Home Columnists Wired with Whelan: Time to name and shame TDs who condone drink-driving

Wired with Whelan: Time to name and shame TDs who condone drink-driving

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It was acceptable in the 80s
It was acceptable at the time
It was acceptable in the 80s
It was acceptable at the time

(Calvin Harris)

I don’t particularly like Shane Ross; he’s not my cup of tea. Pompous, pedantic, posturing type.

Along with his motley crew of so-called Independents he has flattered to deceive. Instead of holding this milk and water Government to account he has opted for the vestiges of office and chosen instead to prop up this unfortunate, An bhuil cead agam dul amach, administration.

Sure there has been the occasional huffing and puffing but no one from within the inner sanctum is going to pull asunder what Enda Kenny put together as his last great master stroke before he got out of Dodge.

Shane Ross has opted to avoid and ignore the vast tranche of issues that span his Ministerial portfolio. Instead he has chosen to flirt with his vanity project around the appointment of judges. Most independent observers who know anything about this don’t believe it will change one jot the political patronage around the appointment of judges.

Robin Hood Ross wasn’t too sluggish himself and to hell with his rural band of merry men when it came to demanding the re-opening of Stepaside Garda station. If it was for a station in somewhere like Stradbally, Ross would be the first to sneer that it all smacked of parish pump politics and parochialism.

However, when it comes to the proposed new drink-driving legislation we have to look past Shane Ross and instead examine the merits of the Bill, to play the ball and not the man. Shane Ross is the man to deliver this legislation as he doesn’t quite care what people think about him and politically he stands with the least to lose in his leafy South Dublin constituency.

If this important piece of legislation is to ever see the light of day from a Government which prefers to procrastinate, fudge and defer instead of facing up and dealing with issues head on then it’s going to require strong leadership, from both Leo Varadkar and Micháel Martin. Legislatively Leo can’t go to the loo without Micháel’s say so – An bhuil cead agam dul amach

For all his fine footwork politically Leo has yet to prove himself. Micháel Martin has already done on a few occasions. No more so when as Minister for Health in March 2004 he successfully made Ireland the first country in the world with an outright ban on smoking in the workplace, including pubs. All this despite a back bench revolt in his own ranks, an intensive lobbying campaign from angry vintners and fairly wishy-washy support from his leader and then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Many other countries have since followed suit and in many ways it was the best thing ever to happen to pubs. These says the ‘smoking areas’, albeit some of them rather creatively so called, are often the best place for craic and socialising, even for non-smokers.

This is the kind of leadership so required once again on the issue of drink-driving as the Dáil and legislation play catch up with the public and public opinion and move towards an outright zero tolerance of drink-driving.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) headed up by former Progressive Democrat TD, Liz O Donnell have overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that this legislation will save lives. The majority of motorists also support it, along with a public register of drink-drivers so as to compound the deterrent by naming and shaming.

According to an AA survey – and that’s the Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous –  68% of motorists of the 11,000 surveyed in favour, with many saying it would have a “major effect on their behaviour”. This was also borne out in a survey by The Journal.ie where 70% of over 20,000 polled came out in favour of stricter drink driving bans. Meanwhile the Chair of the RSA, Liz O Donnell has labelled some of her former TD colleagues as “drink driver deniers”.

Nevertheless, Leo Varadkar has only so far managed to win luke-warm support for the Ross legislation among even his Ministers as Fine Gael TDs are showing anything put courage on the issue. The Independents are playing the cute hoors and linking the legislation to the decline of rural Ireland; while Labour and the Greens have been less than clear and are hedging their bets. Sinn Fein to their credit have indicated that they will support the legislation.

Fianna Fail unfortunately are in outright opposition to the new laws and unless that changes the numerical dynamics in the Dáil dictate that it has no chance of passing.

Leading the charge for Fianna Fail on this one is that outstanding champion of childcare and rural Ireland, Deputy Robert Troy. Robert it was who crafted his party’s policy on childcare, but how he marries his concern for the welfare of children with his current stance on drink-driving is lost on me. He has also tried to couch his party’s opposition to the legislation in personalised attacks on Shane Ross instead of dealing with the substance of what’s proposed.

Speaking with forked tongue on the matter Troy attempts to introduce the Trojan horse of the decline of rural Ireland into the equation. Now Robert that’s pitiful, even coming from you and this legislation won’t close or save a single rural pub and you know it, but it might save a single child’s life. So spare us the bullshit and the crocodile tears for rural Ireland.  Rural Ireland has bigger problems and challenges and maybe you would be better off tackling those?

Let’s be clear about this. The proposed legislation which was in train well before Shane Ross ever went into government does not plan to change or alter existing drink-driving levels or limits. They will remain the same. What it does propose is to impose harsher and stricter mandatory sanctions on those caught drink-driving on the lower levels of the scale between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and to punish such an offence with a 3-month driving ban, instead of the current imposition of penalty points.

The idea is to punish an existing offence with a harsher penalty so as it will serve as a deterrent to those who are currently inclined to chance a few drinks or have a couple of pints on the basis that even if they are caught they are willing to wing it as penalty points alone are not a sufficient deterrent. Losing your licence is.

Now, we have been down this road before and I am as fond of a few pints as the next man and in the past I have taken drink and driven. In more recent times I have had a couple and driven. Not proud of it. Of course the stories are legion of lads who will tell you they had five or six pints and beat the breathalyser. That’s wrong, that day is gone. This new legislation is designed to make it untenable and unacceptable to drink and drive.

Pubs and rural pubs in particular like many traditional businesses are facing difficult challenges. Only those who are hands-on, creative and invest back into their business will survive in a new era of so many alternative options and lifestyle choices. Fair play to those publicans who find innovative ways to attract and of making it easier for their customers to frequent their premises. Such initiatives deserve to be supported and incentivised with VRT and insurance concessions apparently under consideration.

Like so many other rural dwellers if I want to go for a pint I have to arrange a lift or take a taxi. It is an imposition and additional cost, but so what, a small price to pay in this day and age to ensure everyone’s safety on the roads.

Nowhere more than Laois does this issue resonate so deeply due to the shocking death of four-year-old Ciarán Treacy in 2014. His Mam, Gillian has displayed extraordinary courage ever since to campaign on this issue as best featured in the RSA anti-drink driving campaign television advert.

Gillian Treacy has described opposition to a crackdown on drink driving as an “insult” to her son, Ciarán. She supports the Shane Ross legislation to introduce an automatic 3-month diving ban for motorists caught with an alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg. She’s been a tireless campaigner to highlight “the devastation drink-driving causes.”

Deputy Robert Troy says that the Vintners Federation have not been in contact with him on this issue. Apparently they have been in contact with everyone else then other than the Fianna Fail spokesperson on the issue. Well I want to send him this message now. It’s not the first time that public opinion and the mothers of Ireland are way ahead of the body politic and the political herd. It’s time to cop on and move on, to a policy of zero tolerance on drink-driving. The rest of the arguments are superfluous and peripheral.

This is about Ciarán Treacy and not Shane Ross.

It’s time to not only name and shame drink-drivers but the TDs who condone them.

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John Whelan has been a journalist, commentator, columnist, political analyst, campaigner, politician and publisher ever since he was 17. Having been Editor of the Leinster Express, Offaly Express and the Leinster Leader he has also contributed extensively on a number of issues to all of the country's flagship titles and programmes including the Irish Press, The Irish Independent, the Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Business Post and Prime Time. He is now part-owner of Communicate Ireland.