I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 1973: Second Stage.
This is the second or third occasion on which the Minister has commenced to read a statement to the House which has not been circulated. I would expect that an attempt would be made this time to have the statement circulated.
I am sorry. Copies are available and they will be circulated in a minute or so.
They have not been circulated so far.
If that is all the Deputy can find to complain about in the Bill he will not have very much to complain about.
It is an act of discourtesy on the part of the Minister.
Not at all. When Deputy Molloy was Minister he usually did not produce these documents until he was asked for them.
I do not think that is true.
I will educate you after a while.
Learn yourself first.
Deputies will be aware that, in a judgment delivered on 16th July, the Supreme Court declared section 44 (2) (a) of the Road Traffic Act, 1968, to be invalid as being repugnant to the Constitution. The provision in question is an extremely important one; without it, Part V of the 1968 Act — which introduced the offences of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle while the blood-alcohol level exceeds a specified limit —cannot be operated effectively. Although proceedings can still be taken for the "traditional" offences of driving, et cetera, while under the influence of drink, it is highly desirable that legislation should be enacted at the earliest possible date to enable the institution of prosecutions for the offences created by the 1968 Act to be resumed. The main purpose of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 1973, is, therefore, to substitute a new paragraph for the paragraph in section 44 of the 1968 Act which has been declared to be unconstitutional. In addition, the Bill provides for certain necessary amendments in Part V of the 1968 Act.
Section 1 of the Bill, which relates to interpretation, and section 8, which provides for short title and collective citation, do not call for special comment.
Sections 2 to 6, by amending a number of sections of the 1968 Act, will remove the restriction by which only the member of the Garda Síochána who is in charge of a Garda station when an arrested person is brought there has the power to require the person to provide a blood or urine specimen. Difficulties have arisen in relation to the existing provisions because of changes in Garda organisation and working hours following the implementation of the Conroy report. Moreover, it is desirable to amend these provisions to facilitate the introduction of the Special Traffic Corps. I am satisfied, therefore, that the best course is to make the amendments proposed in sections 2 to 6 and thereby enable any member of the Garda Síochána to carry out the necessary procedures.
Section 7 amends section 44 of the 1968 Act to take account of the Supreme Court decision and to improve the existing provisions relating to evidence. In subsection (2) (a), it will now be provided that a certificate from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety as to a person's blood-alcohol level will be "sufficient evidence until the contrary is shown" rather than "conclusive evidence". It was the use of the word "conclusive" that led the Supreme Court to declare the existing provision invalid. In subsection (2) (b), a minor change in wording is being made, on the advice of the Attorney General's Office, to improve the evidential value of the certificate referred to in the subsection. The new subsection (3) is designed to remove the possibility that the prosecution may be called on to prove in each case, by production of current medical registers, et cetera, that the doctor who took the blood or urine specimen is a “registered medical practitioner”.
I am satisfied that the amendments proposed in the Bill are necessary in order that the provisions of Part V of the 1968 Act may serve the purpose for which they were designed. Deputies will be aware of the importance of these provisions and of the part they can play in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads. I am sure, therefore, that they will appreciate the necessity to have all Stages of the bill dealt with as a matter of urgency. I hope that it will be possible to take all Stages of the Bill today so that it can be discussed in the Seanad tonight or tomorrow. If the Bill is passed by that House, and if the necessary Early Signature Motion is agreed to, the Bill could become law this week. I might mention that, if the Bill is enacted, some consequential amendments will be necessary in the regulations made under Part V of the 1968 Act. The drafting of amending regulations is in hand so that there should be no avoidable delay in restoring the 1968 Act to full effect. I commend the Bill to the House.
At the outset I should like to state clearly that this party are concerned greatly at the number of accidents and, in particular, the number of fatal accidents that are occurring on our roads annually. The number seems to be increasing at an alarming rate each year despite the many and sustained efforts in regard to road safety promotion. We assure the Minister that we will support all reasonable measures that are aimed at reducing or, if possible, eliminating road accidents. We have always believed that the community desire that stringent measures be taken to deal in particular with the drunken driver who is the greatest menace to life on our roads. Therefore, we support the continued operation of the breathalyser system and any reasonable steps that are deemed to be necessary to ensure its effective operation.
