Fine Gael ministers were accused by a Cabinet colleague yesterday 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 ministers in Cabinet over his plans to increase penalty points for driving offences.
Mr Ross bore 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As tempers increased, Mr Ring at one stage demanded the entire memo be withdrawn from Cabinet but Mr Ross and Independent Alliance colleague Finian McGrath refused to back down.
Eventually, it was agreed that a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would 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, Mr Ross was strongly defended by Mr McGrath and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
It is believed that Mr McGrath accused Fine Gael ministers of feeding a belief that Mr Ross is hostile to the sensitivities of rural Ireland.
“Finian defended Shane,” said a source. “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.”
Mr Donohoe is said to have acted as peacemaker, backing Mr Ross’s bill and 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 sub-committee was raised and agreed.
It will see two elements — removing the Garda discretion and graduated speed fines — referred to the 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 to be determined and will be discussed in the sub-committee, the drafting process, and at the Oireachtas transport committee.
Mr Ross said 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.