Proposal to lower alcohol driving limits opposed by publicans

 

PUBLICANS ARE lobbying Fianna Fáil to block moves by Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey to lower the drink-drive limit.

The controversial change could threaten a Yes vote in the October Lisbon Treaty referendum, the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) has warned TDs.

Mr Dempsey is expected to cut the blood-alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg before the end of the year, though legislation has yet to go before the Cabinet.

Such a move would “turn many people in rural areas against central authority and will make the selling of the Lisbon Treaty more difficult in rural areas in the autumn”, TDs have been told, according to a briefing note drafted by the federation.

The Department of Transport insisted Mr Dempsey has, as yet, made no decision, emphasising that he is still “consulting colleagues”.

First-time drink-driving offenders would get the choice of accepting six penalty points and heavy fines on their driving licences, or else going to court and facing a possible ban.

Rural Fianna Fáil TDs raised considerable concern about Mr Dempsey’s plans at Tuesday night’s meeting of the parliamentary party.

Following rumours about his plans last week, members of the VFI began a lobbying campaign of Fine Fáil TDs within days.

In the VFI briefing note, TDs were told a cut to 50mg – effectively limiting drivers to less than one drink – would destroy 5,000 jobs.

Such a move would “have absolutely no effect” on the numbers of road deaths, said publicans, arguing that the Road Safety Authority has no statistics to justify the move.

Tougher road safety rules already in force are working, they said, and deaths fell by 18 per cent last year.

They said so far this year road deaths have dropped by another 11 per cent.

“The main cause of fatal accidents on the road is speeding and this is accepted by everybody, including the Road Safety Authority,” said the VFI.

The lower limit would not impact on those who are currently guilty of drink-driving since most of those caught have consumed large quantities of alcohol, it said.

“If the blood alcohol is reduced from 80mg to 50mg, a person having a glass of wine with a meal is likely to be over the limit.

“Similarly, a person having one pint on the way home after a day’s work is likely to be over the limit.

“Indeed, a priest having said two Masses is likely to be over the limit,” he said.

Mr Dempsey has long wanted to reduce the existing limits – in line with international practice, but 18 months ago he acknowledged that changes would be hard-won.