In 1968, when the then Road Traffic Bill was being debated here, the question of the breathalyser and the tests in relation to it were debated at great length. At that time it was recognised that the operation of the system would impose a new and a heavy burden on the Garda Síochána. At that time the House endeavoured to foresee the difficulties and snags that might arise in relation to the operation of the breathalyser system and every possible step was taken in the legislation to try to ensure that the system would operate effectively, efficiently and smoothly. At the same time, however, it was recognised clearly by Deputies on all sides of the House that the success and acceptability of the system depended to a large extent on the manner in which it would be operated by the Garda. It might be opportune at this time to pay a special tribute to the Garda for the manner in which they have carried out this duty. We realise that since the Act was brought into operation there has been a dispute with the medical profession which has meant that the breathalyser has not operated uniformly throughout the country. However, sufficient experience of the operation of the system has now been gained to enable an assessment to be made of its effectiveness and an attempt should be made now to deal with whatever difficulties have been encountered in relation to the Act.
We are in the special position here that, while the Department of Local Government are responsible for the legislation, the Department of Justice are responsible for its administration. This brings us to what happened on 16th July when the Supreme Court gave the decision to which the Minister has referred. My only knowledge of that decision is what I read in the newspapers. The Minister's explanatory memorandum tells us that it was the use of the word "conclusive" that resulted in the Supreme Court deciding that paragraph (a) of subsection (2), section 44 of the Act is unconstitutional.
I am at some disadvantage in not having available to me a copy of the Supreme Court judgment and, consequently, I do not know what was the exact wording of their ruling. I suggest to the Minister that, perhaps, it would have been appropriate for him to have supplied me with a copy of that judgment, a judgment that has led to the introduction of this Bill at such short notice. Perhaps the suggestion is one that Ministers might consider for the future.
Because this paragraph of the Act has been declared invalid, it no longer exists in so far as the law is concerned. I am wondering whether we should be discussing the re-enactment of the paragraph rather than to be amending a paragraph which the court has deemed to be invalid. However, that is a small technical point. We would like the Minister to tell us what is the great necessity for rushing this Bill through the House. It has been only days since the Supreme Court decision has been made known. The rushed introduction of the Bill is indicative of a hasty decision having been made either by the Minister or by the Government and I am wondering how much time the Government have given to considering the Bill. They can have given only very little time to it. From my own knowledge of these matters, I know that in the normal course of events a Minister furnishes his colleagues with full information in regard to legislation he proposes bringing before the Dáil and that his colleagues, having considered it, discuss it at a Government meeting where a final decision is reached. I have reason to believe that this procedure has not been followed in this case.
For what reason?
I hope this has not happened in this case but the Minister will have an opportunity of replying to the query. I can only hope that full consideration has been given by the Government to this measure and that we will not live to regret its enactment at some future date.
In his introductory statement the Minister implied that the 1968 Act cannot be operated now because of the Supreme Court decision. I would just like to suggest to him — he may let me know if I am right or wrong—that the breathalyser system could in fact continue to be operated without this paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of section 44. The person who analysed the specimens of blood or urine provided could be required to appear in court to give his evidence rather than depend on the certificate with which section 44 deals. If part of the law relating to the evidential effects of the certificate were deemed invalid, I do not see why there should be any great difficulty in the interim in having the analyst appear to present his evidence before the court where these matters were being decided.
The whole question of constitutionality was discussed when this matter came before the House in 1967 and 1968. At that time the Minister referred to the report of the Commission on Driving While Under the Influence of Drink or a Drug which was presented to his predecessor, Deputy Blaney, when he was Minister, in 1963, and this whole legislation dealing with the breathalyser and the other tests was based on the recommendations in that report. It is interesting to recall that there was some doubt expressed at that time as to whether the certificate stating the alcohol level in the blood of arrested persons could be deemed to be conclusive evidence in a court of law and, on balance, the Minister decided to include the clause "conclusive evidence" which we are now being asked to withdraw following the decision of the Supreme Court.
