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Ross warns against including Rural Independents in government, says Greens 'mad projects' will cost taxpayers

The transport minister said his new speeding laws are in peril.

Image: Leah Farrell

IF THE RURAL Independents get into government and have the chance to stall the proposed new speeding laws “it would be deeply regrettable”, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross has said. 

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Ross added that he doesn’t believe Rural Independents would get the opportunity to roll back on the drink-driving legislation passed in 2018, if they went into government with any larger party. 

The group, which is made up of Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae Carol Nolan, Michael Collins, and Richard O’Donoghue, had a number of specific items on their wish list during government formation talks last week. 

With 19 Independent TDs elected, TDs not affiliated to any party could be key to making up the numbers for any government when formed. 

Ross, who came into conflict with the Healy Raes as well as Mattie McGrath over reformed drink driving rules, said:

“If the Rural Independents see an opportunity to encourage people to be reckless on the roads I think it would be unforgivable… But if they think they can stall the speeding legislation, I think it would be deeply regrettable because they’d be responsible for road deaths, particularly in rural areas. And that’s just unacceptable.”

He commended Sinn Féin in the government formation talks for ruling out any changes to the penalty points system if in government, something newly elected Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue raised last week, stating that drivers are getting three points on their licences for “very minor offences”. 

When asked if he believes in penalty point reforms, Ross said:

“Yes. I think should they should be increased for mobiles and for other things. I think it is absurd for them [Rural Independents] to be looking for that [for a reduction].

“I gather they [Rural Independents] went to Sinn Féin and asked for changes and they said no, and I’d like to applaud them for that position and on my Road Safety bill where they supported my bill throughout, whereas we didn’t get the same unequivocal support from others, like Rural Independents. That’s something which should be acknowledged. I might not approve of a lot of their financial policies, but on issues like that, and on the judges, they were very, very solid,” he said.

New speeding laws in ‘peril’

Ross said he wants the next government to push the speeding legislation over the line as it will save lives, highlighting that seven people lost their lives on the road last weekend alone.

Under the system, drivers who exceed the limit by more than 30km/ph will face a court prosecution and a €2,000 fine. 

The new law will also see drivers that record minor infringements of the speed limit, of between zero to 10km/ph, get fewer penalty points than is currently the norm. 

Currently, speeding of any kind carries a fixed charge fine of €80, along with three penalty points.  

Under the new rules, drivers who record minor infringements will only get two penalty points along with a €60 fine.

Anyone speeding between 10km/ph and 20 km/ph over the limit will receive three penalty points, and an €80 fine, with those caught speeding between 20km/ph and 30 km/ph over the limit getting a €100 fine and four penalty points. 

However, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke out against the new plans last year, stating they could have unforeseeable consequences.

Due to the disagreement, the bill was sent to a Cabinet subcommittee to be redrafted, with one or two amendments being made. These changes have resulted in some of the penalties for lower-level infringements of the speed limit being reduced.

“The speeding legislation is necessary, but I think the road safety legislation is in peril. The reaction to the speed legislation was knee-jerk and somewhat similar to the drink-driving,” Ross said. 

“Every time there’s a piece of road safety legislation, the usual suspects seem to come up. I mean, it’s absolutely no secret that there was not unanimous approval in the Cabinet  for the drink-driving [law], but it got through, it got through narrowly,” he said.

“When I introduce the graduating speeding, there was a similar hiatus. A lot of people in Fine Gael were not in agreement.

“The reaction to road safety legislation is, I think, disgraceful in some quarters, when it’s only about saving lives. You know, those who oppose it should think seriously about their positions there.”

‘Gagging to go into government’

While Ross warns about the Rural Independents getting their hands on power, he also has reservations about the Green Party in government.

“The Greens are gagging to go into government, they’ll go into government with anyone,” he said. 

Ross didn’t deny it when put to him that he doesn’t appear to have much time for the Green Party.

“Look, climate change, I am an absolute believer in climate change measures being necessary and accelerated. I’ve got electric car… and I did all I could for it in the transport area,” he said. 

However, he added: 

“I think they’re unrealistic. It’s very easy to spend other people’s money and the Greens found that easy last time in government. That’s what they did and we nearly went bankrupt,” he said. 

The minister said the Green Party will have to “prove quite a lot” if they go into government, stating: “They’re championing a great ideal but we have to see how it is going to be paid for.”

When asked if the public will end up paying more with the Green Party in government, Ross said:

Of course they will, if they’re allowed to do some of the mad projects they’re talking about, you know, putting the Luas out to Terenure and Rathfarnham and areas like that.

He said NTA has carefully assessed those projects and ruled they are “non-runners”.

The party has proposed extending the MetroLink to serve South-West Dublin. It also wants to It also wants to make public transport free for all students and introduce a €365 public transport annual pass modelled on the fare structure first introduced in Vienna in 2013.

“If they can temper there more extravagant demands, and stick to the really worthy causes which they do champion, which is climate change, they’ll be a force for good. But I’m not confident they’ll do that, they haven’t got the discipline, and their record last time doesn’t give you a confidence. But I wish them well,” said Ross.

Circling the wagons after weekend poll

What does he think will happen? 

After the weekend poll which gave Sinn Féin a ten-point bounce, Ross said it will be panic stations in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil HQs.

“I assume it [the poll] will cause a circling of the wagons and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will rush towards each others’ embraces. But not very publicly, they’ll make it look difficult, but basically it will push them together. They will go through a certain amount of antics over the next few weeks. But the threat of Sinn Féin being on 35% – absolutely. It’s the lesser of two evils for them,” he said. 

Today, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil plan to meet for the one-day ‘policy exchange’. This follows on from what Varadkar described yesterday as two days of constructive meetings with the Green Party. 

Yesterday, the co-leader of the Social Democrats, Róisín Shortall said she believed the government formation talks will continue until Easter.

The Social Democrats yesterday met with Sinn Féin’s team and discussed a number of different policy areas. Another meeting with Sinn Féin is scheduled for Thursday. 

Varadkar said the Social Democrats have declined to meet with his party. He added that he also wrote to Sinn Féin to say he was open to discussions – not about government formation – he added, but he said Sinn Fein has not responded to his invite.

“Sinn Féin have not shown any interest in speaking to us,” he said. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald later told RTÉ’s Drivetime that a letter was en route to the Taoiseach.

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