with strong opposition from rural politicians. Photograph: Eric Luke
The vast majority of TDs in the Dáil are either supportive of its measures, or have decided not to oppose them, and the same is likely to be the case in the Seanad.
The main thrust of the Road Traffic Bill is to increase penalties for those caught drink-driving. It will introduce a mandatory driving ban for a first drink-driving offence if a motorist has a blood alcohol level of above 50mg per 100ml. Currently, first-time offenders receive a fine and penalty points.
It has met with strong opposition from rural politicians, and there were doubts at one stage if Fine Gael would even apply the whip to ensure Mr Ross’s proposals became law.
Danny Healy-Rae, the Kerry TD, who – along his brother and constituency colleague Michael – is one of the most vocal opponents to the Bill, said anyone who drinks a pint and a half of beer will be over the legal limit. Such claims have also been heard from within the ranks of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Given the Government’s precarious minority, support was always needed from across the House. Sinn Féin’s decision to support the proposals almost from the moment they were announced by Mr Ross in early 2017 –allied with a Fine Gael whip – meant its passage was effectively secure from the outset.
Labour and the Social Democrats are also providing support and Fianna Fáil this week announced that it would not oppose the Bill, despite being opposed to the severity of the sanctions within it.
The main reason for the delay in its passing through the Oireachtas has been down to parliamentary procedure and management by the Government of the legislation.
A group of rural deputies – the Healy-Raes, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice and Seán Canney – are against the Bill, and some have been accused of filibustering during Dáil debates.
Mr Canney, a member of Mr Ross’s Independent Alliance, provoked anger among his colleagues by voting against the Bill at report stage this week, rather than just abstain as he had earlier in the legislative process.
The moves by the small group of deputies led Liz O’Donnell, the chair of the Road Safety Authority, to publicly criticise as “disgraceful and self-serving the behaviour and tactics employed by a tiny minority of rural TDs, who are delaying the passage of vital lifesaving road safety legislation”.
The fact that Mr Ross has on a number of occasions expanded the Bill by adding amendments has, due to Dáil procedures, allowed the debate to be reopened by those TDs criticised by Ms O’Donnell.
The latest is the “Clancy amendment”, which would penalise vehicle owners who allow a learner driver out on the road on their own and will allow gardaí to seize a vehicle driven by an unaccompanied learner driver. McGrath said it provided, once more, the opportunity to object.
Against such opposition, governments would usually guillotine a Bill through but the current minority administration does not have the strength to do so.
However, even McGrath expects the Bill to pass from the Dáil to the Seanad this week, and the Tipperary deputy accepts it will become law.
“It is going to get through but is a ridiculous piece of legislation,” he said.