Should Mr. McGrath Get His Ministerial P45?

Drinking alcohol and driving is a very serious problem that we all have to face in today’s society. Drunk driving is a crime that is very dangerous and deadly for everyone. It also leads to hundreds of KSIs annually. People die in car crashes every day because of this entirely preventable crime. It is clear the more alcohol concentration in your body the higher the risk of a fatal crash which could involve yourself, your passengers or other road users. In Ireland, between 2008 and 2012, alcohol was a contributory factor in 38pc of all fatal collisions. In the G.B., an estimated 9,040 people were injured or killed on Britain’s roads in 2016, where the driver was over the alcohol limit.  In the US, it is estimated that approximately 10,389 people die in drunk –driving crashes each year – one every 50 minutes or 29 people daily. The effects of alcohol are obvious. After driving people usually feel pleasure and become talkative at first. These feelings are usually replaced by drowsiness as the alcohol is eliminated from the body and the driver may then become withdrawn. In Ireland, the penalties for drunk-driving have been ‘beefed up’ in recent times. If detected and your blood content is between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml of blood then, you can expect a fine of €200 and three months off the road. Some politicians claim that some of their Constituents will be unable to drive to their local pub for a social drink. Minister McGrath said that breathalysing should take place after closing time. Following a vociferous backlash, the Minister quickly backtracked. This article concerns a Minister of State for Disabilities who recently got into ‘hot water’ after he accused the police of being ‘politicized’ and breathalysing people coming and going to mass – and even during the day –  has apologized for his wayward comments. Road safety campaigners were quick to point out the sheer ignorance of his and his colleagues comments.                               

 

Background –  “Over the Top”

Garda checkpoints are “over the top” and akin to a police state, some Cabinet members claim.

Grieving relations of road victims have branded remarks made during an interview by Minister Finian McGrath about Garda enforcement of a drink-driving crackdown an ‘insult’ and a ‘slap in the face’. There were demands for the Cabinet Minister’s resignation and an apology to the families of victims in the wake of his extraordinary comments. He sustained severe criticism since he claimed in a Sunday newspaper interview that Gardai had been politicised and been ‘over the top’ in the implementation of tougher drink-driving laws. Aisling Reid, from the Parc Road Safety Group, lost her cousin – Karl Robertson – in a hit-and-run accident. She also called on Mr. McGrath to resign. She said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that Gardai had an ulterior motive in enforcing the law and that retracting the remarks doesn’t change the fact that Mr. McGrath made them. Garda checkpoints are “over the top” and akin to a police state, some Cabinet members claim. Increased drink driving checkpoints particularly in the mornings, as a result of tighter drink driving laws have come in for heavy criticism from a number of Ministers including the Minister for Justice – Charlie Flanagan and especially Minister of State for Disabilities – Finian McGrath. This week the Cabinet heard a number of concerns about the latest efforts by the Garda Roads Policing Unit in rural Ireland. One Minister speaking privately, said increased checkpoints in the morning was “over the top” adding that they were akin to a “police state”? Another Minister said: “We think the guards are being political. They are really stirring it – stopping people going to Mass. Come on. The old-fashioned common sense policy is gone”. Minister for State Seam Canney said: “Gardai should concentrate on other illegal activities rather than focusing on early morning checkpoints to detect drink driving.  There needs to be a balance. Joe Public is feeling persecuted. The ordinary person going to work with traffic as it is without having Garda checkpoints”. Under changes to the Road Traffic Act (RTA), drivers found to have between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood are automatically banned from driving for three months and receive a €200 fine.

 

Minister McGrath’s Interview

In his now-infamous interview with a Sunday newspaper, the embattled Minister has made some rather strange and serious assertions.

As we look on with bewilderment at the dangerous and farcical events unfolding in the UK  regarding Brexit, we should be careful not to be too smug about our own situation, regarding drink-driving after Minister for Disabilities – Finian McGrath – the latest Cabinet minister to go rogue. In his now-infamous interview with a Sunday newspaper, the embattled Minister has made some rather strange and serious assertions. During the interview, he claimed that the Government had to “bite the bullet” on Transport Minister Shane Ross’s new drink-driving laws but then put his “foot in it” with his claim that members of the Gardai are so unhappy with the new laws that they have started to excessively breathalyse drivers as some weird form of political protest. Warming to his theme, he further expounded that: “I’m getting complaints around the country that they are breathalysing people at 2.00pm in the day. To me, the breathalysing should be at pub closing time between 12 o’clock and two in the morning. That’s where the focus should be, so I don’t know what agenda is going on here”.