I should like to quote part of the commission's report to show the thinking in 1963. I am taking this from an extract in volume 227 of the Official Report of 7th March, 1967:
If any legislative changes are to be really successful and effective they must, in our view, have the support of the bulk of public opinion. In countries where a certain blood alcohol level has been prescribed as conclusive evidence of critical impairment, public opinion has, we believe, been conditioned, perhaps gradually, to accept the position. Here the whole procedure of making and analysing blood samples and giving evidence of blood-alcohol levels in prosecutions would constitute an innovation in criminal procedure with which everyone concerned might take some considerable time to become familiar, as well as interference with personal rights which public opinion might be still slower to accept as necessary or desirable. It may be that, as a result of experience, public opinion would, in the course of time, be conditioned to accept and approve of a prescribed level which would be conclusive evidence of impairment. We doubt very much if the education of opinion on the matter has yet reached that stage.
They seem to come down against including it. At the same time it can be shown clearly that they did not rule out the introduction of such a system at some future date but they considered it was unlikely to be acceptable at the time they reported—1963. As we know, in the event, the Minister decided that he would include that clause "conclusive evidence" and it did become part of the Act. So, there was always a doubt there as to whether it should, in fact, have been included or not.
The Minister states in his explanatory memorandum that he is also availing of this opportunity to make a limited number of other amendments related to the provisions of the 1963 Act which experience of the operation of the Act has shown to be desirable. I suppose the principal change here is where he is providing that any member of the Garda Síochána may be permitted to require a person to permit the taking of the specimens, rather than the existing provision which says that it must be the member of the Garda Síochána in charge of the station. There is no difficulty with us as far as that is concerned. We accept that there has been some difficulty in the operation of this Act, in this aspect of it, and we will accept these changes without any great objections from our side of the House.
There is a principle involved here where the change is "until the contrary is proved". This is throwing an onus on the accused to prove a matter and is removing from the State the obligation which hitherto lay with them. This is something for which, of course, there are precedents but it is not a highly desirable clause to include in legislation. We accept again that, in the circumstances, special measures are necessary because we are dealing with a very serious matter, drunken drivers, and the provision can and should be tolerated by the community in these circumstances. But, now that the conclusive evidence clause is to be removed from the legislation and the accused will now be allowed to argue the contrary to what the certificate says, I wonder would the Minister agree with me that some further amendments would be desirable at this time because if the accused person will now have the right to argue his case he should be provided with a copy of the certificate at least seven days before the court case takes place. If sufficient time had been allowed for a measure such as this, this type of amendment would have been highly desirable.
I would also suggest to the Minister that he should accept an amendment of that kind and also that the accused upon receipt of the certificate and having studied it and having received whatever legal advice he has sought, should be entitled to request that the analyst responsible for the certificate and its contents, which would be used as evidence against him in court should be present in court on the day the case was being heard so that he could be cross-examined as to the accuracy of the certificate being presented against the accused. This would not have been necessary in the past when the certificate was deemed to be conclusive evidence and therefore there was no argument but there is argument now and if the accused is to show the contrary of what is contained in the certificate he should be supplied with a copy of it and should be allowed to request the presence of the analyst in court on the day in question. I would suggest that at least three days before the case is heard he should be entitled to have that request submitted.
These are some very brief suggestions. The Bill has been brought before us rather abruptly. It just goes to show that the legislation can be improved and, with further thought and consideration, could be improved considerably more. I am wondering whether it is wise on the Minister's part to rush in and more or less put the gun to our heads and say that the Bill must be passed.
I would be satisfied, in the circumstances, if the Minister could give some kind of assurance, if he accepts that what I have said is valid—he can argue otherwise and prove me wrong —that at some future date he would consider introducing amendments of the kind I have suggested which I think are necessary in the interests of defendants and enabling them to present their case adequately to the courts.
I do not think there is anything further I want to say at this stage. I may have something to say on Committee Stage.
The decision of the Supreme Court was a very important one. It shows how important the constitutional rights of the individual are. It is a great source of relief to everybody to know that the constitutional rights of the individual can be protected. Courts are there to protect our rights and this case was a very interesting exercise in this regard.
What is important is the fact that not everybody can challenge these cases. Those people who have not got the means cannot take their cases to court. What I am wondering about is what happens to all those people who were borderline cases and feel aggrieved over this matter, who have been convicted or had their licences endorsed. What rights have they and how can they take their cases to court? What can be done about them? This is a very important matter and something which will have to be looked into. Many of those people are not able to provide the money to fight the case in court and they have no redress whatever. What can be done to protect the rights of these individuals?
I understand that cases which are pending will be declared invalid. However, in all other cases where convictions took place and licences were endorsed there should be some means of redress or some means by which their cases could be heard in court at minimum cost to the individuals concerned. This is a matter which the Minister should seriously look into and tell us what will be done.
