Vote on tougher drink-driving laws deferred

A Dáil vote on beefing up drink-drive laws has been postponed until the autumn but a number of ministers have expressed concern about plans to take offenders off the roads.

Transport Minister Shane Ross though has agreed to consider supplementing taxi trips for people in isolated areas after concerns raised about harsher drink-driving laws impacting on rural communities.

In proposals endorsed by the Cabinet, drivers detected with over the blood-alcohol limits will be automatically disqualified. The current system sees them receive penalty points.

A decision on whether Fine Gael TDs will be allowed a free vote on the stricter legislation has been deferred until the autumn.

Mr Ross faced concerns at Cabinet yesterday as a number of Fine Gael’s rural ministers told him of problems with the mandatory driving ban for drink drivers.

It is understood that Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, as well as Arts Minister Heather Humphreys spoke against it.

According to government sources, there was a lively exchange between ministers at the Cabinet table with most ministers contributing to the debate.

“There was a ding dong alright from the rural ministers who had a go as to the potential impact on rural life,” said one source.

However, despite the reservations, the Cabinet eventually signed off on the bill, which will now go to the Dail in the autumn for debate.

Sources said Mr Ross said he would consider some sort of subsidy for taxi trips in rural areas to allay concerns.

Currently, a motorist with between 51-80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood gets three penalty points rather than an automatic ban for the first offence. A mandatory three-month driving ban for drivers found over the limit would see them taken off the road, under the new plans from Mr Ross.

Mr Ross said he hoped parties, including Fine Gael, would get a free vote on the changes.

“This measure will save lives and would pass if there is a free vote,” he said.

In a later statement, he said: “This Bill proposes that instead of three penalty points, drink drivers will receive a three month disqualification. The current limit is not changing, regardless of cynical insistence by some vested interests who know full well this is the case, but insist on saying otherwise.”

He also stressed that road safety campaigners supported the changes.

While some of his Independent Alliance colleagues have reservations, so do other TDs and ministers.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Denis Naughten, another independent minister in government, yesterday pointed out that he had reservations about the harsher law, including the resources to police it and that it may be challenged in the courts.

But while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated his support of the bill, he has not formally decided if Fine Gael TDs will get a free vote on it.

A government spokesman said Cabinet members would be required to support it but that a decision on a free vote for other Fine Gael parliamentary party members would be decided by a party meeting towards the autumn. It is unclear if junior ministers will be required to back it.


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