Varadkar criticises TDs’ attacks on drink-driving laws

If Government does not want gardaí to enforce rules we should not pass them, says Taoiseach

Garda checkpoint at Kilmainham, Dublin 8. Senior Government Ministers last week raised concerns about the increased number of drink-driving checkpoints being rolled out. File photograph: Tom Honan

Garda checkpoint at Kilmainham, Dublin 8. Senior Government Ministers last week raised concerns about the increased number of drink-driving checkpoints being rolled out. File photograph: Tom Honan

 

An Garda Síochána has the Taoiseach’s “full support” in enforcing drink-driving laws, he told the Dáil as he defended legislation brought forward by Minister for Transport Shane Ross but criticised by other Cabinet colleagues.

Leo Varadkar said if the Government did not want gardaí to enforce the laws, “we should not pass them in this House”.

Senior Government Ministers last week raised concerns about the increased number of drink-driving checkpoints being rolled out, particularly in the mornings, by the Garda roads policing unit in rural Ireland.

The Dáil and Seanad had passed legislation before Christmas to amend the Road Traffic Act so that motorists found with 50mg and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood are automatically banned from driving for three months and receive a €200 fine. Previously, drivers who tested positive for that amount received three penalty points on their licence.

At Cabinet, Ministers blamed Mr Ross for the increased enforcement of drink-driving legislation in rural areas, and Opposition TDs condemned it as a further attack on rural communities.

Mr Varadkar said it was “important to remind the House that alcohol limits have not changed, although some people believe that they have. Rather, the penalties have changed.”

He said that although the legislation was piloted through the Dáil and Seanad by Mr Ross “it is not his legislation but, rather, legislation that was approved by Government and enacted by the Oireachtas”.

The “vast majority of Members of this House and the Seanad voted for it”, he said. “The Government supports the Garda in enforcing the law.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who raised the issue, asked if the Taoiseach agreed with comments by Mr Ross in the Sunday Independent that Ministers who criticised the drink-driving legislation “are not fit for office”.

The Taoiseach told him that “I do not believe that any Minister currently serving in Government is unfit for office. If I did feel that, I would dismiss them.”

Heated exchanges

Earlier in the Dáil there were heated exchanges about the drink-driving law between Kerry Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae and his Fine Gael constituency colleague Minister of State for Transport Brendan Griffin.

Mr Healy-Rae said Government Ministers were now giving out about legislation they voted for because people in rural Ireland were “angry and frustrated” about the law.

“Here they are now, complaining about gardaí stopping people, when it was these deputies who put the Bill in place.”

But he said they were now “fudging” on earlier promises of transport services for rural Ireland.

He claimed the Government had “no regard to rural proofing” when it enacted this legislation and took a view to “let the people of rural Ireland go to hell”.

Mr Griffin said a meeting of the ministerial and management boards would convene and “we will be discussing rural transport initiatives such as Rural Link which has been extended”.

He added that while the 149 people who died last year on the roads was 149 too many “it was the lowest figure since records began in 1959”.

Mr Healy-Rae repeatedly interrupted the Minister as he spoke and Mr Griffin said it was a “circus” and “an attack on democracy” not to let him respond.

But Mr Healy-Rae in turn said the Government was “attacking democracy” when Ministers were giving out about the Garda over the number of checks.

Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat “The Cope” Gallagher warned the Mr Healy-Rae he would have to ask him to leave the House and said “there are others in the House, apart from Kerry Deputies and Ministers of State”.