I am very much in favour of the Minister's action in bringing this before the House so rapidly. While I defend the rights of the individual I am also opposed to people driving cars with excess alcohol in the blood. However, I would have thought we would have given a little more time to this matter to consider, perhaps, reducing the level of alcohol by way of legislation. The Council of Europe, in a recent recommendation which will be binding on all the member countries, sets the level of alcohol at 80 milligrammes. Ireland and Belgium are the only countries in Europe with permissible levels above 80 milligrammes. We are far in excess of what is considered a high level of alcohol for a person to be fit to drive a car. The level in this country, 125 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood, is far in excess of what would be considered excessive for a man to be capable of driving a car in other countries. Knowing the Minister I have no doubt that he will look at this matter seriously and bring a bit of sanity to driving. I am convinced he will do this.
The Minister for Justice has told me that when a sample is taken from an accused person that person has the right to demand an extra sample for an independent analysis. He should be given this sample automatically for independent analysis. The fact that the accused is entitled to a second sample for his own independent analysis is not well known. It should be made clear that an estimation of his blood alcohol level can be obtained by him independently. This would serve a useful purpose and would be seen by the accused as a means of ensuring his own protection.
Another point which I should like to raise is in regard to the proposal to amend the Act to give any member of the Garda Síochána power to require a person to provide a blood or urine specimen. I am puzzled as to why this was amended. The Minister's statement referred to the fact that sections 2 to 6 amended a number of sections of the 1968 Act by removing the restriction by which only the member of the Garda Síochána in charge of the Garda station when an arrested person was brought in had the power to require the person to provide a blood or urine specimen.
I would have thought that if a person is brought to a Garda station there must be somebody in charge. For that reason I wonder why these sections were amended. It would mean that this could be open to abuse unless the person in charge of the station takes on this responsibility. The person in charge of the station is the only person who should have the right to require a person to provide a blood or urine specimen. This is a very important matter and should be considered seriously by the Minister before these sections are amended. I am a little puzzled by it and I cannot see the reason for the amendment.
I agree that there is a need for this Bill. There is a need for this change. The present high death rate on the roads, with the knowledge that the very high proportion of these deaths are attributable to a high level of alcohol in the blood, indicates that there is a need for this change. There is also a need for it so that we do not have this wrangling in courts as to whether the old methods of whether a man could walk a straight line and so on, are sufficient. We must have some means of knowing it and I would like to see the Act amended by virtue of this alone.
If people think that this Act is contrary to the Constitution you will have everybody challenging it. Anybody with money will challenge it unless the law is amended immediately. We could arrive at the stage where people would become more and more irresponsible on the roads with alcohol.
I can appreciate the Minister's motives in bringing this Bill before the House quickly because, quite obviously, there is a loophole in the law and it is extremely difficult to deal with the question of drunken driving unless we have this amendment. This Bill in two ways illustrates the effect of this kind of legislation. The very fact that this amendment has to be rushed in means, in effect, that the older provisions for the policing of the roads which depended on commonsense and the truthworthiness of the Garda are all shoved aside by the introduction of this kind of legislation.
In his opening speech the Minister referred to the fact that prosecution for drunken driving will still lie. However, the plain fact is that once you bring in this kind of legislation to deal with a particular subject it effectively throws the older remedies aside because the defence immediately sets up the plea that there is a specific statutory way of dealing with this. The defence then makes the innuendo that this was not adopted because it could not stand up and the accused gets the benefit of the doubt. It was for that reason that a number of us strongly opposed elements in the Act when it was first introduced.
At that time I was sitting on the Government side of the House and I was one of the people who was very critical of this matter in some regards. The only comment that is legitimate now is that one should look before one leaps with legislation of this sort. I wonder if the condition on our roads in regard to drink is any better today because of this legislation brought in some years ago than it would have been if the law as it was had been enforced. That is water under the bridge now. We have brought about the situation and there is no alternative now but to accept it. We must have some legislation to deal with the problem and I do not think the Minister had very much choice but to rush this thing through.
