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So, what's the deal with Ireland naming and shaming drink drivers?

Come December, Ireland is to begin naming and shaming people convicted of a host of road traffic offences.

shutterstock_588285353 flipped Source: Shutterstock

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Minister for Transport Shane Ross confirmed something that had been a bit of an open secret – that his forthcoming Road Traffic Bill will legislate for the naming and shaming of drink drivers in Ireland.

The minister’s argument regarding introducing more draconian rules for those convicted of alcohol-related driving offences is a simple one – if even one life can be saved with such a law, then it’s worth introducing.

But little is currently known about how the law will work. And that’s because the Department of Transport and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) have yet to properly iron out what will be involved.

“It is envisaged that the new legislation will ‘name and shame’ all drivers who are convicted of a road traffic offence and disqualified from driving,” a department spokesperson told TheJournal.ie in response to a query as to the finer details of the forthcoming legislation.

File Photo File Photo The Government will introduce the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2017 in the Dáil today Transport Minister Shane Ross Source: Sam Boal

The details of the planned naming and shaming legislation which is subject to legal advice and discussions with the Data Protection Commissioner, are currently being worked out by the department.
The minister hopes to have the general scheme of a Bill to provide for this issue available by the end of the year.

Looking abroad

Curiously enough, the idea for naming and shaming doesn’t appear to have come from looking to best practice in other jurisdictions abroad – but rather from RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock, who first began mentioning the idea in media interviews nearly two years ago.

But that’s not to say that the principle isn’t used overseas – it is, extensively, in areas of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and, closest to home, in multiple regions in the UK.

Across the water, naming and shaming campaigns have been run by police forces in, among others, Surrey and Sussex, Avon and Somerset, the West Midlands, Dorset, and Staffordshire.

Key to the approach has been the idea of deterrence. “The aim is to discourage motorists from committing such offences,” a Sussex Police spokesperson told TheJournal.ie.

We hope that by naming those it will act as a deterrent to others. However in reality it is disappointing that a minority of motorists continue to ignore our advice.

There are two key differences between these campaigns in the UK and what the RSA and Department of Transport have in mind for Ireland.

Firstly, the various campaigns in Britain happen sporadically (twice a year generally) whereas Ireland’s will be a permanent arrangement, and secondly, the approach of some UK police forces is to name an individual ordered to appear in court on suspicion of driving under the influence to the media – Ireland will only be naming those who have actually been convicted.

“If just one person is persuaded not to take to the road as a result, then it is worthwhile as far as we are concerned,” former Avon and Somerset Police road safety superintendent Richard Corrigan told the media upon the launch of his force’s campaign, codenamed then and now as Operation Tonic, in December 2014.

His successor, Kevan Rowlands, tells TheJournal.ie that naming and shaming is “potentially an extra way of getting through to people”. “But more than that, it’s about making drink driving socially unacceptable.

“The effects are very hard to verify because there are so many variables. But from our perspective, if it has any sort of impact then it’s worth doing.”

The RSA

It’s important to note also that the new law will apply to a host of driving offences – dangerous driving, death by dangerous driving, driving whilst disqualified, and drug driving will all come under the same umbrella as alcohol-related infractions.

“It’ll be once you’re convicted and disqualified,” a RSA spokesperson told TheJournal.ie, while acknowledging that the nuts and bolts of the legislation are still very much in the formative stage.

That means that a first-time offender will be named-and-shamed – it won’t be a case of so-many-strikes and you’re out. Meanwhile, someone disqualified for passing the threshold of 12 penalty points will remain anonymous.

The most likely format for the naming and shaming to take is a periodic publication of names and addresses on the RSA website, with the media thereafter invited to publish them as they see fit.

“It’s a mechanism for people in a community to know when and what people in their locality are drinking and driving, and ignoring the law,” said the spokesperson. “If someone is convicted of a serious offence, then they are at a high risk of re-offending, and current sanctions don’t go far enough.”

There is another side to things – last year 131 drivers who were disqualified in Ireland for drink-driving were found to be in possession of ‘c’ or ‘d’ category licences – enabling them to drive vans or trucks. “In other words, they drive for a living,” said the spokesperson.

If being convicted of these offences jeopardises someone’s employment, they just might think twice about offending. While people in this position who are offending shouldn’t be able to take responsibility for driving 40 tons of metal, or 50 passengers about the place.

Differing opinions

For victim support groups in Ireland, the new legislation (which also seeks to do away with the threshold for drink-driving of 0.80 milligrams Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) which sees offenders under that limit receiving penalty points rather than a court summons) is a very welcome development.

