Deputy Michael Collins was in possession and has 11.5 minutes remaining. He should not feel he must use all of them.
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
I would gladly take an hour if the Ceann Comhairle gave it to me, but I will probably have to stop after 11.5 minutes.
I sympathise with those who have lost a loved one in any road traffic accident during the years. It is a very difficult time for many families and I sympathise sincerely with each one of them. I also accept that I have a conflict of interest, as I have two brothers who own rural pubs in west Cork and a daughter, Marie, who works in two bars in west Cork also. It is their livelihood.
Drink driving should be severely punished. However, this is an anti-rural Ireland Bill which is proved by the fact that it is before the House on a Friday, when many rural Deputies must be back in their constituencies. From what I can gather, we were meant to discuss it for an hour, but it has increased to two hours or perhaps more, however that happened. It is extraordinary. I was due to have many constituency clinic meetings in many pubs in west Cork today and although I am glad that others can carry them out, I will be back in Castletownbere this evening in McCarthy's bar for a clinic. They are truly great people.
If it will still be open.
I hope it will be. They are truly great people who look after their customers in great style in Castletownbere. I hope to get to the clinic before going to the Boston bar in Bantry.
I asked a question when I had the floor on this matter before. A number of years ago a Minister for Finance, when dishing out his budget, gave an extra allowance to the first two children but none to the third child through child benefit. The question asked at the time was what had the third child ever done to the Minister in school. What did the people of rural Ireland ever do to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport that he feels the need to bring forward this Bill? Perhaps he has no idea of the hurt this is causing in rural Ireland, but he probably does. I thank him for visiting many community organisations in west Cork. We did not even raise the issue of the drink driving Bill, but they brought it up with us. It is the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill or whatever else one might call it, but it is the drink driving Bill as far as the people of west Cork are concerned. No voice in all of the groups met by the Minister said it was a great idea. They all said to him not to dare to go ahead with it as it would cause ruin in rural Ireland. I can give one example of a bar in west Cork. I received the following email the other day and it is only right that I read it as it is very relevant. It reads:
Today is a sad day in a rural area in west Cork. We had a lease for a little bar in Ballylickey for the last four and a half years. We had a very good business built up here, with food, accommodation and bar. All for both tourists and locals.
When we took on the lease, I decided we needed a little minibus, an eight-seater, which we bought to collect customers and drop them home, as for us, we would not get taxis out here, which we felt was not a problem. We have our own bus, which did very well. It brought out the elderly people from their homes to meet with other people.
We are sad to say today we close the bar as we find the Garda checkpoints the morning after are very unfair. It has frightened these people in the rural area even to drive to mass on a Sunday morning. They do not know and nor do I know if they are over the legal limit even though our last bus leaves our pub at 1 a.m.
The email continues:
I would like you to say this to minister Shane Ross. Come and live in west Cork for a week and just see what he is destroying to rural Ireland.
We had 12 local people employed. That's a lot in a rural area to find employment again. Thank you for taking time reading this message.
That was sent to me by a person who ran the Bridge Bar in Ballylickey, Bantry. That person ran a truly good bar, put the customer first and cared for customers such that they would not be seen to be drinking and driving home afterwards and now the bar is gone, no matter what effort was made for it. I asked a question when I spoke here last time about the rural-proofing of this Bill. I heard the Minister's speech. I was not in the Chamber when he was speaking but I was in my office in Leinster House and I carefully listened to what he had to say. When I spoke afterwards, I said that rural-proofing has turned out to be the biggest cod that was ever mentioned in this Dáil. Rural-proofing is resolving an issue before it comes ahead of the people. The Minister said in his speech that he was rural-proofing this Bill and that he was meeting organisations. He named a number of them and they were good, decent organisations, and he said he would meet them again. That is not rural-proofing. The Minister was meeting them and telling them what he was going to do. Nothing was put in place. Who is going to take the people from the surrounds of the Bridge Bar in Ballylickey to and from the pub? As nothing has been put in place for them, they have to stay at home. Addressing rural isolation has gone out the window. I ask the Minister, before this Bill goes any further, to prove that proper rural-proofing has been done for it and if there has not, the Bill should be put in the bin until a proper transport service is put in place to rural-proof it.
I mentioned the Leinster House bar in my speech here the last day and I will mention it again. If the Minister wants to show an example to the people of rural Ireland about drinking and the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, start here by example and close the bar here. That is where the Minister should start by example to show that he is equal. The Proclamation of the State says "Irishmen and Irishwomen". It does not say "Urban men and rural men" but "Irishmen and Irishwomen". Stand by the people in the Proclamation and stand over it. Rural Deputies, I was told by a speaker here, will be jumping up and down about this Bill. Of course we are because we live in and see every day what is happening in rural Ireland and this is a further infliction on the people of rural Ireland. A person who has a couple of pints drives home quite safely and has done so with no problem and is suddenly a criminal.
There are many reasons for deaths on our roads. One of the biggest I see is roadside trees. Why are we not putting forward a Bill or an instruction to the local authorities to fell every roadside tree over 2 m long? That would lead to a guaranteed saving of life. We have seen that there has been a loss of life due to overgrown trees. That is an issue that would get complete support in this country, including in rural Ireland, and I urge the Minister to look into that in particular. I have mentioned and shown to the Minister the issue with roads in west Cork and given him the opportunity to put forward funding for them. I have not seen what I would call proper funding for the N71, the R585 or the R586 since I was a child, which is a long time ago. The bottom line is that they are impassable and in some ways impossible to drive on. There is where there would be a saving of lives on our roads. I could take a person from the parish that I am from, Goleen, on the main road to Cork, and that person would have an exciting time, with the length of time it would take, the roughness and the conditions of the road. There is no place to pass cars, which causes frustration for people trying to carry out their daily lives and daily work. I plead with the Minister to give proper funding for the roads in west Cork about which I am speaking.
To return to the Bill, rural isolation leads to mental health issues. Where in the Bill is the problem of rural isolation tackled? It will lead to further rural isolation. Think about it. How do those living in the countryside surrounding Durrus, Mizen Head, Castletownbere, Clonakilty and Bandon come and go from their community? Many collect their pension on a Friday and might like to have a pint or two, but they are petrified to do so. They have never caused anyone a problem in their life or broken the law. This will not be breaking the law, but it will make them look like criminals from now on. There is no transport service available and there is no point in me trying to bluff the Minister that there is. In my rural community the bus service to Cork leaves at 7 a.m. and returns at 8 p.m. If local people are not up at 6 a.m., they will have to stay in their houses. They are now not able to drive and enjoy a little a social outing.
Young people are plagued. They cannot get to do the driving test. The backlog is frightening. As we have no transport service available, how are they supposed to get out and about? The cost of motor insurance and motor tax is breaking them. Everything is being built against the rural person. Will the Minister re-examine the Bill and rural proof it? If he was to rural proof it properly, I would stand behind him. However, I will not for now. We are told that the vintners are against it. Of course, they are against it. They provide thousands of jobs for people living in rural areas. We should stand by them and not against them. Will the Minister consider them? The Bill will lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs all over the country.
I hear that the tax payments will pass through the Minister's office. I hope he will take the opportunity to allow people to tax their cars through post offices. We are losing our post offices, pubs, banks, creameries and churches. People are also leaving. There is nothing for young people in rural parts of Ireland. Why would they stay? They cannot have a drink, socialise or go anywhere. I ask the Minister to reconsider because it would be a great turnaround and boost the people living in rural parts of Ireland.
The Bill has not been rural proofed. There is no point in the Minister saying he is due to meet groups next week or the week after. The Bill should have been rural proofed before it reached the floor of the Dáil. Where a Minister says an issue has been rural proofed but it has not, the Bill should be binned immediately. That is where this Bill should be.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, which discussed this Bill. The sanction, rather than the limit, is being changed in the Bill, but we all know that it is no small deal to put someone off the road. Therefore, there has to be a good reason to do it. The committee considered a Road Safety Authority document, but we then invited representatives to discuss it because we were not sure about certain things in it. Others had also told us that facts we had been given were being misrepresented. We, therefore, invited them in and debated the matter in some detail.