I join with the other Deputies, particularly Deputy Molloy, who suggested that the whole matter should be reexamined. I will come to that in a moment with this second remark in regard to what Deputy O'Connell said. In section 5 there is an amendment: "the member of the Garda Síochána then in charge" is now to be "a member of the Garda Síochána". This is a typical example of the type of erosion that occurs in this kind of legislation. How often in this House have people who have been critical of legislation argued that there was a danger to the rights of someone, maybe the individual, and how often has the Minister put in a qualification, and how often has that qualification later been eroded?
To be specific, if my memory serves me correctly, the Opposition, and perhaps some Government Deputies at the time, queried broad rights being given to the Garda in a Bill such as this. It was to mollify, so to speak, that criticism and, perhaps, genuinely to introduce some safeguard, that the provision was restricted to "a member of the Garda Síochána then in charge". Here we are eroding this for practical purposes. The lesson is clearly there. In this kind of legislation you start down the slippery slope and, once you do, you are going to slide.
If I may refer for a moment to the Supreme Court decision. We, as legislators, are the other arm of the constitutional machine and I, for one, welcome the Supreme Court intervention in this way under the Constitution. Our Supreme Court —if I may presume to say so; it is not for me or this House either to comment or criticise what one might describe as our constitutional co-equal—have exercised this function over the years and that has been a good thing. May I say they have not over-exercised it. I might add a corollary to that; this being the situation, it is right that the courts should judge but the courts cannot escape the fact that in this kind of thing, and this is particularly so in the case of the inferior courts, they have, because of their autonomy, the public duty of co-operating in the enforcement of the law. It is here the question of penalty comes in. I throw this out as an idea to be considered by the Minister for later legislation rather than as a subject for discussion here now. In the enforcement of the law we must take into account what the courts are likely to do, what would be reasonable penalties and what would be the reasonable way of enforcing the law through the judicial machine. So much for that.
I should like now to touch on what I consider to be a fundamental point of mechanism as far as the roads are concerned and particularly as far as drunken driving is concerned. There is a gap here where you are dealing with a crime which is very definitely a crime; it is an anachronism that legislation should emanate from the Department of Local Government rather than from the Department of Justice and one of the main difficulties from the point of view of policing our roads arises from this traditional cleavage between the two Departments. In effect, the Department of Local Government legislates for the roads and the Department of Justice and the police have the responsibility of enforcement. It is all very well to say there is co-ordination at Government level. There may be, but it does not appear to work. There are routine matters, such as signposting and parking regulations, which come within the ambit of the Department of Local Government. What we are concerned with is the serious problem of policing our roads from the safety point of view.
I would ask the Minister, particularly in regard to this Bill and, perhaps, more generally too, would he reconsider with his colleague, the Minister for Justice, the reallocation of responsibility and duties in this regard? All matters that pertain to safety on the road, safety in driving, traffic offences, should be integrated under the Department of Justice. Far too often one sees—I will not name the place because that might pinpoint it — ridiculous signs erected on a road, a road which I drive, an academic pattern on a road not very far from this House, which could have led to a very dangerous situation. Indeed, every car that passed there technically committed a crime. After a few weeks, whoever was responsible came and painted the signs out and put a sensible sign there instead. Now that would never have happened if the Garda had been dealing with the situation in the first instance.
This is not a Bill the Minister for Local Government should introduce. It should come from the Department of Justice and I would suggest a reallocation and a transfer of certain functions from the Department of Local Government, to the Department of Justice where safety of driving or crimes arising out of the use of motor vehicles, as distinct from the organisation of such things as parking or one-way streets, are concerned; these should be the responsibility of the Garda. Only then will you get the roads policed. As it is, the gardaí have an impossible job. It is impossible largely because of the multiplicity of regulations and orders and their enforcement.
There are, for instance, roads with all sorts of signs on them — 30 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour, and so on; it is absolutely impossible to enforce the local authority signs on the Bray road, for example, and that shows an utter lack of appreciation of the police problem and I would strongly urge the Minister to let police problems be police problems referrable to them. This is very relevant to the question of drunken driving because discipline on our roads, particularly in the cities, is deteriorating. Lights are being crashed, all sorts of things are happening. Of course the Minister for Local Government is not the Minister to urge in this regard and that is the difficulty. One of the matters involved in this problem is the provision of an adequate police arm to deal with it. In this city of Dublin there is not an adequate force of specialised and trained police who can devote their time continuously to the problems involved.
