I am on the record of this House over the years about the abuse of alcohol. It takes lives in many ways. It definitely takes lives on the roads but it also takes lives through illness. It makes a misery of other people's lives and all we have to do is go down the main street of our towns on the weekends to see what is happening, or go into the emergency departments of hospitals. I have spoken many times about the need to deal with this huge cultural issue in our society. I welcome the Bill that is before the Houses about the alcohol issue. Surprisingly, I have not been lobbied that strongly about this Bill. I cannot remember any significant lobbying on the Bill. I believe that when one tackles any problem, one goes to where the biggest gain is possible. When we look at statistics, we know where the big gains are, such as people far exceeding speed limits, not the person who, at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. at night, goes through some country village at 60 km/h. They are not the big killers. Those of us who are perennially on the road see them.
Let us talk about enforcement. Since 2011, I have travelled something like 500,000 km of road in Ireland in my car. I think I was breathalysed three times. I assure the House that each of the three times was, of course, random. I was breathalysed about two months ago, one evening, after having driven from Tipperary to Dublin, on a very quiet suburban street. There was no problem. I guarantee that I had no alcohol on board. It was the easiest thing to take a deep breath. That was three times over 500,000 km. I drive on main roads, on byroads and on rural roads. The first thing we have to face up to is that all one is creating is a mega-lottery. Without consistent enforcement, all of this is a waste of time. It will just be a matter of luck whether one is caught or not. I would say that if one checked out the number of actual, real checkpoints that have taken place, one would find that, because it is so random in my case as to where I am, what time it is, day and night, and so on, it is fairly representative for anybody else.
The Minister has done nothing to ensure that students or workers from Galway, for example, can get bus services after 6 p.m. on many of the radial routes out of the city to areas 30 km or 40 km away from the city. The Minister has done very little about rural transport and rural transport options. I always believe that if one wants to reduce occurrences of an incident, one makes it much easier for people to avoid it. Every one of us has been at too many funerals over the years of people who have been killed in alcohol-related accidents. One of the great successes between 1997 and 2011 was the dramatic decrease in road fatalities. Legislation was brought in during that time, most of which I spent at Cabinet and I supported that legislation. Much of it related to both speeding and the issue of alcohol in blood. There is no question that we went from being a country with a very high level of fatalities and reduced it. Other factors were involved, since we increased enforcement, and also better roads. There is not a need here, in my view, for a moral lecture. The problem here is twofold. If I am reading the right statistics, drivers with more than 251 mg comprised 39 fatalities, those with more than 201 mg comprised 37 fatalities, those with 151 mg to 200 mg comprised 25 fatalities and those with 101 mg to 150 mg comprised 20 fatalities.
Qualitatively, given the funerals we attend and the tragedies that happen, any of us could have said that this is where the major problem is. How does one stop that major carnage? Compared with that, the figure is seven for drivers between 51 and 80 mg per millilitre. I agree that if the Minister was going to reduce that figure to zero it would be significant. However, it would not be half as significant as reducing the figure of 39 to ten for the 251 mg per millilitre or from 39 to 30, if the Minister is saying that every life counts.
Why do I have a problem with the Minister's proposal? There are two reasons. Incidentally, I wish to make it clear that I have no support for the argument for going to the pub, having three or four pints and then toddling home. I accept that on many rural roads, for older people, statistically the risk is small because there is just no traffic. On many a night that I drive 30 miles home from meetings, and I assure the Minister I would not be drinking, I do not meet another car on the road. I might meet one or two but on certain stretches of road I would not meet any car on most nights. However, I am not justifying that or making a case for that. The Minister is saying that if people have a few drinks on a night out and if they drive to work and are between 50 and 80 mg per millilitre he will disqualify them from driving. One of the problems is that most people will not know that they are between 50 and 80 mg per millilitre. We know that, statistically, the body mass of women is less than that of men so they are more likely to get caught having consumed the same amount of alcohol. Heavier people and so forth have a better chance. Then there are metabolism issues and the like. I have a problem with the lottery element of this and the proportionality of the penalty, not the principle.
The Minister seems to think that there is no penalty that has any measure of deterrent in it other than being put off the road. However, if that were true the horrendous statistics at the high end would be long gone as a thing of the past due to the deterrent of the penalty. It is also a disproportionate penalty, as I said in the Dáil previously, for rural people versus urban people. In this city and in Galway city we are told there is, effectively, a bus service within 500 m of everybody's house. Where I live there is one bus service eight miles away that goes to Galway in the morning and returns in the evening. There is no way of getting children to school or of getting to work. The penalty of getting disqualified in a rural area, therefore, is totally disproportionate in terms of the cost to the person, his or her livelihood and the daily things the person must do. One of things we must do with law is try to make it proportionately equal for everybody.
Deputy Troy has tried to propose two things to deal with the 39, 37 and 25 figures, that is, the areas where we are getting the big numbers. Yes, it is probably badly drafted. However, what one does in that situation on Committee Stage is say, "That is a great idea. I will come back to it on Report Stage." Deputy Troy is taking out the big figures, but for some reason the Minister is not running with something that would deal with those figures. He is wedded to the exact formulation. We agree with the principle of stiffer penalties, but the Minister will not even look at the formulation of his proposal in respect of the very small figure.