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'I was alarmed': Mental health Minister raised concerns about content of Noel Clancy ad with RSA

Jim Daly contacted the authority after his constituents raised concerns about the ad.

Noel Clancy, whose wife and daughter were killed in the accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver.
Noel Clancy, whose wife and daughter were killed in the accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver.
Image: Road Safety Authority

THE JUNIOR MINISTER with responsibility for mental health wrote to the head of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) over concerns about the content of an ad about the ‘Clancy amendment’, documents show.

Correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie reveals how Minister of State Jim Daly contacted the CEO of the RSA to say he was “alarmed” by the content of the ad, which has been broadcast since the beginning of the year.

The ad, which was the subject of dozens of complaints during the first month it aired, features Cork man Noel Clancy, whose wife Geraldine and daughter Louise were killed in an accident involving an unaccompanied learner driver in December 2015.

The learner driver involved in the accident, Susan Gleeson, was subsequently given a three-year suspended sentence over the incident.

The accident, described in detail in the ad, led to the introduction of laws that make it an offence for vehicle owners to allow unaccompanied learner motorists to drive their cars, known as the ‘Clancy amendment’.

Letters released under FOI laws show how Daly wrote to the head of the agency, Moyagh Murdock, expressing concerns about the potential impact of the ad on Gleeson.

“Immediately on seeing the advert which reflects on the horrific and tragic accident that happened in Kilworth, Co Cork, I was alarmed by the content for a number of reasons,” the Cork South West TD wrote on 25 January.

“Primarily I feel the ad is too specific to one accident and clearly identifies one driver, as opposed to learner drivers in general.

“While I acknowledge the loss of life involved in this tragic accident, I would have serious concerns about the effects of the ad on the mental well-being of the person who was driving the second car.”

Public interest

Daly also said that Gleeson had been prosecuted in the courts, and told the authority that it was not the job of a state agency to ”take steps that would victimise or levy punitive measures” on individuals who broke the law.

In his capacity as Minister of State for Mental Health, he asked Murdock to clarify how it had produced the ad in an appropriate and responsible way.

“I would appreciate your comments in relation to this most important and urgent manner,” he concluded.

Source: RSA Ireland/YouTube

In a response to Daly on 19 February, Murdock said she acknowledged the issues raised by the junior Minister, as well as the “specific responsibilities” of his role.

She also said the agency had listened to concerns expressed by members of the public, and had taken “all opinions on board” during the production of the ad.

However, Murdock told Daly that the agency had its own statutory responsibility to promote public awareness of road safety and to make Irish roads safe for all users, saying that advertising campaigns were one of the main ways it did so.

“We believe that this advertisement is in the public interest and that there is an important message to be delivered,” she wrote.

‘Change to society’

Murdock also included statistics from the Health Intelligence Unit of the HSE, which linked the agency’s ad campaigns to a 47% drop in road deaths over the past ten years.

She said that the RSA had worked with both the Clancy and Gleeson families in producing its latest ad, neither of whom objected to its content before it was transmitted.

She added that there was no attempt to victimise any of the parties involved in the accident, and told Daly that the intention was to get people to comply with the Clancy amendment to reduce annual road fatalities involving learner drivers from 12 to none.

“There is an entirely false notion that once someone has a learner permit they are free to drive as they wish…” she said.

“There has been no change in the law. The change is to society, and it is not acceptable for inexperienced drivers to be behind the wheel without supervision…

“We do not with to ever see another Noel Clancy.”

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‘Judge and jury’

On 1 March, Daly replied to Murdock to express his “absolute and unconditional support” for the work done by the Road Safety Authority.

He said the statistic which showed the agency’s ads had contributed to a 47% reduction in road fatalities spoke for itself, adding that it was not his role as a public representative to “play judge and jury”. 

The junior Minister also claimed that, despite the number of people who had thanked him for raising their concerns, a conversation with Noel Clancy had changed his mind.

“I tended to share the concerns of many of my constituents regarding the latest ad,” he wrote.

“Following the publicity around the matter, my office received dozens of calls thanking me for raising the question with you.

“However, one of the more enlightening calls I received was from Noel Clancy, who gave me a very significant pause for thought during and subsequent to our phone call.

“I believe that it is necessary to raise such questions to elicit a further understanding for both myself and those I represent.”

He added that the he had “the fullest support” for the RSA, and what he described as the “very important work” done by the agency.

Last month, the authority released the transcripts of 34 complaints it received from members of the public about the ad to TheJournal.ie.

Many complainants questioned whether the RSA had considered how the ad would affect Susan Gleeson psychologically, with one person claiming it was akin to “Nazi propaganda”.

A spokesman for the agency said at the time that the ad was produced in the public interest, adding that it outlined the impact of driving unaccompanied while a learner driver.

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