In regard to drunken driving in particular, prevention is better than cure. The cure comes after the damage is done, and prevention means steady, unobstrusive, quiet policing, and that we have not got because the Garda Síochána have neither the resources nor the organisation to do it. Gardaí are not in a position to enforce the law fairly and uniformly, and there is a great deal of hit and miss about it. It is a bit of good luck or bad luck whether a fellow who has too much drink to be safe on the road is caught or not caught. There will always be an element of favourable chance in it, but at the moment there is too much of a toss-up about it.
This Bill is an amending Bill and, perhaps, it is going a little too far to open it up into a general debate. On the question of shifting the onus of proof, which Deputy Molloy mentioned, it is essential sometimes to shift the onus of proof, but it is a well tried out principle of law that the onus rests on him who asserts and particularly on him who prosecutes. We should be very loathe to shift that onus unless it is absolutely necessary.
Although the question of penalties does not come into this Bill, it is valuable to have as an institution a Supreme Court which will protect the rights of individuals and of the community. The Dáil, the courts, everybody who is concerned with administration, and the community should advert to the need for appreciating the relative heinousness in crime. Too often what is really a serious case gets off scot free and too often a heavy penalty is imposed where it is not warranted. Sometime ago I read about two cases in the same issue of an English newspaper. In one case a court of fairly high jurisdiction in England dealt with the conviction of a man who had defrauded large business interests. He got a lecture from the judge and a long term of imprisonment. In the other case, a criminal with a record who had very savagely and indecently assaulted a young girl was let off, virtually with a caution.
In regard to this Bill, there must be some appreciation of the magnitude of the crime and judicial uniformity in dealing with it; otherwise we fail completely in what we are trying to do. Anyway, I thank you, Sir, for your indulgence in allowing me to go perhaps a little beyond the confines of the Bill.
The Minister has no option, and I would join with Deputy Molloy in asking him to re-consider the whole question when time permits and to bring in suitable amendments to fill the gaps. Let us regard this as a stop-gap provision which he must have passed. However, I would ask him quite seriously to consider if there are not duties which are currently and traditionally laid at his door that would be better transferred to his colleague, the Minister for Justice. Where to draw the line can best be determined by the people who know, both Ministers and their advisers. As long as the present conditions continue, the policing of the roads is a more difficult problem than it need be and, in many cases, the situation in which the Garda Síochána find themselves becomes literally impossible. It is not that the guards do not want to do the job; they do. It is not that the guards are not capable; they are. It is that the multiplicity of regulations, the variations in them, all the problems with which thy are confronted when it comes to road control, make their task impossible. I would ask the Minister very earnestly, indeed, to consider that as a first priority.
As somebody who, perhaps, has come across the provisions in the Road Traffic Act to a considerable extent in his job, I should like to make a few comments on this Bill. First of all, in regard to the matter before the House, we are aware it is the result of a Supreme Court decision, and I believe that everybody is satisfied that such a decision should have been taken by the Supreme Court. On this issue the Supreme Court have shown that they gave very close care and attention to the matter that came before them. This shows the diligence of our judiciary and their complete independence. In this Bill the words "conclusive evidence" are deleted and are substituted by——
——the words "shall be sufficient evidence until the contrary is shown". The basic point is that the hands of a District Justice were tied while the words "conclusive evidence" were in the Act. This Bill is essential. Quite a considerable amount of the carnage and a considerable number of the deaths and accidents on our roads are caused by drink. We must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent accidents and deaths on the road. This is a very important social point which we should bear in mind. A person should be able to have his case heard on its merits before any court. The change proposed in the Bill will provide a person with an opportunity of rebutting any evidence that comes before a court. This is essential.
There are other aspects of the Bill dealing with proofs, and doctors, and so on. A person giving evidence should be able to prove that he is qualified to take a test and to give evidence. He should be able to prove that he is a registered medical practitioner. The medical evidence will be very important. Indeed, I would maintain that the onus should be on the State to prove that such a person is a registered medical practitioner. I welcome the Bill.
I support this Bill. It is regrettable that this measure has to be introduced but it is one the general public will support. At the same time I have a reservation, as the emphasis seems to be on drunken drivers. Having regard to the mounting toll of fatalties and injuries caused by road users, I was delighted to be present at a function recently held at a school for road training in Clontarf which was attended by the Minister for Local Government. I was impressed by the very responsible message the Minister gave to road users generally.