90389951_90389951 RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock Source: Leah Farrell

Last week, Gillian Treacy, mother of four-year-old Ciaran Treacy who was killed when the car she was driving was struck by a driver who had consumed 10 pints of cider, stated unequivocally that any opposition being expressed for Shane Ross’s bill is “an insult to my son”.

However, when it comes to naming and shaming, Donna Price of the Irish Road Victims Association (IRVA) acknowledges that the topic is one that she “isn’t familiar with”.

“We welcome any measures that prove an effective deterrent,” she says. “Only time will tell how effective it will be, but you’re dealing with people who are driving while disqualified, with no regard for the safety of others. So it’s a serious measure, but it’s not being taken lightly.

The deterrents out there are not working at present. We know that enforcement levels are not what they should be, they’re not resourced well enough.
I mean I’m in my 50s and I’ve never been breath-tested. I could apply that to 99% of the people I know. The gardaí can’t be on every street corner. So there has to be a more effective deterrent.

Far from calling for naming and shaming, the IRVA previously had what may appear to be an even more radical idea – the confiscation and crushing of offenders’ cars.

“Maybe that’s extreme, but why not? Why should you have a right to endanger others if you won’t obey the law?” asks Price.

Unfortunately we have to look at serious measures because people are not listening.

For Barry Aldworth of the AA, however, the proposed measures are likely to have a “minimal effect” only.

“We ran a survey last year, and the public are certainly in favour of it,” he told TheJournal.ie. “It would have an effect, it’s far from being a bad idea, but the reality is the effect will be minimal.

If someone is willing to take the risk of drinking and driving they’re unlikely to be deterred because they might be named and shamed.

Aldworth says that the “number one deterrent for drink drivers is the flashing blue lights of a Garda car”. “‘But if I haven’t seen one in years then maybe I’ll chance it’.

Our message is that Ireland already has very strong laws – but we need more gardaí to enforce them properly, and that’s where the extra resources should be committed. Otherwise you’re essentially relying on people being embarrassed out of drink-driving. And such people don’t embarrass easily.

Unforeseen issues

“We haven’t so much looked abroad, we’re looking at a particularly Irish problem – that people who are disqualified are continuing to drive,” said the RSA spokesperson we spoke to.

nands Naming and shaming of drink drivers in Queenstown, New Zealand's Mountain Scene newspaper, June 2017 Source: Mountain Scene

Irish problem it may be, but the proposed new law does have a few problems to overcome. The issue of data protection and privacy for starters.

TheJournal.ie understands that Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has indicated that no problems are envisaged with the introduction of naming and shaming providing there is legislation in place, and that that legislation takes into account the pending EU data regulation known as General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR), which is set to hit next May.

“There is a big issue that the DPC might not have considered, and that is the impact of Ireland’s spent conviction legislation,” says TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland.

That legislation came into being in April 2016, and means in effect that someone who has been previously convicted and paid their debt to society is entitled to have details of that conviction scrubbed from internet searches and the web in general after seven years (this bill is often mistaken for ‘right-to-be-forgotten’ legislation).

“The principle is – if so long has passed that a conviction has become irrelevant or out of date, then someone has a right to not have that affect their lives,” says McIntyre.

You no longer have to disclose it. So having your name on a government site, which by their very nature figure prominently in search results, is bound to affect a person’s employment potential say. That is something that could be a problem going forward.

“There is also a privacy issue, albeit a relatively small one. It’s a question of proportionality – once you’ve paid your debt for a crime, why should you be punished indefinitely?”

McIntyre likewise makes the point that, in effect, naming and shaming is already possible (and carried out) in Ireland – via court reporting in the media. “It’s already in place. So I’m not sure what difference a government list is going to make.”

Vulnerable

Finally, there is the issue of naming and shaming vulnerable people.

“That is why resources are a problem, and why we only do it twice a year,” says Kevan Rowlands of Avon and Somerset Police.

avon Source: Bristol Post

We have to make sure that the people we are dealing with, who are to be named after being charged, not on conviction, are not dealing with underlying vulnerabilities.
So, for example, a history of self-harm, or mental health problems.

Rowlands says that dealing with such sensitive issues in a comprehensive manner “uses up a great deal of time and resources”.

We have to be sure we’re not naming anyone who may struggle to cope with being outed so publicly.

But he’s quick to play up the positives also.

“This is about changing mindsets, and using a kind of reverse peer pressure to discourage people from doing something stupid,” he says.

And it makes it all the more likely that the public will come to us with information that we can act upon. And that’s always useful.

Read: ‘It’s not fair to leave people in this pain’: Westmeath woman waiting 2 years for surgery on chronic back ailment

Read: ‘No Garda vetting, inadequate investigations’ – Tusla slammed over standard of Cork foster care services

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