The legislation should be based on evidence, particularly when this sanction is being introduced. I felt the Road Safety Authority had satisfied the test that there was evidence that this would make a difference. However, it will only make a difference if there is enforcement and not only at this level but also at the levels above. We saw the controversy surrounding the introduction of mandatory alcohol tests, MATs, and how it had undermined confidence. The number of tests was so inflated that we could not say with certainty that the evidence had not been undermined. That is part of the reason the issue is not one confined to the Garda because in making public policy we have to rely on the information made available.
We must have certainty on the number of roadside tests carried out. Without it, we cannot rely on the figures. There has to be some discussion between the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure we can be certain that the figures we receive are absolutely accurate. I imagine that, with the amount of attention this matter has received, the Garda will be put on notice. However, there has been no sanction. One cannot change behaviour unless there is a sanction. I am very unhappy that there has been a proposal to have no sanction at any rank. At the most senior rank, where decisions are made, there most definitely should have been a sanction. It filters down to this kind of legislation and has a bearing on the reliability of the information we are receiving. I do not believe the approach taken is the correct one.
Behaviour & Attitudes was asked to produce a survey of public support. It found that 91% of Irish adults had indicated support for automatic disqualification of any driver caught over the drink-driving limit. A national survey of 1,000 people was conducted in January 2017. Of those surveyed, 61% believe that if a driver is caught over the drink-driving limit, he or she should be disqualified for more than 12 months. Some 89% of adults in urban areas and, interestingly, 93% in rural areas indicate support for automatic disqualification of any driver caught over the drink-driving limit. The percentage is higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
The issue is that people want to feel safe on the roads. Alcohol is a sedative and impairs driving. I asked questions about driving the morning after a night out, for example, because people are afraid of inadvertently being over the limit when tested. We were told that 14% of all alcohol-related fatal crashes happened between 6 a.m. and noon. Some 15% of alcohol-related fatal crashes involving a driver or a motorcycle happen in the same period. I felt there was sufficient evidence.
I have some sympathy for the point being made about the lack of transport in rural areas. I also have great sympathy for people who have experienced the death of a loved one, particularly where drink was involved. There is a very powerful advertisement on television that shows the carnage that changes people's lives forever.
We are not producing this legislation for some minor reason but because it will make a material difference by saving lives, albeit those of a very small number of people. It is important, however, that we achieve this.
I asked about mouthwashes and other products that contained alcohol, the use of which might result in people going over the limit inadvertently. I am satisfied from the information we received that there is no risk in that regard.
There is an argument to have a public transport system or service that does not leave people as isolated as they are. With our spatial patterns, it is very difficult to achieve this, which I completely accept. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about what can be done in that regard. People living in rural areas will tell him what they believe will work. There are many good collaborative rural transport initiatives.
I see some of it in parts of my county. If we are to have an evidence-based approach to the issue the argument falls on the side that it should be done, but there is no point in doing it unless the Minister is willing to make sure there is sufficient enforcement. There most definitely has to be an approach that at least addresses rural isolation to the degree it can, because that is a very valid point.
The damage has been done already with the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Ross. He has put the fear of life into rural Ireland already. I wish to speak against the proposed Bill. Approximately 12 months ago we had a spike in road fatalities in this country. What followed was a knee-jerk reaction from the Minister, Deputy Ross, pointing the finger straight away at drink driving. Both he and his partners in Government, Fine Gael, claim there has been an upturn in the economy, which in turn led to extra vehicles on the road but that fact has been forgotten. What has been the Minister's response in the past month? We have seen some major road fatalities involving heavy goods vehicles and cyclists at bad road junctions. That brings me back to my previous comment that the Bill before us is a knee-jerk reaction.
We all know about Donegal and how young people up there love cars. Road fatalities have been a feature of that county for years and we would all like to resolve the situation. On 6 May this year I read an article in the Daily Mail which included a comment from a road safety officer. He said he believed more deaths are imminent on the roads there. That is a sad situation. I did not hear the Minister respond to that comment on how to solve the problem of road fatalities in Donegal.
Like the previous speaker I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. I am the Vice Chairman. The Minister attended a meeting on 8 February to outline his proposals. I was immediately taken aback. He said he intended to put people off the road. He said he was "concerned that in certain cases where people have breached the alcohol limit while driving, the awarding of three penalty points sends out the message that it is not a serious offence". I tabled a number of parliamentary questions to the Department of Justice and Equality asking for figures to prove that road traffic legislation was being abused, namely, if there were many repeat offenders. The Department could not give me an answer. It does not have any figures. I was also told the Department did not have time to collate such information. I assure the Minister that anyone who gets caught will never forget it no matter what bracket they are in. I am aware of a recent case involving an elderly man in Tipperary who would have only two pints throughout an entire day. Going home one evening he was pulled over at a checkpoint. The bag was produced but it was not working properly and he had to be brought to the barracks. He had to wait for the results to come back to him. He collected them at the post office.
He passed and he was fine, but that man will never go to the local pub again. The fear of life has been put into him.
We brought various bodies before our committee, including the Garda, which gave its side of the story. We also brought in many families of victims of road fatalities, listened to their cases and sympathised with them. No one condones drink driving. What we heard was like pitching someone like me from the Vauxhall League against a Premier League team: we are not fighting on a level playing pitch. The people who are responsible for victims and fatalities are drivers who should be put away in jail for life if they drink and drive with such levels of alcohol in their blood.
The current Minister of State with responsibility for sport is the former chairman of the committee of which I am a member. He came to the conclusion after all our consultations that we could not determine the matter. The committee was inconclusive on whether the Bill was necessary. Some members said it was, but others were unsure. The facts were not present to indicate that bringing forward this legislation was of any benefit. The Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport was inconclusive on the matter. We did not say it should be brought in or that it should not.
We need to go back to the drawing board. We need a better and more detailed account of the matter. Representatives of the Road Safety Authority appeared before the committee and gave us plenty of figures. It is ironic. This time 12 months ago the Minister was down the throat of the chairperson of the Road Safety Authority. However, the Minister was not long getting the RSA back on his side for this legislation. The RSA produced with some figures, including from one survey which said seven out of ten people have a drink when they drive. Naturally, it sounds very bad. However, if the authority did the survey on the clergy, the same figure would be ten out of ten. That would be a major headline: ten out of ten clergy have drink on them because of their clerical duties.
They say a few masses on a Sunday.
We argue about professional opinions. There are two sides to every story, and not only from the layman, gardaí and politicians. It also applies to professional people and academics. For example, Professor Jim Heffron provided an article entitled, "Drink-driving proposals inconsistent with the scientific evidence". I will not go into the whole document unless I decide to filibuster, but that is simply an example of where someone says that we are going over the top again.
I come from rural Ireland. In recent years, I have seen how the original drink driving proposals have had an effect. We have seen many pubs close already. People have stopped going to them. I have cited evidence for the Minister already. A general practitioner gave me an example lately. He goes for a walk regularly and he has noticed changes since these draconian laws came in. He goes past an old cottage and beside it a pile of empty bottles and cans is growing every week.
Deputy Collins referred to mental health and mental illness. People staying at home on their own can lead to that and more thought needs to be given to the matter. When these people go to their local pub, they are drinking in a controlled environment. If they are consistent with the law, they will know with what they can drink and drive. However, if people go home and cannot go out, they will drink to eternity. Nowadays, people cannot go home after one or two. They will stay in the pub, drink for the whole night and hope to get a taxi home. The Minister is actually doing more damage to many more people.
Reference was made to the older person. The phrase I will use is that the Minister is killing a dying breed.
The younger generation takes a different approach to Irish culture. They go out only at weekends. At one time, GAA teams would have a few drinks in the local village after a match but that is no longer the case because of new fitness regimes and so forth.
