Ross accuses vintners of ‘cynical lobbying’ over drink-driving

Minister faces onslaught from rural politicians over plans for automatic ban

Speaking during a joint committee meeting on drink driving, Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae has called into question the figures put forward by Minister for Transport Shane Ross

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said publicans should be arranging buses home for patrons rather engaging in “cynical lobbying” over new drink-driving proposals.

The Independent Alliance Minister made the comments during an Oireachtas Transport Committee meeting on Wednesday which scrutinised his Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty-Drink Driving) Bill 2017.

New rules set out in the Bill will ensure that anyone caught driving with a blood-alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml will get an automatic driving ban instead of the current punishment of three penalty points and a €250 fine on first offence.

The proposals have come in for criticism from politicians representing rural constituencies who say the prospect of bans for driving at the lower intoxication level will deter people from socialising in pubs and will lead to increased feelings of isolation in such areas.

Speaking to the committee, Mr Ross said stricter rules around drink-driving would benefit rural communities which suffer from a higher proportion of alcohol-related road deaths.

Vested interest groups

Addressing the concerns of publicans in particular, he accused the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) of demonstrating “naked self-interest” by opposing the measures and added that he wished they would take a constructive role by organising transport for patrons who have been drinking.

“Unfortunately certain vested interest groups, certainly the Vintners Federation of Ireland, have lobbied often in quite a cynical matter against [the Bill],” he said.

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The Irish Times has contacted the VFI for comment in relation to the Minister’s comments.

Meanwhile, Kerry-based Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae accused Mr Ross of misleading the public over the role of alcohol in road deaths, choosing instead to focus on “briars and bridges”.

“You’re wondering why the level of the figures for fatalities increased last year. The massive increase in the volume of traffic on our roads has contributed to that. The longer distances that people have to drive to work has contributed to that,” he said.

Mr Healy-Rae also maligned the part of “bridges that were built over 200 years ago that are not fit for traffic” and said crashes were happening because people were “walking practically halfway out on the road because the briars and the bushes are sticking out”.

“Two glasses or three glasses of Guinness did not cause an accident for anybody,” added the deputy.

Blindspot

The Minister responded that Mr Healy-Rae is “right” to say that many factors aside from alcohol contribute to loss of life on the roads, but said drinking any level of alcohol impairs driving.

Over the course of a testy exchange he added: “The blindspot you’ve got deputy Healy-Rae is you don’t accept alcohol of any kind affects driving . . . Alcohol is dangerous and it impairs. That is not an opinion, it’s a fact.”

Mr Ross said he would like to see a drink-driving limit of zero, a prospect he admitted could cause detections for people who use mouthwash containing alcohol when asked by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.

He also accepted that more people have been killed in incidents where the driver was found to have a legal blood alcohol level of between 21mg and 50mg than where the driver was over the limit at 50mg to 80mg, but said any lives saved represents a good outcome.

“I suspect that those families whose loved-ones have been killed or severely injured in preventable traffic collisions would agree,” he said.

He also pointed to figures compiled by the Road Safety Authority between 2008 and 2012 which show that alcohol was a factor in more than a third of all fatal crashes during that period, and arrests for drink-driving increased to a high of more than 8,000 last year following consecutive falls since 2016.

The number of penalty points handed out for drink-driving offences also spiked last year.