 

Gardai – Non-Political

But warming to his tinfoil-helmet routine, he added that: “I think they (Gardai) have an issue and that I feel uncomfortable about. The law is there to implement – you’re a civil servant, get on with it. Some of them don’t like the law, yes. I suspect that part of the angle and they are saying ‘we’ll blame the Government’, and I don’t like that”. He then went further and stuck the boot in by going so far as to claim that: “I would like Drew Harris (recently appointed Garda Commissioner) now, as part of the reforms we have to de-politicise anything like that in a police force. A police force- like teachers, nurses – guards should always be non-political. That would not be tolerated in any other profession”.  After all, here is a man who sits at the cabinet table and decided that even though we’re in the midst of the biggest national crisis any of us have ever witnessed, now was the perfect time to accuse the ‘boys in blue’ of being, essentially, a mutinous political force that gets to cherry-pick which laws it enforces and which ones it doesn’t. Nobody ever won ‘Brownie points’ for defending the police in this country and there is no doubt that ‘roguishness’ of previous commissioners have left a sour taste in the mouth of many observers of all political parties.

But apart from blithely insulting the very people who have to sometimes ‘pick up the pieces’ after a car crash, he was also incorrect in his foolish claim. After all, ten per cent of drink-driving crashes occur between the hours of 7.00am and 11.00am. But leaving aside the mere factual inaccuracy, the remarks seem to indicate a man who is simply not up to the job.  In the US, it is estimated that approximately 10,389 people die in drunk –driving crashes each year – one every 50 minutes or 29 people daily. In Ireland, between 2008 and 2012, alcohol was a contributory factor in 38pc of all fatal collisions. And if we look across the water at Britain’s statistics, there was an estimated 9,040 people injured or killed on their roads in 2016 in incidents where a driver was over the alcohol limit. (DfT). As a consequence, road safety charity Brake has called on the Government to implement an effective zero-tolerance drink/drive limit of 20mgs per 100mls of blood, (same limit for professional and learner’s drivers in Ireland), making clear to drivers that not one drop of alcohol is safe.

 

Rapid Back- Tracking

Many fellow junior ministers were quick to condemn him and, not for the first time in his career, as soon as McGrath realised he had made a massive faux pas he immediately rolled back.

Not surprisingly, the condemnation of his remarks was vociferous. Numerous road safety campaigners were quick to point out the sheer ignorance of the comments and his colleagues, such as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, seemed genuinely aghast. (It appears the Justice Minister has performed a volte-face on the issue). Many fellow junior ministers were quick to condemn him and, not for the first time in his career, as soon as McGrath realised he had made a massive faux pas he immediately rolled back. The ink was barely dry on the newspaper before he issued a statement ‘withdrawing’ his remarks and he then added, for good measure, that: “I am also happy to state that I have full confidence in An Garda Siochana and that I was wrong to suggest there was any element of politicising within the force over the new drink-driving regulations”. After all, if you are going to make the rather dangerous suggestion that Gardai are a law unto themselves, who unilaterally decide which rules they enforce depending on their mood, then it stretches credulity to state that you “have full confidence” in the force. Simply put, either he has confidence in them or he doesn’t. If he does have confidence in them, why make such an incendiary claim in the first place?

 

Populist Political Point

Frankly, his rapid backtracking matters not a jot when compared to the conspiracy theory grenade he rolled down the corridor. In much the same way that some UK politicians have been accused of politicising the stop-and-search proposals in London which are designed to cut down on their knife crime epidemic, there were two things that stood out with his comments – a seemingly irresistible desire to make a cheap, populist political point and an apparent indifference to the families and victims of drunk drivers. To be charitable, one could perhaps say that the minister is from a time when drink driving wasn’t taken all that seriously in this country. But those days are long gone and the culture has changed for the better, and most people now understand that driving is a responsibility not a right and that driving over the limit is not just illegal but morally reprehensible.

 

Populist Rhetoric!

For him to suggest that ordinary Garda members on front-line duties are “over the top” and that it was part of an “agenda” required an immediate apology.