The Minister is trying to plámás his senior partner in government, the Fine Gael Party, with gimmicks such as tax incentives, buses and other forms of transport. The only transport solution that would work in rural Ireland would be the introduction of driverless cars. The Minister should not try to cod his senior partner in government with gimmicks that will not work.
The proposed measure will affect not only rural areas, but also some towns and built-up areas of cities, including Dublin, where pubs are beyond walking distance for many people. I took a taxi to a function in the Citywest hotel one night recently. As we passed a few pubs in Clondalkin, I asked the taxi driver what the story was with taxis in the area. He told me that taxi drivers would not work in the area because the fares would be too low and inconsistent and, therefore, unviable. The measure will hit big towns and cities and the leafy suburbs of the Minister's constituency where people live in Ireland's answer to the Champs d'Élysée. They too will be hit when they go for a glass of wine or a pre-Christmas drink. The Minister is not only hitting rural Ireland.
It is ironic that the Government was able to have the budget and other legislation passed quicker than this Bill, a one-page document which has been on the Minister's desk for the past eight or nine months. While I acknowledge this issue is taboo and it is hard to argue one's case because opinions differ on it, I ask the Minister to take a common sense approach. Everyone would respect him if did so because the legislation is not necessary.
The Minister accuses the Fianna Fáil Party of being in the pockets of the vintners. I spoke against his proposal at a committee meeting in February. The measure will not only impact on publicans. Restaurants and other establishments that serve meals and hold a licence to sell alcoholic beverages will also be affected. Many people like to have one drink with a meal. Young couples have big overheads and have to pay for a babysitter if they go out for a couple of drinks. This Bill will mean they will also have to pay for a taxi if they go out for a meal and one drink.
I will not define how much alcohol would put someone over the limit, whether it is two or three pints or whatever, as I am sure a mechanism will be put in place to let everyone know their limit in terms of what they can drink before driving. It is said the limit is approximately one and a half pints but I do not know if that is the case. All of us have different capabilities.
I will not dwell for long on the issue of the morning after. I heard a lady being interviewed on "Drivetime" recently. She was not a regular drinker but admitted having a couple of glasses of wine at some gathering or other. The following morning she assumed she would be fine to drive to work but she was pulled over and failed a breathalyser test. However, because the result fell within the 50 mg to 80 mg category, she was given a warning. She stated on the programme that she would never again drink late at night and drive to work the following morning. What I am trying to say is that the current legislation is doing its job.
If people drive the following morning and if they are caught and go down, they will know they were wrong. The former Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, included that proviso to safeguard people the following morning.
There are many matters I could talk about. Laws like this create a Trump factor. People feel they are not being listened to. That is why one gets an electorate who vote for the likes of Trump. They feel they are getting no respect from Kildare Street and its environ of bureaucracy. We in rural Ireland feel we are not being listened to.
In his deliberation, the Minister made the point that most road fatalities are outside Dublin. They are because we have the roads where the speed limits are up to 100 km/h, with motorways up to 120 km/h and by-roads up to 80 km/h. Dublin is a controlled zone with a limit of 50 km/h, reducing to 30 km/h in some places soon.
It is already.
It is reduced already. I had better watch it so.
The Minister cannot make the analogy that those in rural Ireland are careless on the roads. We are not. We also have the problem, as I mentioned earlier, of bad roads and dangerous junctions. All such difficulties cause crashes.
I accept I am starting to repeat myself but I want to keep this alive. I would ask that the Minister give serious thought to this proposal and not drive it through. As I said, we need a bit of common sense. I re-emphasise it affects not only rural Ireland. It will hit the big towns and the city of Dublin. It will do more damage to the health of those who are stuck at home. We ask the Minister to focus on the other part of his brief - funding for roads, traffic-calming measures, proper kerbing, paving, etc., in the countryside.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, is also the Minister for tourism and he has control of Fáilte Ireland. Fáilte Ireland, in its advertising slogans abroad, invites people to come to Ireland - come into the parlour, there is a welcome there for them. It emphasises the lovely country pub with the old man on the high stool. One Easter weekend, I went to Glenbeigh and there were three men sitting on stools in the pub. They were not drinking at all and they were not smoking either. The smoking ban, which my party leader brought in, had already come in. I am a guilty person in that regard. I was struck by the commentary. These men could talk, tell stories and so forth. We must not lose that part of our culture. It is invaluable and it creates tourism. There is no point in talking about the Wild Atlantic Way or ancient Hibernia. People like to drive across the country and call into the pub at the crossroads or in the village, meet the locals and hear the proper stories.
The rural transport will not work. I have not spoken about them at all since I came into the Dáil but I commend the gardaí on the work they do. I sympathise with the gardaí on the ground for the hammering they are getting. They are doing their job. If one wants to be cynical about the number of breathalyser bags they claimed were used, one should ask why they could not use them. There are no cars on the road at night time and when there are no cars on the road, it gives robbers greater freedom of movement. When people go home from rural pubs, they are a hindrance to robbers but now the robbers have a clear way in the countryside because there is no one on the roads to deter them.
Gardaí do a good job and should be given flexibility. We should not come down on top of them saying they do not do their job. They are doing a good job, on which I compliment them. During the recession they took some of the biggest hits in the cut-backs. In my local town after gardaí attend a crash scene to which the emergency services are called - I hope one that does not involve a fatality - they go back to the barracks and put on the kettle. They look out the front and see emergency service personnel going to have a three-course meal. Gardaí should be shown the same respect as others who provide invaluable services.
I implore the Minister to withdraw the Bill. In any case, I wish him a happy Christmas.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill introduced by my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross.
I acknowledge that excessive drinking and drink-driving should not be tolerated. Too many people have lost their lives as a result of it and too many families have been left devastated by it. I meet people who have lost loved ones as a result of it. Therefore, drinking to excess and driving afterwards cannot be tolerated.
Today I have heard two members of the joint committee speak about the Bill and their deliberations on it. There are mixed views on the Bill as to whether it is correct to change the law to make it mandatory to put people off the road. It is a very sensitive issue. In my constituency of Galway East there are a huge number of rural communities and on a continual basis I have people coming to see me in my clinics to say the Bill goes too far. The view shared by many is that it is disproportionate in the sentence that will be handed down to people found to have alcohol in their system between the levels of 50 mg and 80 mg. The way to deal with the matter is to increase the penalties in place to make it more prohibitive and to give people the warning already highlighted. It happened to me once. I was bagged, as one might say, but I was fine because I had no drink taken. It is an unreal experience to be stopped by a garda and asked to blow into the breathalyser. It left me in a position where I was blowing into the bag and wondering when I had last taken a drink. I had not taken a drink for about two weeks before that, but the fear was in me and I knew one had to be so careful when drinking.
Many factors lead to road deaths, some of which have been highlighted by Deputies across the house. Speeding is one. There are speed limits which people believe are the speeds at which they have to drive. We should, however, be driving at a speed at which we can control our car. This factor is coupled with the state of the roads, especially in rural Ireland, which is not the fault of the Minister. For the past 15 years the roads budget has been decimated. We have a legacy that needs to be addressed in terms of poor road surfaces and alignment.
Every rural Deputy will relate to the issues posed by verge trimming and overhanging trees. During the recent storm there were three fatalities due to trees falling onto roads. Many trees on roadsides are probably unsafe. This issue needs to be addressed.
Some people drive under the influence of drugs, which is another issue that is not being brought to the fore.
In its current form, the Bill will have a serious impact on rural Ireland. The main issue is that it will be counterproductive in that there are many people who live alone. I know many such persons who go to their local pub to collect their pension. They may meet friends, have a drink or two and go home. This is the highlight of their week. apart from going to mass on Sunday or visiting the doctor, where they might meet someone else. They now live in fear which has been created by our discussion on drink driving and changing the law. That fear will lead to health issues, isolation, depression and a sense of not belonging. Their health will deteriorate which could be coupled with their buying bottles of whiskey and drinking it at home where no one sees or can control what they are doing. This issue has to be addressed.
