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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: -1°C
VOICES
Column Healy-Rae’s drink-driving vote is insulting to people who’ve lost loved ones
Kerry Counsellor Danny Healy-Rae should have had to look into the eyes a bereaved family member before he tabled his drink driving proposal, writes Christina Donnelly, whose son was killed by a drunk driver in 2009.

Christina Donnelly’s 24-year-old son, Brendan, died in October 2009 along with his friend Lee Salkeld, 26, when the car they were travelling in was hit by another vehicle driven by Anthony Long, 29. Long was found guilty of dangerous driving causing their deaths. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, she says the news that a public representative would vote to allow people to drink drive had brought a lot of pain to families who have been bereaved by drink driving accidents. Ireland has come so far, she says, and these kind of statements are harmful.

WHEN I HEARD about Counsellor Danny Healy-Rae’s drink and drive plan, my initial reaction, as a mother who has lost a son to a drunk driver, was absolute horror. As a bereaved parent I thought – my god, we are supposed to preserve life, not endanger life. What angered me even more was when I heard the news that it was not just one counsellor, but that there was a number of counsellors that voted for this. This made it even more difficult to understand.

It sadden and shocked me that there were other counsellors and other publicans that supported this. Perhaps restaurants and pubs are doing bad in business – we understand the country is in hard times – but we should not be advocating to put life-threatening measures in place. We are trying to get the message out there about saving lives – the message that you don’t drink and drive, that we all have to be responsible for our own actions.

Isolated community

With the amount of legislation and hard work put in by the Road Safety Authority, an Garda Síochána and many campaigning groups, it just isn’t right for a public representative and a publican to say that this is okay. To say that you can have one to three pints and drive home is just not on. I know that this proposal was put forward for the elderly community who are in isolation, but there are other, positive ways of tackling that issue so they can get out and have the banter in their pub. No one expects people to be locked away in their homes just because of the risk of drink driving but, as a caring community, we should be coming up with solutions.

If there are regulars that won’t go out or go into the pub because there is no way of getting home, there are things a publican can do. Many publicans supply a taxi service that will drop people home. They look after their own and I think it would have been a lot more positive and a great message to other counsellors and rural communities to say that we can organise  a mini-bus, we can pick them up, they can have a lovely evening and we can drop them home safely – it makes a lot more sense.

We have come so far when it comes to road safety, drink driving and mandatory laws. We are the sixth safest country in the EU at the moment, so this kind of attitude is taking steps backwards.

Publicity stunt

I think that it was a publicity stunt for Healy-Rae, but it was a cheap publicity stunt: anyone that has lost a loved one to a drink driving wouldn’t look at it like a just publicity stunt – it brings everything back to you. As Minister Shatter said this week, it is grossly irresponsible; not only that, it’s also insulting to me and families like mine. I am a mother of a son who was killed by a drunk driver and I don’t find it funny at all. I think that Mr Healy Rae needs to apologise to the community and retract his statement.

Counsellor Michael Fahy, who also supported this, has come out following the attention, but what about the other five counsellors that voted for this at the meeting that night? They haven’t said much for themselves. I would like to get them around a table and see what they have to say, to have them look into the eyes of a bereaved family member and see how they answer then.

It is so sad that this matter has gotten international coverage because there are so many other important matters that should be getting coverage. To think something this preposterous is getting so much attention. I don’t think he realises the amount of hurt he has caused so many families, quite frankly he should be ashamed of himself.

Brendan

We lost our Brendan back in 2009 and this whole thing has raised very painful memories. I have been campaigning for ‘Brendan’s Law’ for many years. Under this law, drivers who are involved in a fatal accident and subsequently fail a breath test would have their licences automatically suspended until their court appearance. Campaigners are also calling for a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 to 9 years for such offences, and a subsequent automatic 25-year disqualification without appeal.

When Healy Rae said that you don’t see major accidents where people are maimed or killed on rural roads, I would like for him to give me those statistics that justifies that statement. To tell somebody to have three pints and drive home on a rural road, go at 40 kilometres an hour and you will be okay – I wonder does he realise the responsibility that he would have been taking on his shoulders, and I wonder if he would be willing to stand up in court and defend his proposal when someone is killed.

To find out more about Christina’s campaign please visit Brendan’s Law Facebook page.

Read: Kerry councillors back plan to allow drink-driving ‘in moderation’>

Read: Here’s how the world reacted to the Kerry drink-driving story>

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Christina Donnelly
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