Taoiseach under fire over driver breath-testing pledge

CONFUSION surrounds a pre-election promise by the Taoiseach to alter driving laws so all drivers in road accidents are tested for drink and drugs.

Bertie Ahern met relatives of people killed in accidents weeks before polling day, saying he would push through legislative change.

Members of People against Road Carnage (PARC), who met with Mr Ahern, are campaigning to change the law. At the moment, it is at Garda discretion whether drivers in accidents are tested or not.

PARC has handed 40,000 signatures into the Department of Transport supporting the legislative change.

In a letter last April to PARC, Mr Ahern said: “If elected, we will ensure that these changes are implemented without delay.”

However, uncertainty surrounded the pledge yesterday after it emerged the department is backing current laws on testing. When the matter was raised in the Dáil last week, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey refused to entertain the idea of compulsory testing, said Fine Gael yesterday.

MEP and senator Jim Higgins said the minister had said Garda discretion was “necessary”, having regard to possible injuries sustained by drivers. “It is amazing how a clear and binding commitment made during an election campaign can be turned on its head a few weeks after the main government party gets back into Government.”

He added that, when the issue of compulsory testing for accidents was also raised by him in the Seanad last week, he was greeted by blank stares from Government benches.

Fine Gael attempted to amend the roads bill during its passage through the Dáil last week with the introduction of compulsory testing for drivers in accidents. The amendment was voted down, in the main, by Government TDs.

The pledge to introduce the law change, however, was also made in Fianna Fáil’s election manifesto.

The Taoiseach’s spokes-person yesterday would not clarify his personal position on the matter. In a statement, his office noted the successful introduction of random breath testing. The statement added: “The issue of mandatory roadside alcohol and drug testing is one that is under active consideration by the Department of Transport.”

When contacted, the Department of Transport itself released the same statement.

PARC last night said it was disappointed with the Taoiseach. Group co-founder Susan Gray, whose husband Steve was killed in an accident on St Stephen’s Day, 2004, said: “I made a point of meeting him a week before the election. I don’t understand why the Taoiseach made such a plain, transparent promise in the letter if he had nothing to back it up with. A driver who kills somebody but survives is currently not necessarily tested. You could just do an extra test when they are in hospital getting a blood test. It’s not interfering in a person’s survival.”

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