We have many laws on drink driving, but their enforcement needs to be updated. Many breathalyser tests were recorded, even though they had never been carried out. There is a lack of faith in how the laws on drink driving are being enforced. This is not part of the Minister's remit, but it is a concern.
The Bill has raised the issue of rural transport, or the lack thereof. The Minister has been in office for 18 months and heard much about this issue. I welcome his engagement with stakeholders to try to devise solutions. Even though it is not official, what I read in the newspapers last Monday about a proposal to increase transport links in rural areas would not be sufficient, as it would only affect some counties. That document is probably under discussion.
As Deputy Michael Collins stated, under the programme for Government any legislation introduced must be rural proofed. I understand the Minister with responsibility for rural proofing is the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring. In that regard, I do not know whether he has carried out a process of due diligence on the Bill. I would like to know whether he has and, if so, to see a copy of it.
We have discussed how the rural transport system works, but, like many other areas throughout the country, mine does not have a rural transport service. It does not even have simpler things like bus stops. A bus will pass the door and one will have to drive 5 km to get on it. People travelling from Coldwood to Galway city have to drive 10 km by car because there is no bus stop at Coldwood to pick them up. Someone could walk 500 yd. to get on a bus. There does not seem to be any enthusiasm within Bus Éireann to provide bus stops.
Traditionally, it provided bus stops in certain locations and that seems to be the way it works. It has not looked at the changing population in rural Ireland.
I was speaking to a journalist in recent days who arranged to meet a person at 9 p.m. because he could then get the bus home at 10 p.m. I told him that there were many people in rural Ireland who would be delighted to be able to get a bus home from work at 10 p.m. He takes it for granted. The older person or couple who want to go to the local pub and have a couple of drinks would love to be able to go to the pub at 8 p.m., have their drinks and get the bus home at 10 p.m. That service does not exist. There are no taxis. In my experience of rural transport, business people have tried to start up a community taxi service within a village or small town. It was tried in Dunmore, which Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice knows well. Those people went through the hoops to get a registered taxi service, only to be shot down when they looked for insurance. It was going to cost them €6,000 per annum to insure the vehicle. That option was ruled out.
All laws need to have a balance. The law of diminishing return applies as well. When we balance this Bill with the negative effects it may have on rural Ireland, we may decide that it needs to be looked at again.
Returning to the issue of drinking and driving, investment in education at national school level is where we should start. By the time these children reach secondary school, it is too late to start talking about drinking and the way people should drink. Most young people are drinking at that stage and they are developing their habits. It is important that we educate young people at national school level. Coupled with education about alcohol, we also need to educate them about how to drive, how to use the roads and speed limits. We need to instil that information into our youth at national school level. This week, there has been talk of introducing music into every school in a couple of years' time. As a matter of urgency, we should introduce a subject on alcohol, alcohol abuse, drugs, drugs abuse and drink-driving at national school level to start people off on the right foot.
I accept that drink-driving is a very sensitive subject. Ultimately, however, there is a need for balance in what we are doing. I know many people who are living on their own and who do not know what they are going to do to collect their pensions. There are people who are afraid to go to mass at 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning in Belclare if they have been out the night before for fear of being caught drink-driving the morning after. It is important that we examine the Bill. There has been much talk about it in rural Ireland. It has created much debate and has also instilled fear. The changes the Minister intends to make with this Bill could be counter-productive. Having read the report of the joint committee, I realise that there was no agreement as to the merits of the Bill.
This Bill goes too far. We need to look at it and balance it up.
We also need further discussion on how this Bill will affect rural Ireland and how it can be rural-proofed to ensure we do not isolate more people. I accept there is no desire to do this but that might be an unintended consequence of this measure. The attitude to drink-driving in this country is different now to what it was when I was a teenager. At that time, everybody engaged in drink-driving and they got away with it. I recall that at 12 noon, after 11 a.m. mass, my local pub would be full and men would not go home for their dinner until around 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. Thankfully, that day is gone. I believe that current laws in this area are sufficient, with, perhaps, a re-examination of the penalties applicable to the 50 mg to 80 mg band. We inadvertently create laws that can be counterproductive and I believe this is such a law. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I have discussed this issue many times. I respect his views on it but I ask him to consider the views of rural Ireland. It is important that as legislators we do not isolate people. I accept that this is not the intention but it could happen.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I come from and live in rural Ireland. I can remember as a young woman going to the local pubs with my friends and seeing people who were very heavily intoxicated get behind the wheel of a car. As stated by Deputy Canney, this was the norm at that time. I can also remember very distressed people, wives, girlfriends and so on, trying to take keys from heavily intoxicated men because they did not want them to drive owing to the amount of alcohol in their systems. We now have evidence that alcohol is a psychoactive drug. It impairs a person's cognitive ability, vision and decision-making. Over the last number of years we have been putting in place legislation on the level of alcohol a person may have in his or her system while driving a vehicle, be that a motorbike, a car or bicycle. We have a great deal of evidence on the impact of alcohol on our systems, which I accept is different depending on sex, weight, height and whether or not a person has eaten.
Reference was made to people living in fear of not being able to drive the morning after an evening on which they have had a couple of drinks. My understanding is that it takes at least an hour to process one unit of alcohol such that if people go out for a meal and they have only a couple of units of alcohol they would not have too much to worry about the next morning. We need to be careful that we do not scare people into not going out and so on. I referred to my own experience as a young woman, what I have seen and the changes that have come into effect over the years. There is a generation of young people who would not dream of driving a car with any alcohol in their system. I know young people who live near me who would have a designated driver or they would get a lift to the local town and then get a taxi home.
Drinking and driving does not enter into their consciousness at all. However, there are other people who do and, sadly, the evidence, which is what all the legislation we produce in here must be-----
On a point of order, again, this Bill is being forced on us and it should not be discussed on a Friday in the first place. We are here but nobody other than one speaker from the Government side is here so I am calling for a quorum. We reduced the numbers required for a quorum yesterday to allow people to speak but we still cannot fill it.
We will stop the clock and call Deputy Corcoran Kennedy as soon as the quorum is present.
Before the quorum was called, I was talking about the many young people who would not dream of taking alcohol and driving at the same time. This is to be welcomed. They come up with their own solutions to it, particularly those who live in rural areas, and I very much welcome that.
This legislation has opened up a debate on rural isolation that is very welcome. In 1999, I ran for the local authority, which was my first foray into politics. One of the issues I raised at the time was transport, which was an important issue for me as a young woman with small children living in rural Ireland and having no access to transport of any sort during the day. I remember people asking me what I was talking about and saying that everybody had a car. However, I knew that while people may have had a car, they might not have had access to it when they needed it and so it became a very important issue for me. When the then Government introduced the rural transport scheme on a pilot basis, I was one of the founder members of my local rural transport scheme. It was an eye-opener to discover that I had identified the need that was there but when we started to ask people what they required, we discovered that the needs were even greater than we had anticipated. The scheme in question was the west-Offaly rural transport programme. We had runs that brought predominantly women into their local town. It then broadened out and many men started to use it. People used it for a variety of reasons. They used it to do their shopping and for the social journey in and out. They used it to go to the library or to go into the local town to have a cup of coffee.
They used it for a variety of reasons. I know one couple who used it. The woman did the shopping and the man went to the pub for a couple of pints. They met up again at 1 p.m. and headed home. The scheme continues to work very well.
I was one of the members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party who talked about the potential of what is now known nationally as the Local Link in combating further rural isolation because the majority of services across the country only operate during the day. I have always been of the view that there is huge scope for Local Link services to run at night in order to give people access to their local hall for a drama show, to go out to play cards in their local community, go to the local pub, if that is what they want, or to visit somebody in their local village who they have not seen for a while. This has always been about making the Local Link bus available to people. The beauty of the Local Link service is that it is door to door. A very simple system was devised. All someone has to do is let the Local Link operator know that he or she needs the bus at a particular time on a particular day. The only time a person needs to call the operator again is if he or she is sick or something like that. The bus turns up like clockwork on the day.