The sheer stupidity and crassness of Finian McGrath assertions that Gardai have become politicised and are carrying out unnecessary roadside breathalyser checks can only be seen for what it is, populist rhetoric to appease those who think its okay to drink and drive. Mr. McGrath should remember, before he opens his mouth, that he is part of the Government that brought forward legislation to improve road safety and bring down road fatalities. For him to suggest that ordinary Garda members on front-line duties are “over the top” and that it was part of an “agenda”, required an immediate apology. It clearly shows how out of touch he and others in the political arena who appear to condone drink driving, even the morning after. He sounds more like the Healy-Raes (Kerry rural TDs) who argue that driving with a few pints is OK. It should be remembered that the number of road fatalities has significantly decreased since 2010, with an average of 140 per year at present, from the highs of the 600s in the 70s and 80s. Maybe Mr. McGrath and his cohort of sympathisers would like to meet the families of people who have died as a result of drunk drivers and suggest to them that Garda enforcement of drink driving is wrong.

It is not the first time McGrath has “put his foot in it”.

‘Fall on His Sword”?

It is not the first time McGrath has “put his foot in it”.

Whether it was his hopelessly misguided defence of totalitarian Cuba, his initial opposition to the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine, or paying the water charges, he seems almost incapable of not making mistakes – before invariably making the kind of swift U-turn that would leave most mere mortals dizzy. In normal times, this furore would surely be enough to force the Taoiseach – Leo Varadkar – to listen to the calls for his resignation and hand him his Ministerial P45. But as we know, these are far from normal times and he’s hardly the only minister woefully out of his depth, so he might manage to hang on. With the important issues surrounding Brexit, it’s unlikely he will be asked to step aside or it’s also highly unlikely that he will “fall on his sword”. Unlike their British counterparts, Irish politicians appear to have thick necks and no matter what sins they have committed – very rarely resign of their own violation – they have to be pushed. In one of the lesser spotted comments in that interview, Minister McGrath laughed that he would “do a deal with the Devil himself” if it secured his place in the next cabinet. Perhaps mindful of the PR liability which McGrath has now become, the Devil has yet to give his response.

 

Conclusion

The drink-driving debacle continues unabated. Many rural TDs are fully aware of their constituents support in the next general election therefore, they have to be seen as sympathetic and try to facilitate them when driving to their local which for many is their only social outlet. Some TDs have advocated that a couple of pints would do no harm to drivers who traverse quiet country roads. However, statistics and research prove otherwise, that even one alcoholic drink can affect your ability to drive safely.  The penalty of a €200 fine and three months off the road if caught with a blood alcohol content of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml of blood should be sufficient warning to desist from drinking and driving. However, there are those who will still flout the law, and then if apprehended they must be prepared to face the consequences.  Despite all the warnings, public awareness and educational campaigns, stiffer penalties for violations, people will still get behind the wheel while intoxicated. The problem lies in the fact that impairment begins long before you reach the 0.08 level. Scientific research shows explicitly that some of the skills you need to drive safely begin to deteriorate even at the 0.02 – alcohol level. Experiments have shown that drivers at the 0.02 level experience a decline in visual functions – their ability to track a moving object – and experience a decline in the ability to perform two tasks at the same time.  If you plan to consume alcohol away from home, play it smart during weekends and holidays. And this includes water activities.

Be sure to appoint a designated driver for the car or operation of the boat. Whatever you do, don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking alcohol. Consider calling a taxi to get yourself and your family home safely and also to protect other road users. Better yet, if you are going to drink away from home, use this option (there are others) so you don’t have a car handy to drive when your judgement is impaired by alcohol. It is abundantly clear that Mr. Grath failed to cogitate the issue before publicly criticizing the police and the new drink/driving laws. In future he would be wise to engage his brain before opening his mouth as his exhortations would not win him summa cum laude in diplomacy and tactfulness.

 

Finally, Minister McGrath might take on board the following before indulging in future ‘claptrap’. After a heavy ‘Tom Cruise’ [1] up and you are ‘nicely inebriated with horizontal lubricant’ under no circumstance should you attempt to drive and also you don’t want to wake up the following morning with a ‘katzenjammer’ [2] or feeling ‘three sheets to the wind’.[3] Remember, even the smallest amount of alcohol can affect you driving ability by impacting on your central nervous system, affecting: reaction times, coordination, concentration, judgement and vision. And as the ebullient W. C. Fields [4] once proclaimed: “A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her”.

Tom Harrington LL B F Inst. MTD (March 2019)

 

[1] Booze up.

[2] Nausea, headache and debility that often follows drunkenness.

[3] The above words in Italics are popular Cockney phrases frequently used. According to tradition, true Cockneys must be born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside. In days gone by, the bells could be heard across much of north and east London as far south as Southwark, meaning any baby born within earshot was defined as a Cockney.

[4] W. C. Fields was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Fields comic persona was a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for children.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply