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Shane Ross: 'I was just drinking far too much in my 30s and it was affecting my life in every way'

While his friendship with Enda Kenny got off to a rocky start, Shane Ross admits he misses the former Taoiseach.

MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT Shane Ross was at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin for the first test of the new cross-city Luas line earlier this summer when a can of Dutch Gold beer was shoved into his hand by a nearby construction worker.

The image was captured by Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, and shared on Twitter with the caption: “It is a day for it to be fair. Bag of cans on the tram.”

Some respondents on Twitter found the image humorous, but others reckoned the minister was sending out the wrong message. Rock was quick to jump in to defend his colleague, pointing out:

Shane is as far as I’m aware a teetotaler in fairness.

Ross is indeed a teetotaler – in fact, the long-serving senator-turned-TD hasn’t taken a drink in three decades.

Speaking to in a wide-ranging interview, he said he made a decision to quit as his drinking was beginning to affect his work.

“I was just drinking far too much. I was in my thirties and it was just affecting my life in every way.

I wasn’t an alcoholic, I didn’t go for treatment. I just said one day ‘this is it, I am not going to do this anymore’. And I never had another drink.

Ross, who was first elected as a senator in 1981, was also working as a stockbroker at the time.

“It was affecting all aspects of my life,” he said.

And here in Leinster House, it was a lot different. People were drinking a lot around Leinster House. People would drink during the day, all the time. When you were waiting for a decision, would you go to the Dáil bar or wait around? I was doing all the wrong things.

The minister is now on a mission to take on the Vintners Federation of Ireland (which lobbies on behalf of publicans) and some rural TDs who are fighting his drink-driving Bill.

If introduced, it will mean an automatic driving disqualification for those caught behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml. At the moment, drivers are just handed down penalty points and a fine.

Vintners chief Padraig Cribben argued earlier this year that Ross’s proposals would not “contribute to saving one life”.

The Bill is due to be debated in the Dáil this autumn, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling for all ministers and junior ministers to back the Bill.

While the Cabinet has endorsed changes to drink-driving laws, its passage through the Dáil is unclear as a decision has not yet been made on whether non-Cabinet members of the party will get a free vote on the matter. Essentially, it’s not a done deal, by any means.


Ross has publically admitted to having driven while over the limit in the past.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time in April, the minister was asked he had ever driven while over the legal alcohol limit.

“Of course I have,” he told the programme.

You see, I haven’t had a drink for 30 years or so. So it would have been a very long time ago. But of course I have. And I understand those dangers.

Speaking in more detail this week about that time in his life, he said his professional performance was suffering in a number of ways.

I was a stockbroker by day and senator by night almost and stockbroking was long lunches and it was just getting out of hand, so I said one day, ‘no that is it’. So I never drank and drove again and I never drank again.

And while it may not have been uncommon, 30 years ago, for people in professional roles to have a drink or two at lunch – Ross said he was thankful that those habits, for most people, were a thing of the past.

There is a different attitude to drinking in the Dáil too, according to the south Dublin TD. In his decades at Leinster House, he said he’d seen some political careers brought to a premature end.

Quite a lot of them drank themselves out of the Dáil at the time, because they spent too long in the bar and didn’t do their constituency work … people drank themselves out of seats.

Despite not having held a drink in his hand for the last 30 years, the minister said he did see the humour in his Dutch Gold moment.

Someone just handed the Dutch Gold to me. It was really nifty. Somebody just asked me to hold it for a minute and you know how polite you are when the cameras are all around you and I said: ‘yeah fine’. I took it in my hand and then ‘click, click, click’.

BACKSTAGE AT ARAS 758A2339_90515005 Ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath. Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /


While Ross spent years in opposition honing his skills as a critic of the powers-that-be – he now finds himself in Cabinet.

He admits that when he first entered into government with Fine Gael, he saw almost everyone else around the Cabinet table as an adversary.

The initial phase in the government was framed by acrimony. I take the blame for that as much as anybody else. We sat down with Fine Gael, and quite honestly, I was still in the mindset of virtually everybody around the Cabinet table, bar Finian McGrath, is an enemy.
That was a terrible, terrible thing for me to have done.
There I was having negotiated a deal with them, and I saw them as that and they saw me as such. Maybe Finian less so, as he is a much nicer bloke. It was extraordinary.

Sympathising with Fine Gael to a degree, he acknowledged that he didn’t make things easy for them in the early days of government. Things came to a head, he said, in a blazing row with his government colleagues last summer.

“It must have been very difficult for them as we had been in opposition to them and there were some personal animosities. That climaxed in the row that I had last June,” he said.

0855 Shane Ross_90504763 Minister Shane Ross with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny last March. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

How was the row resolved?

Ross said there was no “bonding luncheon”. One had been pencilled in, he said – but never materialised.

It was actually his nascent friendship with Enda Kenny – a man he had called a “political corpse” in one of his newspaper columns – that smoothed over the cracks in the fraught relationships within government.

It was a very difficult time. We had very tense meetings that went on till July last year and we really sat down and said, ‘what are we going to have a row about now?’ We didn’t have any comradary off-field.
Then gradually things got better. I can only speak personally, but I started to get on a lot better with Enda [Kenny] after getting on really badly with him, and I take the blame for it. I mean I was very hostile, but I think they were hostile too.

Ross said his friendship with the former Taoiseach developed further after Kenny said he would back his controversial Judicial Appointments Bill.

He was very, very honourable about the Judicial Appointments Bill. I thought it was going to be very difficult despite it being in the programme for government to get it done. I thought they [Fine Gael] would try and dilute it.
Then Enda said to me one day, ‘Look, I am in favour of this. I am going to back you all the way’. And I actually didn’t believe him, I thought he wouldn’t, but he did back it, and so did Frances Fitzgerald.
We now have a Bill that was difficult for Fine Gael to take and he did some interesting things that I never thought he would do to get it through. Then I said this is extraordinary, and I began to trust him and it helped. We were very good friends by the time he left.

So … with his new-found friend gone from the Cabinet table, does he miss Enda Kennny?

“Yes, I do, because he made me laugh a lot.

“Once you get to know him he makes you laugh a lot and that helps enormously. But I get on very well with Leo. Leo has a completely different style and he is very refreshing with his approach.

It is great to have someone of his youth, because he does think differently than the rest of the Cabinet. will be bringing you more tomorrow on Shane Ross’ drink-driving prevention plans and why he thinks TDs with links to pubs should be more up-front.

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