In some areas, transport schemes developed further and began bringing young people to third-level institutions. We had a pocket of young people who were in a particular area and we got a hackney to bring them from their village to the nearest pick-up point so that they would get to Athlone Institute of Technology for the start of lectures.
There is a great deal of flexibility in the service. The operators are fantastic. The standard of the bus drivers and their staff is exemplary. All of them have done their training. They are the people who will know their customers best. The dedication of the drivers in the Local Link areas is fantastic. To digress somewhat, during the awful winter of 2010 they knew the older people and that they would be afraid to go out in the snow and ice. Those drivers went around and collected people's shopping lists, did the shopping for them and brought it back. That is how fantastic that Local Link service is, and I would advocate strongly for it. I was very happy when my colleague, Deputy Heydon, led the way with the idea and contacted the Minister, Deputy Ross, about the potential of the service. I sincerely hope that the National Transport Authority, NTA, will consider this very carefully.
Again, we are looking at evidence. There is discussion about the busiest routes in respect of which Local Link operators believe there is potential. In the Laois-Offaly constituency, the Borris-in-Ossory to Portlaoise route has been identified in this regard. The last run on that route is at 6.10 p.m. and the Local Link operator is looking at extending it to 11.30 p.m. twice a week. The neighbouring one to me, which is one of our most successful runs, is in the Kinnitty area, where there is potential to have a service three days a week - Wednesday, Friday and Saturday - with the last run leaving at midnight. Currently, the last bus leaves at 5 p.m. The other route in the area is Portarlington to Emo. Currently, the last run is at 5 p.m. but that may be extended to 11.30 p.m.
There is great potential in this because it allows people to feel safe. There is also the sociability that travelling on a bus together brings. There are people who never travelled on a bus because they did not have access to one or they had their car but, through infirmity, nervousness or age, they are no longer able to drive. They found that the journey on the bus, rather than the destination, was part of the enjoyment of the experience.
The involvement of hackneys in terms of supporting that door-to-door service is very important because what I am hearing is that people are concerned about rural isolation. That is the reason we should push forward with this proposal. It is older people about whom we are concerned. Many younger people would never think of drinking and driving. We need to examine the facts. If a life is saved as a result of this legislation, then it is right that we proceed with it..
We can consider the evidence and number of road traffic accidents there have been resulting in fatal collisions. Alcohol consumption was a factor in 38% of them. All these collisions involve individuals and families who are negatively impacted, whether they consumed alcohol themselves or it was somebody else who consumed the alcohol. We have to listen to the families involved in campaigning for safer roads to ensure that what happened to their families will not happen to the family of anybody else. Unfortunately, men are more likely than women to drink and drive. I welcome the Road Safety Authority, RSA, campaigns engaging with young people on many different levels, including what speeding does, as well as what alcohol and drug consumption can do. I commend it on the positive way it is engaging people. I notice its chairperson has been very concerned about the number of road traffic collisions, as well as the fact that alcohol is a factor in some of them.
Forensic evidence has been produced and we cannot just dismiss figures as if they mean nothing. Every figure is somebody who died and a person or families have been affected. There was forensic analysis of 867 fatal collisions indicating that alcohol was a contributory factor in almost two fifths of those collisions. It is something we cannot ignore. Of those, 286 people died and went to their grave, and that is not to mention the 69 people injured, some seriously, as a result.
I totally understand the concerns people have around the rural isolation of people and particularly older men and women. I am aware there are many widows living in rural Ireland and they are the most keen users of the transport services, as women live longer. Some women are of an age where they are unable to drive, having relied on husbands who died before them. They were suddenly isolated during the day as well as at night. They rely very heavily on family members. I genuinely appeal to people not to dismiss the potential of the Local Link. I hope the National Transport Authority, NTA, will run with this and let those pilot schemes go on. The Local Link services have been there for a very long time and we should now look to expand the services into the evenings as well as during the day. It is only when one asks what people need that one finds the types of routes required and the number of people who will start to use them.
There were 947 people killed in 867 collisions and all these data were analysed. Alcohol was a contributory factor in 38% of driver deaths, 30% of motorcyclist deaths, 47% of pedestrian deaths and 42% of passenger deaths. The data indicate 86% of drivers and 51% of passengers not wearing seat belts who had consumed alcohol were killed. We must not forget that the motivation behind the legislation is to save people's lives. It is really important we remember that as well as the people tragically killed. Their families are certainly reminding us of them. It is also important to recognise that, unfortunately, young men are more inclined to drink and drive. We really need to encourage them to get away from the idea that somebody can be a very safe driver after consuming several units of alcohol. It is something about which we must be very careful.
We hear much about single vehicle collisions in our news reports and wonder how in heaven's name they happen.
In fact, the evidence tells us that it is more likely to occur when drink-driving is involved and judgment has been impaired. We have to examine how best to deal with this. If one looks at other measures that have been taken over the years, the introduction of random breath-testing, for example, the number of drivers who tested positive at checkpoints fell dramatically. It was four out of every 200 in 2006, and it went down to one out of 200 in 2009, which is only a period of three years. It shows that it has an impact. The cross-Government, cross-sectoral Healthy Ireland approach, the whole drive of health and well-being in our society that others have referred to with regard to educating young people and so on are crucially important. Our actions really take effect and we find that there is a generation of young people who would not even dream of drinking and driving.
To come back to the pilot that has been suggested for the rural link, the cost would not be a lot. I understand it is approximately €1 million. That would provide over 11,000 extra trips around rural Ireland per annum, which is a significant number. I remind people that free travel passes are also accepted on local link buses so if people have a free travel pass, they will be able to use it. That is worth considering. I appeal to people to give this suggested solution to social isolation an opportunity. If I had listened in 1999 to people telling me that there was no need for rural transport, we would never have been motivated enough to apply for funding when the pilot scheme started and now we can see the huge benefits to it. Any kind of change in this type of legislation is always difficult but we must not forget about the evidence that exists and that we want to save people's lives, which is the driving force behind this.
I sympathise with all the families who have lost loved ones due to drink-driving. I do not condone and never will condone drink-driving but I support the right of people right around rural Ireland to have a pint and a half and not lose their licence because of that. I travelled for four hours this morning to get here from Kilgarvan and it will be the same journey back. I would travel much farther, for weeks, to defend these people in rural Ireland that I am elected to represent. I would travel for weeks on end to defend their rights. Those people in rural Ireland have been neglected and the Minister is trying to hurt them further with this Bill. Why does the Minister hate the people of rural Ireland so much? What did they ever do to him? I know they did not wrong the Minister in any way but over the past number of days and weeks, he has tried to hurt and did hurt one family with his idea that the parents or whoever owns the cars of unaccompanied drivers should be jailed if they are allowed to drive. The Minister has frightened one young fellow and his parents in Killorglin. This young fellow was driving to Kenmare for his apprenticeship. His parents got so afraid and frightened that they took the car off him and no he is at home with no prospects of a job. He has lost his place as an apprentice.
Why is the Minister trying to criminalise honest, good-living people in rural Ireland who have never done wrong to anyone? It is sad to think that people who are lonely will be made more lonely and more isolated because if one loses one's licence in rural Ireland, one is stranded forever.
These people will not break any law. They have not been breaking it up to now. Perhaps they are in other places but they not been breaking it in rural areas. People who lose their licence are stranded and cannot go anywhere. As it is, many of these people would not know that their neighbours down the road were dead were not for the good service of the Kerry radio four times a day.
The Government's motto is to drive people out of rural areas, one way or another, and to bring them to Dublin where all the services are available but where the social life is not as good. When I listen to the radio, every morning and evening someone has been shot or stabbed and there is trouble with drugs. There is no end to it at all. The Government has no control of the situation, but what does it want to do? It wants to jam the place up altogether. It is nearly impossible to get in here in the morning or to get out in the evening but that is what the Government wants to do.
I met the Minister having a cup of tea on one of my first days up here. We were discussing the programme for Government and he told me that, even if he got everything he ever wanted, he would not join Deputy Enda Kenny and Fine Gael. However, he did. As far as I can make out, the only thing he got out of being Minister is Stepaside Garda station and to be allowed bring this Bill before the Dáil to isolate and frighten the people in rural parts of Ireland.
I am amazed that more Ministers are not sitting beside the Minister today. Where are they gone? These people should be concerned with rural areas as well but there is no account of them today. What the Minister has extracted out of Fine Gael is a Bill to further isolate people in rural areas. That seems to be the price he got from Fine Gael. The amazing thing about it is that members of Fine Gael who are also from rural areas and have received support over decades from rural constituencies are now sacrificing all the grand people there to please the Minister. However, when they go to the doors they better not have the Minister behind them because their chances of being re-elected will be greatly diminished.
I will tell the Minister the truth. He has angered more people than I ever knew could be angry about the same issue. Whether towns such as Kenmare or Castleisland or villages such as Knocknagoshel, these places are totally angered by the Minister because they know this Bill to isolate them further is totally unnecessary and uncalled for. I am amazed there is no account of the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin. At a meeting of the Oireachtas committee, he posed several serious questions to the Minister and it looked like he was against the Minister's proposals. I am amazed that he is not here today. I hope and pray that he will not be the cause of inflicting these awful restrictions and regulations on the people of County Kerry.
The Minister has failed to prove that one and a half pints ever caused a fatality. Why did he have to use statistics from 2008 to 2012? We are five years down the road from them. The Minister said that 36 fatalities involving people within the 20 mg to 80 mg bracket occurred and he said that 19 of the 36 involved people who were within the 20 mg to 50 mg bracket. If we are to believe the Minister, more fatalities were caused by those in the 20 mg to 50 mg bracket given 17 fatalities involved people within the 50 mg to 80 mg bracket.
I tried several others and asked the Minister to give a breakdown as to who or what caused the fatalities in these cases. The Minister cited data protection guidelines. The period to which the data relate began nine years ago. I asked whether the fatalities were caused by someone who had taken a lot of drink falling in front of a motorist who had taken a pint and a half, or whether they were caused when some young fellow going home with one pint in him hit a bridge or pole because of black ice. The Minister gave no breakdown or proof, and he did not outline his method.
There is a lot of talk about soft and hard borders these days. How is it that Great Britain has an upper limit of 80 mg for driving? It is the same in the North, which is only up the road. There might not be two miles between an area in the North and an area in the South but a fellow in the North can have a blood alcohol limit of 80 mg while, according to the Minister's suggestion, a fellow in the South can have a limit of only 50 mg. What does the Minister have against the people of rural Ireland? What gripe does he have against them? He has a gripe against rural Ireland.
There is a man who said rural Ireland is a burden to the State. He was involved with the Central Bank. John Moran was his name, and I reject and resent his statement. The Minister is in the same vein as Mr. Moran. He feels the people of rural Ireland are a burden and the only thing he wants to do is to get rid of them altogether.
The Minister could do an awful lot more as Minister responsible for transport. Many lives could be saved. Owing to hedge-cutting regulations, people cannot walk or cycle safely at the side of any road. The Minister did not contribute on the Heritage Bill, which involved a lot of talk about hedge cutting and trees. It is his role to ensure our roads are safe or safer for the people who use them. There was an accident in which a beautiful, lovely young girl was killed in Glenflesk this week. The reason was not drink-driving but another that I will not cite today. The Minister will become aware of it in the fullness of time. The girl would not be dead if things were done that should have been done. It looks to me like the Minister or people in the Road Safety Authority have no interest in these issues. It is very sad to think that this lovely, beautiful young girl who should be alive is no longer with us. Her family, mother, father and lovely brother will never again be the same.
Funding for road maintenance is to be cut. The Minister, Deputy Ross, said he did not know anything about it when asked, yet he is the Minister for Transport. It is supposed to be cut by 10% or 12%. There is no drainage along any road now. It is not being done as it should. There is ponding along every road. When it rains - we are prone to rain - there is ponding of water, in Kerry in any case. Motorists who have to drive into a pool of water when meeting other cars lose control when the windscreen gets covered, resulting in accidents. There is to be less money for filling potholes. They cause accidents because motorists swerve out to avoid them when they know they are there for days.
Consider the matters of the speed limit review and the reduction.
I have asked the Minister for all those things before at the Oireachtas committee and he heard me raise it when we were negotiating a programme for Government. I also raised it on the television so he was bound to hear it. However, nothing has been done yet.
We then had a master idea from Deputy Martin Heydon who claims to be from rural Ireland. I inquired where he was from only to be told he is from Kildare. If he thinks he is from rural Ireland, I will take him around the Ring of Kerry, up into Glencar, back into Lauragh, up into the pocket in Glenmore and down into the Black Valley. If he thinks he is in rural Ireland, I will show him what rural Ireland is. The Minister mentioned 38 buses nationwide in his initiative. Why did he not try this first? I do not think 38 buses would cater for half of Kerry not to mind all of it. The Government should be encouraging people to live in rural areas not trying to get them out of it.
The Minister is welcome to come to Kerry at any time but he should ensure his car will not break down on the Ring of Kerry or on the top of Beale or at Kelly's Cross because I would be very afraid he would be there for a long time before anyone would pick him up if he is going to inflict this terrible rule and regulation for which there is no need in the world. I do not think anyone would tow him into Teddy McCarthy's garage in Sneem to get him going again because this is terrible. It is nothing to laugh about. It is a serious matter to be without one's car in rural Ireland. One has no hope of surviving without it.
It emerged at the Oireachtas committee that many people in rural areas are driving in the 20 mg bracket. The Minister did not know it when I said it to him. Many people in rural areas travel in vans, small tractors and jeeps and they are restricted to having less than 20 mg. The Minister said he would look into the matter, deal with it and sort it out because it is very unfair if one has only one vehicle and that means one is subject to the lower blood alcohol limit. The Minister did not know about that and I think he has forgotten about it.
It is very sad to think the Minister is going to do this to the fine people I represent in places like the Black Valley, Beaufort, Lauragh, Glenmore, Gleninchaquin, Tureencahill, Reanasup, Knocknaboul, Gleantan, Doctors Hill, Mangerton, Shandrom, Lomanagh, Clydagh Bridge, Loo Bridge, Dromtine, Bohocogram, Letterfinish and Sneem. It is sad to think of all the lovely people affected. I will give the Minister an example of one man but I will not say where he is. He is a 93-year old man who cuts his own turf. He worked for the State for 47 years. He is still working. He is living alone. He sets his own garden and does everything for himself. He washes his clothes. He drives to the pub to have two pints three times a week. If the Minister is going to deny him that I certainly will not be on the Minister's side and will never again look at the side of the road he is on because it would be a serious thing to do that to such a man, to deny him having his two pints. He cannot walk along the side of the road to the pub I am talking about, and there is no taxi. He knows it is safer to drive his car.
There is no mention about all the cyclists and pedestrians who have been killed because the roads are not fit for them. The 93-year old man goes to the pub for his couple of pints two or three nights a week. He will be stopped although he never broke the law in his life. Three pints were sufficient.
I know a man, a fine farmer. He was bagged ten years ago and he only had two glasses of Harp. He has not gone to his local since. The fright of God is on people in case they might lose their licence.
I appeal to the Minister not to do this. It appears that he has Sinn Féin and Fine Gael on his side and that he can do it if he wants. I can tell those Deputies without fear that many of them go into farmers' yards and rural yards. They have gone into them over the years, as did the people who came before them. They will get a rude awakening. Fine Gael is supposed to be up so many points in the opinion polls but that is probably here in Dublin and urban areas. Anyway, they will get a rude awakening and so will Sinn Féin Deputies if this is what they will do to the people who elected them - they are letting those people down.
The law was strict enough. It is more than people have in the North of Ireland and England and more than they have in France. They pay a fine there in cases concerning levels between 50 mg and 80 mg. If the Minister wants to paralyse and isolate the people he has the power to do it but I will remind him of it every day that I am inside the Chamber.
There is much lip service about rural Ireland and that we are going to do this and that for it. All that has been done so far is talk. Pain, misery and misfortune are all the Minister is putting on people there. I am sad to think of all the grand letters the Minister wrote in newspapers over the past year. The Minister wrote a nasty letter about me down in Kerry when he had nothing else to do in the middle of the summer but the people did not think much of it. The Minister may write more but the people will think less of it and they will think more of me because of what the Minister is doing to them. I am defending them and I make no apology to the Minister, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or anyone else.
This should not be put on the people of rural Ireland at all. I do not condone drink-driving and I never have. I have taken the keys off several fellows. I know what a pint and a half-pint will do to anyone. It does not impair their driving and I know it. Maybe the Minister does not know it, but I do because I have been behind the counter and going around the bars for long enough. I know that a pint or a half-pint has never been the cause of an accident. If the Minister cannot make a name for himself in any other way than by having this tagged to his name or if he cannot make a man out of himself other than by doing this to rural Ireland, then it is a sad day. The Minister has many other things that he could do but he takes the easy way out.
The Minister referred to bus links but he said he had nothing to do with buses when the country was at a standstill. At the time, the Minister was peeping out the window but he would not look at them or come out to sort it out. He was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport at the time. The Minister has given over to Deputy Heydon the task of talking about rural link buses because he could not say he would do something about it as he is supposed to have nothing to do with buses. That is what the Minister told us. If the trains stop, the Minister has nothing to do with them either.
I am sorry, but I tell it as it is. The people are totally angered. What the Minister is doing is not necessary. I do not believe anyone asked the Minister for it; he thought of it himself. The Minister should stop it now while he can. If he puts this through, many people in Fine Gael and Sinn Féin have stated they will support it. I promise the Minister that they will regret it because they will get it around every door and corner. I have no problem in telling them what the Minister is doing because it is wrong.
I regret that I stand with a different view to my neighbours in the rural alliance. I hope they will not mind if I take 20 minutes to explain exactly why it is that I am supporting the Minister on this occasion.
On a point of order, we are not the rural alliance. Deputy Ryan should not contaminate us with the Independent Alliance. We are the Rural Independent Group. Can that be rectified?
I would prefer if that was struck off the record.
They vote the same way.
I am glad that the Minister is here to hear my support. Unfortunately, he had to run out the door at the last minute when I was speaking on the climate Bill last night, so it is great to have a chance to impart some of my views to him in his full presence.
Much as I have listened to the arguments made by Deputy Healy-Rae and others, I support the Minister on this initiative. Sometimes people ask me why I am in politics, whether it ever does any good and whether I have ever achieved anything. Often I give one particular example of how politics can change things and that is in the area of road deaths. The Minister's speech refers back to 1997, when approximately 430 people were dying each year.
As I recall, the number of road deaths each year in the late 1970s was around 600. Like many other Deputies and citizens, I had friends who were killed on the roads and I have also seen at first hand people being killed in traffic accidents. It is a source of great pride that we have managed to reduce the number of road deaths from 600 to 160 per annum in the past 30 years. However, the deaths of 133 people on the roads so far this year is an absolute tragedy for their families and, please God, I hope we will not see a spike in road deaths over the Christmas period.
The reduction in the number of road deaths occurred for a variety of reasons. Improvements in car safety and standards and the use of safety belts were significant factors, as were drink driving legislation and measures in the area of speeding such as ramps. No single measure is responsible for the reduction in the number of road traffic fatalities, which is the result of cumulative political effort by all parties. Road safety is an issue that affects all of us and on which there is no political divide.
I campaigned on cycling safety for many years - I still do, I suppose - and I was involved in the Dublin Transportation Authority. I have, therefore, a particular and direct experience of the need to make continuous changes to deliver further reductions in the number of road traffic fatalities. The Minister should go much further than the measure in the Bill. Some years ago, I did some research on the Swedish approach to road safety. I know we always hold up Sweden as a model for everything. Approximately 15 years ago, Sweden adopted a strategy of achieving zero deaths from road traffic accidents. It decided it would no longer refer to road traffic fatalities as accidents on the basis that they occur continually and that it would do everything possible to try to reduce the number of fatalities to zero. We should adopt this approach.
Strengthening restrictions on drink driving is one important measure and the Green Party supports the Bill for this reason. If people are honest, they will admit that even one drink impairs a person's judgment. We support the Minister's proposal to impose a more severe penalty, namely, disqualification, for drink driving. However, we must go much further. If the Minister is serious about road safety and wants to plant a flag to indicate it is the area of greatest achievement in his time as Minister, he must go further on the issue of speed because it is a factor in a large percentage of road fatalities. No one is innocent in this regard. As a cyclist, people often point out to me erratic behaviour among cyclists and they are right. However, they tend to overlook a statistic from the Road Safety Authority showing that the majority of motorists drive over the speed limit for the majority of time when on urban, residential and secondary roads. If we are serious about reducing road deaths, we must enforce the rules on speeding. I understand the Garda has reported that the 30 km/h speed limits in Dublin have been widely ignored since their introduction. The Minister states he intends to be strict on enforcing the law on drink driving. He must also take action to uphold the laws on speed limits.
The Minister will recall in a previous debate that I listed off parts of his constituency in a manner similar to the way in which Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has just referred to every village in County Kerry. I could start with St. Columbanus Road and proceed to Frankfort Park, Meadow Grove and every street and residential estate in his constituency and then argue that we should seek to create conditions in these suburbs to allow children to play freely on the street.
We should be reducing the speed limits. I grew up on those streets and know that this can be done. That is what we grew up with, in a sense, playing on the street. I would like to see that being part of the road safety strategy. By introducing and policing such a culture, in urban estates and on city centre roads where there are pedestrians, and, indeed, in rural Ireland, we will address road safety and encourage motorists to reduce speed.
If we are serious about road safety, we have to go further. It is not only about speed limits. It is about road design. I will use the usual examples. I have visited Holland on a number of occasions to see what the authorities there do in road design. One of the reasons the Dutch have been so successful in promoting cycling, pedestrians and public transport is they get the design of the street right. They start thinking about it as a street rather than a road and they begin designing. They put in trees, pinch points, chicanes or other mechanisms to calm traffic on a particular street. They create a much greener urban environment that starts the process of creating living streets. That designing of streets is what we need to do.
The position regarding distributor roads is similar. In the main street of the suburb of Ranelagh in my area, there is a very high volume of traffic, a huge volume of pedestrians and an even bigger volume of cyclists. Buses use the road as well. We were obliged to take a political decision regarding what we would do. We put in a cycle lane, which was great, but, because we are also concerned about other interests, it does not operate at night. This happens all over the city. There are cycle lanes in operation during the day but they no longer operate once it gets dark. This is to facilitate parking on particular parts of streets or roads at night or, I presume, to allow people to go to pubs and restaurants to drink or whatever. It is a political decision. At that pinch point in Ranelagh, the tightest point is 10 m wide. One is looking at perhaps 2.8 m or 3 m of a road margin, and a 1.5 m cycle lane on either side. It is down to political decision-making as to how one allocates that space. One can be creative. There is a need to provide loading bays for retailers, etc., because we want thriving shops, pubs and restaurants along the busy streets of our urban and rural village. We need to start designing differently.