I am very sensitive about the tragedies which occur on the roads. Statistics show that serious accidents occur at certain hours but, unfortunately, no steps are taken to deal with bad mannered and aggressive drivers on our roads today. No steps have been taken to curb the infiltration on to our roads of these huge lorries which are not clearly identified. Some bear the words "long vehicle"; others do not. No attempt is made to inspect the roadworthiness of some of these long vehicles and some of the cars operating on the roads. I may be out of order in referring to these matters but I am conscious of this, as a citizen.
The Deputy has anticipated the Chair. We could accept passing reference to these matters only.
We read from day to day of transport on our roads which are not geared to deal with it.
They are important matters but do not arise on this occasion.
I want to make these points because I am very conscious of what is happening on the roads today. I would be grateful to the Minister if he would use his influence to bring in new measures to deal with these matters which are causing so many tragedies in Irish homes.
I should not like to delay this measure one instant. I am appalled at the number of deaths and injuries on the roads shown nightly on television. This amendment has been described as a stop-gap. Call it what you will, but I welcome it. The whole question of driving on our roads will have to be looked into. When this provision was introduced some years ago I said that a man must have taken so much drink before he is guilty. Like the Minister, I have been "dry" all my life and I hope to remain so. If the Minister and myself had two halfones before we started to drive, we might be a greater menace than the habitual drinker who had taken half a bottle of whiskey. Drunken driving cannot be measured by the amount you have but by how you can stand up to it. I welcome this measure. I hope its passage will not be long delayed and that it will have the effect of sobering up many of the drivers on the roads today. It is regrettable that our police force are otherwise occupied trying to put manners on some of us here and in other parts of the country. I hope this will be put into full force and that even stronger measures will be taken to deal with drunken driving. From what I see in the newspapers or on television an appalling number of people are killed on the roads. If we can reduce that figure even by one we will have done something worthwhile today. I hope when this is put into effect it will sober many of the drivers on the roads today.
Any effort in this House to prevent death or injury on our roads deserves our support. We have seen too many road accidents caused by excessive drinking and other reasons. My main reason for speaking is to ask the Minister about road signs. I hope I am not outside the scope of the debate. I will just make a passing reference. The signs erected on main roads outside towns are a little ugly. What they say is well intended but I would ask the Minister to consider the possibility of having something more artistic and better worded. There is one, I am not sure whether it is in Irish or in English, which says: "He is a killer who drinks". I do not think that is correct. He may be a killer if he is a drunken driver but certainly he is not a killer because he drinks. Neither the Minister nor Deputy Coogan drink but I am sure they would not say that everybody who drinks is a killer. There is one which says: "Speed kills, kills, kills". I do not think this is the right approach. I would prefer to see people encouraged to do the right thing on our roads starting with a greater emphasis on education at school level and going on to encourage various rural and urban organisations to devote certain periods to discussing road safety, the different aspects of road safety, advice to drivers, advice regarding drink——
I think this is one occasion when the Chair might ask the Deputy to use a little speed, to get away from the point he is making and come to the Bill.
I would ask the Minister to review those few points. I am in favour of anything directed towards safer conditions on our roads.
I should like to assure Deputy Molloy that this amending Bill was not introduced with the great haste that he seemed to think it was. It was fully considered in the normal way and we are quite satisfied that the terms of the Bill will do the job they are intended to do. I might remind him that according to what he said himself the recommendation made previous to the other Bill was in 1963 and the Bill introduced in 1968 turned out to be defective so a long time spent preparing a Bill does not seem to be very effective. I agree with him that it is very necessary to have the correct words in the Bill so that it will not be defeated again by a Supreme Court decision. I do not think it will. I think the words now inserted will stand up to time.
It is interesting to note that during the debate on the previous Bill every effort was made to prevent the word, which has now caused that Act to be declared ultra vires the Constitution, being included but the then Minister insisted that it should be included. I believe he felt as I do now that he was putting the right words in. As it turned out he was not, so one can never be sure.
Deputy O'Connell referred to the question of whether or not a person who is taken in on a charge of drunken driving should be told what his rights are. In fact, he is told. The regulations should be read out to him and he should know unless he is too drunk to understand.
