‘Road-deaths rise an affront to my sister’, says Cork road safety campaigner

Six years after Donna Fox was killed cycling to work, her brother, Neil, a Cork campaigner, has highlighted the need for road safety to be a government priority again. Darragh Bermingham reports
‘Road-deaths rise an affront to my sister’, says Cork road safety campaigner

Neil Fox with his late sister Donna

DONNA Fox would have turned 37 on Monday, October 9. However, on September 6, 2016, she was killed while cycling to work in an incident involving a truck at a junction on the northside of Dublin.

Donna was pronounced dead at the scene.

For the past six years, her brother, Neil, who is based in Cork, has been campaigning for greater road safety.

To mark Donna’s birthday, Neil has reiterated his call for increased road safety for cyclists, and has called on the Irish government to ensure that safety on the roads is a priority.

According to An Garda Síochána, 117 people were killed on Irish roads between January 1 and October 7. This is 12 more deaths than in the same period of 2021.

Speaking to The Echo, Neil highlighted the need for road safety to be prioritised by government officials, particularly amid the increase in road fatalities.

In previous governments, the minister for transport typically held the responsibility for road safety.

However, under the current regime, that responsibility has fallen to the ‘super junior’ ministry, held by TD Hildegarde Naughton, and, while Ms Naughton has a seat at the Cabinet table, she does not hold a vote.

The Government has stated that this does not relegate the importance of road safety at Cabinet level.

However, Neil said: “I am deeply concerned by the demotion of road safety, and also sad that it’s gotten so little comment.

“It’s wrong, but, more terribly, it’s dangerous that we no longer have a proper place at Cabinet for road safety.

“Road safety had dramatically improved in the last couple of decades, because it got more and more attention from the powers that be,” he said.

“The minister for transport, who is, and has been in the past, a Cabinet minister, had the road-safety portfolio, which meant that it was given the attention, weight, and prominence it deserves.

“A Cabinet minister has government voting rights and the ear of the Taoiseach, obviously, too.

“A Cabinet minister has real clout and ability to lead and make valuable decisions.

“In the case of road safety, such decisions actually save lives, help people escape injuries, and reduce, and ideally eliminate, others from the horror and grief of people like myself and the many others who have sadly lost sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends on Irish roads. This is the reality.” Neil stated that Ireland had come a long way from the days of “several hundred deaths per year on the roads of Ireland”, and that this was due to a focus on road safety from previous governments.

“We must get back to that,” he said.

“The increase in road deaths under Micheál Martin’s government is in tandem with no real position around the Cabinet table for road safety.

“How has it come to this?” he asked.

“It’s an appalling injustice and an affront, in my personal opinion, to the memory of my sister, Donna, and to all the hundreds of men, women, and children who have died since that awful day in 2016, and those before that. Every life counts. Road deaths and injuries are preventable.”

Neil said that the onus is on the Government to do all it can to reduce and eliminate such tragedies and anguish.

“It’s devastating, after the tenure of Shane Ross, to have lost our momentum as a country on road safety,” Neil said.

“It’s also annoying, as it’s entirely unnecessary.”

Neil questioned the decision behind removing the responsibility for road safety from the minister for transport’s portfolio.

“Our deceased loved-ones, but, more importantly, the living, deserve better.

“Did Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, or Eamon Ryan even consider the consequences, the message to the public, the hurt to the victims’ families and friends, that their demotion of road safety would, and does, cause?” he asked.

Neil praised Mr Ross, the former minister for transport, for “exemplary work” in road safety.

Neil added that, following on from Mr Ross’s good work, the Government has taken a step backwards.

“It seems to me that road safety has been denigrated to the second tier of Irish government,” he said.

Road-safety campaigners across Cork and Ireland are “aghast”, he added.

“There’s no justification for it, zero, zilch.

“There is also absolutely no room for complacency where road safety is concerned,” Neil said.

“I can’t repeat that enough.

“Talk to a mother whose toddler was killed on a road, or a husband who has just identified his wife’s body and doesn’t know how he can tell his children.

“Talk to a funeral director trying to help a family make decisions about a funeral, when they are literally immobilised by shock and hit by a grief that is so sudden, so extreme, and so unnecessary. I have been there, believe me.”

Both the Department of Transport and the Department for the Taoiseach were contacted for comment.

'SAFETY IMPORTANT', SAYS DEPARTMENT

A spokesperson of the Department of Transport said: “First of all, and most importantly, we would like to express our profound regret to Neil and his extended family, on the tragic and unfortunate loss of his sister, Donna.

“Safety in all aspects of transport has always been the highest priority of the Department of Transport.

“This has not changed, and it is perhaps an unfortunate misconception to suggest that the appointment of a minister of state with special responsibility for road safety represents a ‘demotion’ of road safety, or that ‘we no longer have a proper place at Cabinet for road safety’. On the contrary,” the spokesperson added, “the view has always been taken that having a minister of state specifically dedicated to an area of policy within a department, and who can focus their energies on that policy area, adds focus on, and increases the impetus that can be given to that area.

“Minister Hildegarde Naughton has played a particularly active role in fostering road safety, a fact demonstrable most recently in the doubling in fines for key offences leading to the loss of life on Irish roads,” the spokesperson said.

“The fine for speeding is set to increase from €80 to €160 and the fine for using a mobile phone, while driving or for not wearing a seatbelt, will double to €120.

“Increasing fines for these offences will act as a stronger deterrent to those who break our life-saving rules of the road.

“Separately, last December, Minister Naughton launched the Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030.

“The Strategy includes key targets, such as a 50% reduction in the number of road deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

“The strategy is backed by a projected €3.8bn investment and includes 50 high-impact actions and 136 support actions.

“As of 7 October, road deaths are up 12 on the same date last year.

“Minister Naughton has brought together a high-level ministerial group to examine the issues and address them urgently.

“The number of lives lost on our roads this year is of serious concern to ministers, the Department, An Garda Síochána, and the RSA,” the spokesperson added.

“Nothing is off the table when it comes to implementing measures to prevent the loss of life on Irish roads.

“Minister Naughton will reconvene the high-level ministerial group in the coming weeks, where further measures will be considered for implementation in the short and medium term.”

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