More than anything else, we need to start designing for cycling. If we really want to take road safety seriously and protect cyclists - there have been 16 cycling fatalities this year - we should really start prioritising and creating - in our cities and towns and in the areas around schools - an environment to allow people to cycle safely. Citizens do not have the ability to cycle safely at present. In fact, there is wide consensus in the cycling community that matters are actually getting worse. The way the city centre Luas cross-city line has been introduced is an utter abomination in terms of the way cyclists were wilfully ignored. It was not as if the cycling community did not state at every step of the way, "Hold on a second here. At this section of road, you should be thinking about it differently. You have got to design it differently." Those in the community were ignored. They also have been ignored in terms of the lack of investment in cycling infrastructure in the Minister's budget. They are being ignored when it comes to difficult political decisions relating to the allocation of the space, be it on the Liffey quays or on the Sandycove cycle route. If we are serious about road safety and if we are to start with cyclists, then we have to execute a complete change in current policy and approach.
It is not only those cycling fatalities that one wants to prevent. One wants to be able to get other people out of their cars and onto bikes so that one reduces the threat of accidents and fatalities all round. There is nothing happening. It is going backwards.
I listened during Question Time recently when the Minister, Deputy Ross, was asked whether he could invest in this and he replied that he does not have the money. It is always the case that the Minister does not have the funding. All our funding is going on inter-urban motorways, which are massively scaled up above any potential future capacity use. This is being done because the motorways are a nice PPP model that IBEC likes because its members get a really nice pay-off for the construction work they do and they know how to do it.
That is where all the money goes, in billions, yet we have only €110 million over five years for cycling initiatives. The Minister cannot wear the badge of Minister with responsibility for road safety as long as that policy continues. It has to change.
Investment in public transport is the other way we can get to a point where there are zero fatalities. The Luas is a fantastic service and it is both safe and quick. It does not block other traffic because 200 passengers fit into one Luas tram compared to the number of cars needed to carry the same number of people. It is safer and more efficient, but we do not have it at the required scale. Why do we not have plans to provide a light rail system in Cork and Galway? Why are we not looking to join all of the railway lines in Limerick and use the stations along them, which would avoid the need for people to drive and get them out of their cars? It would also be a quicker system. Every time we have introduced a new public transport system, people have flocked to it, but for some reason, officialdom and the political system, particularly Fine Gael, have no interest in public transport.
That is not true.
There is nothing happening. There is not a single rail-based public transport project ready to go to tender.
That is because the Deputy's party destroyed the economy when it was in government.
We kept the metro project in the four-year plan.
The Government of which the Deputy's party was part destroyed the country.
The then Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, now Taoiseach, got rid of it. It was to be funded by the European Investment Bank and ready to go. We would have had it for half the price we will have to pay in four or five years' time. It was ideology in Fine Gael's case because it does not believe in public transport.
That is not true.
It prefers the car-based, individualised system. That is what I see.
We saw what the Deputy's policies were when his party was in government.
I understand what my rural colleagues are saying when they talk about the difficulty posed by rural isolation. There is no doubting that it is an issue. In introducing these measures we have to listen to what they are saying and recognise that we have a real problem, particularly in the case of older people and those who do not have huge social outlets. We have to consider how we will maintain connections and a sense of community. It is a given that it cannot just be by insisting people have the ability to drink and drive home from the pub. If only in the current planning framework there was a serious, concentrated effort to bring life back to the centre of villages and market towns, particularly the smaller, 19th century market towns that are dying on their feet because they are not of a certain scale or big enough to have momentum. In addition to introducing such measures, we need to bring life back to the high streets where the shutters are down on shops and houses are empty. We should provide fibre broadband in all of these towns. Street-front houses should be reconditioned to ensure they are well insulated and have solar power panels on the roof in order that they will be an attractive prospect for young people in which to rear families. From such places they could walk to their local pub.
There are lots of downsides to the drinking of alcohol which, as we all know, has caused damage to every family in the country. I would not like to have a system under which everyone drinks at home. There is a social aspect to pubs which we should not lose. If people are to have a drink, I would prefer them to have it in the local pub with their families, friends and neighbours, rather than buying a bottle in the local Lidl supermarket and watching Sky at home and not having a sense of connection. That is important, but it will not happen with a laissez-faire, do-nothing national planning framework. It states it wants to bring life back to the centre of towns, but there is nothing in it that will deliver on that objective.
If we are serious about ensuring road safety, we also have to think about how we will tackle the problem of rural isolation for people such as older bachelors.
Perhaps the new developments in town centres could have a mixed housing design and cater for people who would otherwise be isolated in, for example, rural homesteads that are no longer used as farms. They would be brought into the town centres and given a sense of community, but that will take Government initiative and action and local government action, funded by central government and other new funding mechanisms. That is what we have to do.
We must get the policing of this legislation right. It will be difficult to police because the policing system always tries to determine how to implement a law in a way that does not undermine confidence in either the policing or judicial system. Police must uphold and implement the law, but they do it in a way that is careful and subtle. That is one of the strengths of the Garda, although significant damage has been done to that capability by the way in which the penalty points system and the drink driving figures were distorted. I did not see or hear anything on this point, but perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will attend during the Second Stage debate to articulate what he intends to change. Surely at this time, when the State's policing of drink driving and the penalty points system are in such disrepute, we would have a clear presentation as part of this Bill as to how the new policing arrangements are going to work. I hope that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will make a contribution on Second Stage next year so that we can get details in that regard.
Certain elements will change as we move towards a zero-death figure. Technology is changing, and we will move towards electric vehicles and a certain amount of automation. Increasingly, we will move towards a car-sharing model. Internationally, the latest thinking is that people will not own cars, but buy a certain number of miles, have drivers come to pick them up or share cars with a range of people.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, missed something in my contribution on climate solutions last night. I was making the point that we were missing out because of our blindness to climate change. Utter indifference to the issue is one of Fine Gael's other major flaws. We are missing out on the fact that there is a clean, new industrial revolution taking place in transport. All the leading experts and thinkers believe that there will only be a fraction of today's number of cars on the road in five or ten years' time because we will have moved to a model of shared ownership and shared passenger usage. If we had a government that knew what was happening in the wider clean industrial revolution in other countries, it would be easier to answer the question of how to get to the local pub. Countries are implementing this model and changes are happening because of the low-carbon issue. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should be considering that as one of the mechanisms.
My final point will reflect on those people who have died this year. The very first pedestrian killed in a road accident was an Irish woman by the name of Mrs. Bridget Driscoll. She was knocked down in London in the late 19th century. I believe that she was the first road fatality ever. It set a terrible marker for what was to prove in the 20th century to be a slaughter of people on our roads. It is because that slaughter must stop that we support this Bill, but we demand far more from the Minister such as investment in safe cycling infrastructure and public transport, planning and getting people back into our towns so that they can walk to the local pub, and setting out a new future for motoring in which people might not even have to drive because they would be part of a cheaper, better and cleaner new social service.
I call Deputy O'Dowd. At 2.30 p.m., I will ask him to move the Adjournment.
Every year, we have a ceremony in Drogheda to commemorate those who have lost their lives in road accidents. We have a packed church of 600 people. Each family places a lighted candle to commemorate the person they have lost. Regrettably, that number is growing every year. This year, 12 people in County Louth have died as a result of road accidents.
A Deputy opposite recited parishes and placenames, but we should be reciting the names of all those who have lost their lives in road accidents. Accidents in which alcohol was involved claimed a large proportion of those lives.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae spoke about unaccompanied drivers and the injustice this Bill would visit on them, but the facts are that between 2012 and 2016 there were 42 fatal accidents involving unaccompanied drivers. There is a real reason for the change the Minister is bringing in, and it is not without good cause. I understand that this year there has been a very significant increase in the number of unaccompanied drivers involved in fatal accidents.
Last year in County Kerry seven people died in road accidents, which sadly is the exact same number who died in County Louth. They are lives which were lost both in Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's county and in mine. The counties are different in terms of their geography and their drivers, but one common point is that in the studies that have been done between 2008 and 2012, seven is the exact number of people who die every year in fatal road accidents and are at the reduced alcohol limit.
This legislation is necessary. People are dying because they are involved in accidents having consumed that amount of alcohol and this legislation is about changing that. It is not about hating anybody, or about hating rural Ireland, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae says. It is about loving life, protecting it and keeping families and everyone else safe on the roads.