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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 24 January 2021

'I wouldn't be more forgiving of someone who was drunk the morning after if he killed my child'

The families of people who have died in road collisions gathered in Dublin today for a candlelit ceremony.

DSC_1068 Michael O'Neill talks to Moyagh Murdock of the RSA. Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

FOR THE FAMILIES of people who have been killed on our roads, the various different factors that led up to a tragedy is an excruciating thought process for loved ones to go through.

And it all comes back to them when they hear of another family’s pain, caused by another fatal road collision.

“People ask me how I cope,” Michael O’Neill says. “I just take it day by day.”

Michael’s 21-year-old daughter Fiona died in November 2001 as her and her boyfriend were driving to the airport, on their way to Australia.

“They had their bags all packed,” he says, while holding a bouquet of white flowers in one hand, and a candle in the other.

He’s travelled from his native town Drogheda to the Smock Alley Theatre for a remembrance ceremony of the victims of road traffic collision victims. There’s a room of mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers, grandparents, advocates and gardaí present.

“That’s the great thing about these events, you meet people. We’re a club that no one wants to be a member of.”

To one side of the room, Michael’s face is among those on a wall of photographs of family members who have lost loved ones in road accidents.

DSC_1071 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

The message behind the artwork is to put a human face to the statistics around road deaths. The family members’ eyes are closed to remind people that everything can change, and a life can be taken, in a split second.

It’s not just drivers that are in danger either: Moyagh Murdock of the Road Safety Authority says that other people have lost their relations as a result of being knocked of a bicycle. Drunken pedestrians is another danger that it’s increasingly aware of.

Sadly drink driving features too often in these crashes: 30% of them have drink involved.
People can become very aggressive in their driving too – the economy’s picked up and people are very busy trying to get to work and are taking chances when overtaking that results in serious crashes too.

The government’s proposed Alcohol Bill would change current drink-driving penalties so that anyone with a full license caught driving with an alcohol level between 50mg and 80mg would get an instant three month ban (instead of three penalties).

But critics of the bill, including Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae has said that these measures are extreme, and would delve a serious blow to social life in rural Ireland where transport services aren’t as widely available.

Chief Superintendent Finbarr Murphy told TheJournal.ie that last weekend, 167 people were arrested for drink driving across the country.

“It’s not only frustrating, it’s shocking. On Saturday night alone we had over 50 people arrested across the country for drunk driving.”

[That's] after giving out message after message. They’re not just impacting their own lives… It’s a lot more than taking a chance that they won’t get caught, it’s about the chance that they might harm somebody.

DSC_1070 Source: Gráinne Ní Aodha

Donna Price lost her son in a car collision as he was driving to college in 2006.

She says that the reason road fatalities don’t get enough attention, or coverage, is because they are individual tragedies that make up the total number of deaths on our roads, which is just over 130 deaths so far this year.

If it were a plane crash, or a war, it would be all over the news. But they’re tragedies that don’t really get covered.

She asked people to try to remember how easily things can change on our roads.

“In a split second your life can be destroyed and other lives ended. It’s so easy to make a mistake, to lose concentration, to become distracted.”

Although it can be difficult to stay completely focused while driving all the time, she urged people not to take drink or drugs before using Irish roads, and says the change suggested by Shane Ross was “badly needed”.

“We simply cannot allow impaired drivers on our roads,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“I don’t buy into this thing of the morning after, I don’t think I would be any more forgiving of someone who was over the limit the morning after if he killed my child. He would still be responsible for my son’s death.”

The message has to be your driving licence is not a right, it’s a privilege.

When Michael is asked what he thinks of the opposition to the Alcohol Bill from vocal advocates like Michael Healy Rae.

“It hasn’t knocked on his door. I hope it never does. But if it ever knocks on his door and there’s a drunk driver involved, I’d like to think that he would think twice about what he’s going on about.”

Read: ‘You cannot condone a drink-driver taking the lives of our children. We need this legislation’

Read: ‘It’s an insult to my little boy’: Families who lost loved ones to drunk-drivers slam politicians opposing new law

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