Fine Gael ministers were accused by a Cabinet colleague today of “egging on” a belief that Transport Minister Shane Ross is “anti-rural Ireland” in a heated discussion on proposed new road traffic measures.
Mr Ross had his “wings clipped” by several rural Fine Gael Cabinet ministers over his controversial plans to increase penalty points for driving offences.
Mr Ross felt the brunt of attacks from rural ministers Michael Ring, Heather Humphreys and Paul Kehoe.
As tempers increased, Mr Ring at one stage demanded the entire memo be withdrawn from Cabinet but Mr Ross and his colleague Finian McGrath refused to back down.
Eventually, it was agreed that a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will hammer out the more contentious elements of the bill.
At an earlier meeting of Fine Gael ministers, Mr Ring told his colleagues he would rather have an election than pass the measures which include significant increases in offences which would attract penalty points.
At Cabinet, however, Mr Ross was strongly defended by Mr McGrath and by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
It is believed that Mr McGrath rounded on the Fine Gael ministers accusing them of feeding a belief that Mr Ross is hostile to the sensitivities of rural Ireland.
“Finian defended Shane, he said 'bottom line, speed kills and we need to accept that reality'. He told them straight out that there is an impression being egged on by Fine Gael ministers and backbenchers that Shane is anti-rural Ireland,” one source said.
But Mr Donohoe is said to have acted as the peacemaker backing Mr Ross' bill, saying road safety must be taken seriously.
“Paschal weighed in at the end and backed Shane up to the surprise of some there,” said one minister.
Mr Varadkar met with Mr Ross before the Cabinet meeting where the suggestion of the Cabinet sub-committee was raised and agreed.
It will see the two most controversial elements - removing the Garda discretion and graduated speed fines - referred to a Cabinet sub-committee, while the general scheme of the remainder of the Road Traffic Bill was approved.
Precise penalties appropriate to each speeding band have yet been determined and will be discussed in the Cabinet sub-committee, the drafting process and at the Transport Joint Oireachtas Committee.
Mr Ross moved to deny earlier reports saying that there has never been a proposal to impose penalty points on people who fail to produce a driving licence, and the fixed charge for this offence has yet to be determined.
Current legislation treats speeding as a single offence, no matter how much over the speed limit a person is driving.
The new Bill will mean that penalties for speeding will be divided according to bands, with increased penalties the higher the band.
This parallels the way in which drink driving is treated, with increased penalties determined by bands over the limit and more serious offenders receiving more serious penalties.