Latest: Fine Gael vote on drink-driving Bill 'completely up to them', says Ross

Update 5.58pm: Transport Minister Shane Ross says it is up to Fine Gael to decide how its own backbenchers should vote on contentious new proposals on drink driving.

The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 was approved for publication by Cabinet today.

His proposed Bill would include mandatory driving bans for anyone caught breaching the current blood-alcohol limits.

“When things are outside the Programme for Government, and this is outside the Programme for Government, we usually look for a free vote so that we can make our own opinions felt,” he said.

“But we want to keep a stable Government. We vote with the Government, obviously, on very important issues.

“Now, I don’t know what Fine Gael is going to do about the free vote, that’s completely and utterly up to them.”

Update 4.50pm: A decision on giving Fine Gael TDs a free vote on a new drink-driving Bill has been delayed.

All Cabinet ministers will be expected to vote in favour of Transport Minister Shane Ross's proposals when they come to the Dáil.

Minister Ross wants to beef up the penalties for the current drink driving offences, including an automatic driving ban for offenders.

Fianna Fáil will vote against it, because Transport Spokesman Robert Troy says only increased Garda numbers will work.

“The evidence shows over the last number of years [that] where there has been an increase in enforcement, there has been a decrease in the number of fatalities on our roads,” he said.

“Just before last Christmas, there was a campaign for five weeks – and in that five-week period there was a reduction of 34% in the number of fatalities on the same period on the year before."

Update 13:50am: The Cabinet has agreed to Shane Ross' plan for zero tolerance on drink driving.

The moves will mean anyone caught driving over the limit will face an automatic ban from the roads.

But Fine Gael could still give its own TDs a free vote which may result in the bill being defeated.

Independent TDs like Danny Healy Rae, have said allowances must be made for people in rural Ireland who have no social outlet, other than a pub.

"Ministers and urban Deputies do not realise (people living in rural Ireland) don't have access to buses, taxis or darts or any of the systems that people in urban areas have, especially Dublin," he said.

Update 10:06am: An opponent of moves to increase penalties for drink driving has said he would be happy to get into a plane, being flown by someone with three glasses beer.

Danny Healy Rae's comments come as the Cabinet meets to discuss the prospect of giving TDs a free vote on the issue.

Shane Ross insists his zero-tolerance proposals for anyone driving over the limit will save lives.

But Danny Healy Rae insists he has never seen anyone whose ability to drive is affected by three glasses of beer.

"I don't believe and until the day I die, I don't believe that anyone that has had two or three glasses, a pint and a half that they are a liability or a danger on the road," he said.

Earlier: Controversial changes to the law on drink-driving are due to be discussed at Cabinet this morning.

The proposed legislation would see the introduction of an automatic three-month ban for drivers over the alcohol limit.

Currently, first-time offenders are not necessarily disqualified and can pay a fine and get three penalty points.

Last night, Transport Minister Shane Ross confirmed that he would push for a free vote on the measures which have been labeled 'anti-rural' by some TDs.

The legislation will come before the Oireachtas in the Autumn.

When introducing it in February, Minister Ross said: "What I am proposing is that the existing provision allowing people to get penalty points rather than a disqualification for drink driving sends the wrong message and should go.

"Instead of three penalty points, such drivers will get a three-month disqualification. This is quite proportionate.

"Drink-driving is serious, and potentially fatal. Even a small amount of alcohol can impair people’s reactions, and that cannot be tolerated when people are behind the wheel of a car."

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