The Irish Times view on drink-driving: separating fact from fiction

Finian McGrath’s foolish comments raise serious doubts about his fitness for office

New figures show an increase in the number of people detained for drink-driving since the beginning of the year. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

New figures show an increase in the number of people detained for drink-driving since the beginning of the year. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

The latest official statistics show an increase in the number of people detained for drink-driving since the beginning of the year. They also give the lie to the notion that there has been a draconian campaign by the Garda to harrass motorists in rural Ireland.

The figures for January, published by the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau, disclose that 695 people were caught drink-driving in January, a 16 per cent rise on the same month last year. Just 10 per cent of those over the limit were detected between 6 am and midday. This was only a marginal increase on the number caught during those hours a year earlier.

The figures show that the widely believed legend of a massive increase in the number of people being detected over the limit on their way to work, or on the way to Mass on Sundays, since the drink driving law was updated, has no basis in fact.

It is deplorable that Finian McGrath, a junior minister with a seat at the Cabinet table, has given credence to these fables and gone a step further by suggesting that gardaí are trying to undermine the law by applying it too rigorously so as to turn public opinion against it.

The effectiveness of the latest representations against supposedly over-zealous Garda enforcement became obvious when, just back from their Christmas break, Government ministers expressed concern about “morning after” drink-driving checks. Photograph: Frank Miller
The figures show that the widely believed legend of a massive increase in the number of people being detected over the limit on their way to work, or on the way to Mass on Sundays, since the drink driving law was updated, has no basis in fact. File photograph: Frank Miller

What makes McGrath’s comments all the more reprehensible is that he is an Independent Alliance colleague of Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who introduced the new stricter drink-driving regime. Instead of accepting responsibility for the updated law McGrath sought to deflect criticism of it by blaming gardaí for over-zealous implementation of the measure. The Minister had the brass neck to accuse the gardaí of acting in a politically motivated way designed to promote public opposition to the law.

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath said ‘a police force - like teachers, nurses - guards should always be non-political’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins
Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath: Comments beggar belief.   Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

That a parliamentarian and a Minister should criticise gardaí for allegedly interfering in politics when they are simply doing their duty, and implementing a law promoted by his cabinet colleague and passed by the Oireachtas, simply beggars belief. McGrath has rightly apologised twice for his foolish comments but the fact that he uttered them in the first place must raise serious doubts about his fitness for office.

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