Vintners accuse Shane Ross over proposed drink-driving law

Federation CEO Padraig Cribben says ban will not ‘contribute to saving one life’

Shane Ross proposes a three-month ban on drivers found with 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Photograph: David Sleator

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland has accused the Minister for Transport of misleading the public in his attempts to change drink-driving legislation.

Federation chief executive Padraig Cribben said the proposal by Shane Ross to automatically impose a three-month ban on drivers found with 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood would not "contribute to saving one life".

Mr Cribben was addressing the Oireachtas Transport Committee, which was discussing the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017.

Drivers currently caught with between 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood can receive three penalty points and a €200 fine. Mr Ross has proposed to amend this under the Bill to make it an automatic ban for three months. Drivers caught with more than 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood currently face an automatic ban on conviction.


‘No evidence’

“We believe there is no evidence to support the step being proposed by the Minister and we do not believe that it will in actual fact contribute to saving one life,” Mr Cribben said.

He added that a “proper analysis” of the Road Safety Authority’s “Fatal Collision 2008-2012, Alcohol as a Factor” report is needed. He said the RSA report showed just 1.3 per cent of road fatalities between 2008 and 2012 involved drivers with a blood alcohol level of 51-80mg.

“What the Minister is addressing here is 1.3 per cent of the total road fatalities,” he said. “Of course legislation that would reduce or eliminate this 1.3 per cent would be welcomed and justified if there were evidence that in these cases alcohol was a determined cause of the accident. In this report there is no such evidence.”

Mr Cribben also rejected Mr Ross’s statement last week that vintners were engaging in “cynical” self-interest.

“We are certainly not prepared to take a lecture on cynicism from a Minister who comes into this committee and makes a virtue of doing something that he says will save lives, which we dispute, while at the same time opposing the Public Health Alcohol Bill, that all medical commentators can confirm will save lives, because he says of the effect it will have on retailers, that it could well put them out of business. That is cynicism in the extreme.”

Donal O'Keefe, of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents publicans in Dublin, said his members felt current penalties for drink-driving are "severe enough", while adding that a study of young drivers should instead be conducted.

“It’s certainly clear that the latest generation have a more liberal attitude [to drink-driving] than generations previous,” Mr O’Keefe said.

Appropriate penalties

“We believe that the current drink-driving limits and related penalties are appropriate. Conviction of drink-driving offences rightly bring severe sanction. We believe that the current penalties are severe enough to provide a significant deterrent and they reinforce the view that drink-driving is unacceptable.”

Mr O’Keefe also said an enhanced longer-term public awareness and education campaign on the dangers of drink-driving and consistent high-profile Garda enforcement of the current limits were sufficient measures.

“These measures appropriately resourced and implemented consistently over the longer term are the most effective means of reducing drink-driving,” he added.

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy said he did not believe crashes could ever be fully eliminated.

“We all want to work together to achieve the ultimate goal and that is reduce, I don’t think no matter what we do we’re ever going to eliminate road accidents, unfortunately,” Mr Troy said. “I don’t think that’s a possibility to ever eliminate in total road accidents.”

The committee will meet again next month.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times