Deputy Molloy made a point about making a copy of the certificate available to the person charged. I am surprised he should make this point because section 43 of the 1968 Act lays down that this should be done. I am quite sure the regulations are carried out and in every case the necessary information is given to the person who is being charged. As regards giving Deputy Molloy a copy of the Supreme Court judgment, as he must be aware this will not be available for several weeks. I have the newspaper report but I felt that because of the seriousness of the case and because we are hopeful of having the adjournment of the Dáil in the not-too-distant future that we should not allow the holiday period to go over with a defective Act in operation. Of course, it would be possible to make a charge under the Act but it would not be possible to prove it so there would not be much point in taking somebody to court knowing that the case was even weaker than it was under the existing law and therefore it had to be amended and amended quickly. For that reason I am glad that the House has agreed to take all stages of this Bill this evening. I understand the Seanad will do the same.
Running through the debate was the theme that the number being killed on the roads was increasing. I am glad to say that that is not so; the opposite is the case. I would say that the Act which has been in operation until now had a lot to do with this reduction. In 1972 the number killed on the roads was 640 and the number injured was 8,955. For the first six months of 1973, though it is nothing to brag about, the number is down to 283, a reduction of 33 on 1972. There are 33 people alive today who would not have been alive, in my opinion, if it were not for the introduction of that Act.
My reference was to an annual increase in the number of fatal accidents on our roads. Though we have had a variation from month to month I think the pattern over the last ten years would show an increase each year in the number of fatal accidents.
The pattern has changed. In the first six months of this year——
I mean annually.
I know what you have said but will you now listen to what I have to say?
Perhaps it would be better if both the Minister and the Deputy would address the Chair.
Sorry. The position is that for the first six months of last year the number of people killed on the roads was 33 more than for the first six months of this year. Much of the decrease is probably due to the fact that there has been in operation an Act which meant that if people were caught driving while drunk their licence is suspended for 12 months.
Deputy Molloy should be allowed a little credit for his responsibility in this regard.
I accept that this was because of steps I had taken.
Because of steps taken by the Minister's predecessor. However, I am prepared to give credit to anybody who tries to improve driving conditions.
I do not know what we are arguing about. I only referred to annual figures. I hope there will be a reduction in the 12 month period which we have not completed yet, but these are early days to forecast such a reduction.
Somebody said recently that Deputy Molloy has not discovered yet that he is not a Minister and, consequently, that he wishes to reply to every debate.
The Minister has plenty of time.
Yes, years. Deputy O'Connell commented that, perhaps, the regulations should be tightened further and the level of the alcohol content reduced. Unless there is a much greater improvement in regard to this issue than there has been in the past I would be inclined to recommend to the Government that we should tighten the regulations because it is my belief that many road accidents are caused by people who have had too much alcohol to drink.
Deputy de Valera made some good points but, apparently, he did not understand that while the local authorities are responsible for erecting signs in relation to road safety, these must be agreed by the Garda so that there is co-ordination already of the type that the Deputy suggested. There are in operation now special traffic gardaí and while it is true that there is not a sufficient number of breathalyser systems in operation the fact that there are some in existence is a deterrent to those who might otherwise indulge in alcohol to excess.
I would like to see the number being increased but that is a matter for another Minister. I do not wish to add anything else to what has been said except to thank the House for the constructive comments that have been made and to express the hope that all Stages of the Bill will be completed in a reasonable time.
There was one point that I raised and on which, perhaps, the Minister might comment. That was in relation to an accused having the right to request that the person who was responsible for analysing the specimen be available in court for cross-examination.
He has that right but I would hate to see it becoming the general practice because it would lead to a complete bog-down of work. Perhaps it might have been as well if the Deputy had not mentioned this matter. It is written into the existing regulations but could lead to a situation whereby people with much money could hold up the whole process.
Has the Minister any comment to make on the insertion of the words "any garda"?
It was found that in many cases, particularly in country districts, a garda in charge of a station might be a very junior member of the Garda while an experienced senior member might have taken the person in but would then have to hand him over to that junior member. Also, in a busy Garda station it was found often that when the Garda who was responsible for the arrest arrived at the station, he would have to wait his turn in a queue. It happened sometimes, too, that the garda who was in charge of a station might, under the rota system, be about to go off duty as the person was being brought in so that there would be some confusion as to whether he or the man taking over from him was the responsible person. Therefore, it was regarded as appropriate that this matter be tightened up so that the person making the arrest could be responsible for the test being taken.