Minister failed to ‘rural proof’ drink-driving Bill, Dáil hears

Move to ban anyone caught above limit has made people scared ‘even to drive to Mass’

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has been accused of turning law abiding people into criminals with legislation to impose an automatic driving ban on anyone over the drink-driving limit.

People in rural areas who collect their pension "might like to have a pint or two, but they are petrified to do so", Independent TD Michael Collins said.

“They have never caused anyone a problem in their life or broken the law” and the changes in the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill “will make them look like criminals from now on”.

The Cork South-West TD was speaking as the Dáil debate continued on the legislation which removes the option of penalty points for a first offence and imposes an automatic three-month driving ban on a motorist who drives over the legal limit.

He said the Minister had failed to “rural proof” the Bill and instead of tackling rural isolation it would extend it.

Mr Collins claimed that “everything is being built against the rural person”. He added: “We are losing our post offices, pubs, banks, creameries and churches. People are also leaving. There is nothing for young people in rural parts of Ireland. Why would they stay? They cannot have a drink, socialise or go anywhere.”

He read out an email from the owners of a pub that had closed down this week in Ballylickey, near Bandon, in Co Cork. The pub had a minibus in place which “brought out the elderly from their homes to meet other people” and the last bus journey was at 1 am.

“We are sad to say today we close the bar as we find the Garda checkpoints the morning after are very unfair. It has frightened these people in the rural area even to drive to Mass on a Sunday morning.” The pub had employed 12 local people. “That’s a lot in a rural area to find employment.”

Instilled fear

Independent Alliance TD Seán Canney confirmed his opposition to his colleague’s Bill. He said that all laws needed to have a balance.

He believed the changes in the legislation could be counter-productive and it “goes too far. We need to look at it and balance it up” – against the negative effects it might have on rural Ireland.

Mr Canney said the Bill had “instilled much fear” in rural Ireland.

Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O’Keeffe described the Bill as a “knee-jerk” reaction after a spike in road fatalities 12 months ago. He asked why the Minister had not responded to the road fatalities in Donegal where “young people up there love cars”.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said it was right to proceed with the Bill if it saved a life and she called for an extension of the Local Link bus service in rural areas to operate at night. A €1 million investment would provide more than 11,000 extra trips around rural Ireland a year, she said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that if Mr Ross wanted to "plant a flag" that dealing with road deaths "is the area of greatest achievement in his time as Minister", he would have to enforce anti-speeding penalties.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times