Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey tonight came under pressure from Opposition parties and lobby groups over his controversial clampdown on learner drivers.
Yesterday’s Road Safety Strategy vowed that holders of second provisional driving licences must be accompanied by fully licensed drivers from midnight on Monday.
However Mr Dempsey was forced to mount a U-turn on the measures after strong reaction to the short lead-in time from groups like Age Action Ireland and ISME.
The Minister said he understood there was “widespread public concern” about the issue and revealed that the Garda will take a common sense approach towards enforcing the new powers, like the new regulations for mobile phones or child seats.
Earlier, Road Safety Authority (RSA) advertisements announcing next week’s deadline appeared in this morning’s national newspapers.
Mr Dempsey said: “I understand that a proportionate approach – and I’ve confirmed this with the gardai – is going to be taken.
“People have expressed their concerns about difficulties in making arrangements in the short period of time that has been given.”
Today’s embarrassing U-turn was the second controversy to hit Mr Dempsey today. Earlier he was forced to back the secretary general of his department, Julie O’Neill after she admitted that she didn’t inform the Minister of concerns that Aer Lingus was considering switching Heathrow flights from Shannon to Belfast.
She said in an internal report that the issue was still at an early development stage in June and she didn’t consider it important enough to brief Mr Dempsey on it at the time.
Labour branded the provisional drivers issue a farce and accused Mr Dempsey of being accident prone. The party referred to past controversies on e-voting, college fees and the Aer Lingus decision to axe Heathrow flights at Shannon.
“Perhaps if he engaged his brain before putting his mouth in gear, he might get better results,” said transport spokesman Tommy Broughan.
“The new laws will leave people stranded, unable to get their children to school, unable to visit elderly parents, unable to go to college, and even unable to get to work.”
Labour claimed the apparent U-turn came from immense pressure from his own backbenchers.
A Garda spokeswoman said officers would be using their discretion with provisional drivers at checkpoints.
“Normal scheduled checkpoints will be in place. Gardaí will take into consideration all circumstances and where appropriate, will issue cautions, warning notices or prosecutions.”
The spokeswoman could not say for how long this practice will continue.
The Insurance Federation of Ireland confirmed that the change in law effecting second provisional licence holders will not change their insurance status.
Reacting to the minister’s U-turn, Fine Fine Gael said the Government should defer the new law until the driving test backlog has been cleared.
“This is the latest in a sequence of botched jobs by Minister Dempsey. He is now making an ass of himself and of the law.”