Clare motorists have been urged to take “personal responsibility” to ensure they have no alcohol in their system before going behind the wheel of a car.
Monday’s meeting of the Clare Joint Policing committee saw members debate the impact drink driving legislation is having on people living in the county. Cllr Pat Daly asked Superintendent John Galvin if an individual “goes to a wedding, has a great night and gets a taxi home, they drive to work in the morning, are breathalysed and are then penalised having done everything right the night before, do you think that is fair”.
“I’m not going to comment on the fairness or otherwise. Science has proved that driving is proved if there is a level of alcohol in your system, whether it’s the night before or the morning it is immaterial. We’re acting on scientific advice done all over the world,” Supt Galvin responded.
Independent councillor, Gerry Flynn requested Seanad Spokesperson for Justice Martin Conway to liaise with his department to discuss the possibility of providing “a proper breathalyser” for “each driver in the country”. “For the nuclear fallout they sent out iodine tablets and I’m not sure what good they would have done,” the Shannon councillor recalled. Chairperson of the JPC, Cllr Mary Howard disagreed with the suggestion. “Personal responsibility comes into that, they can be bought for €20. It’s everyone’s responsibility, we’re old enough to buy alcohol so we’re old enough to buy the breathalyser”.
Senator Conway acknowledged that Cllr Flynn’s “intentions are honourable” but agreed with Cllr Howard. “It’s a good idea in theory but it’s not practical. If I had the privilege of being able to drive, I would be happy to not drink and drive. The sooner people stand up and say this is the law of the land irrespective of if it’s at morning or at night, you cannot go behind the wheel of a car if you’re over the limit”.
“There is no approved product out there, prices vary from €6 to €500,” Cllr Ian Lynch said. He felt the onus was on the driver to ensure they were not over the limit. “We should have a mechanism in place where they decide on a particular brand that is approved, they need to standardise products”.
While stating he had “no problem” with the breathalysers, Cllr PJ Ryan outlined that the bigger issue was the country’s transport system. “You can go into the smallest village in Wales and get a bus. Before this law was brought in, something should have been brought in for transport. I’m operating a business in the village in Sixmilebridge, there is one taxi there for a population of 6,000. The cart was put before the horse, it’s an absolutely crazy system. I saw in Sixmilebridge the other day, a person spent three quarters of an hour at the train station waiting for a taxi to bring them to Oatfield which is just outside the village”.
According to Mary Mather-Leahy, who represents the Clare Older People’s Council, they have contacted Clare Bus to increase their amount of routes throughout the day. “I see they are parked up at 5pm in Cahercalla and that’s the end of their day. They need more funding to expand their services”.
“One thing that comes into my head is the people on TV talking about the loss they endured, it is very difficult to agree our drink driving should be changed, there is a lot of people who have lost lives because of people driving with alcohol in their system. You shouldn’t drink and drive and if you are going out for a few drinks you need to organise a lift home and have responsibility for the morning after,” Cllr Ann Norton declared. “Wearing my publican’s daughter hat, not all accidents are caused by drink driving, they are caused by speed, lack of experience and tiredness. Our publicans get a bad name,” Cllr Howard replied. “My comments are not about publicans,” Cllr Norton explained, “While we’re sitting talking about this, the ads on television would pull your heart out. The reason the laws are there are to prevent loss of life”.
Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Alan O’Callaghan told the meeting he has purchased a breathalyser. The Fianna Fáil councillor flagged that people are afraid to go to mass on Sunday morning if they had been out the night before. “I hear of cases of people being bagged coming from mass in the morning, the people who go to mass their next stop is the gates of heaven. I hope the priest doesn’t have an extra drop of wine or he could be pulled next”.
Cllr Pat McMahon insisted “the problem will not go away”. “The vast majority of people don’t break the law, the Taoiseach said about the people who get up early in the morning and they are the people he looks after because the breathalyser isn’t out too early in the morning”.