Belfast Telegraph

Road safety shock over DoE cuts

No cash for ads and big hit to education spark fears death toll could spiral

By Linda Stewart

The Department of the Environment's road safety campaign could face drastic restrictions as a result of budget cuts.

Up to 500 jobs could also be lost from the department, and emergency help for homes hit by flooding could also go, the department has warned.

In its draft budget proposals, the DoE, headed by Mark H Durkan, says no funding has been allocated for road safety advertising, which currently has a budget of £1.8 million, and it will also have to curtail road safety education in schools at a time of rising fatalities on the roads. It comes as this year's death toll stands at 73, a big increase on last year's full-year total of 56. This week the PSNI launched its annual drink-driving Christmas crackdown.

In its draft budget the DoE said that after inescapable spending commitments have been met at the start of the year, there will be a "wholly inadequate" balance of just £1.2m left to fund a range of other services currently supported by the department.

"In practice our financial support for most of these services and activities would cease from April 2015 onwards," the report said.

No funding has been allocated for activities including road safety advertising, listed building grants, National Trust grant, water quality improvement grant scheme, grant to Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, the Townscape Heritage Initiative grant, Community Transport Association grants, Disability Action grant and educational material supporting road safety education in schools.

DoE staff also fear that country parks and nature reserves may have to be divested.

A National Trust spokesperson said it was worried about the impacts that cuts of this severity could have on the department's ability to deliver services supporting the environment.

 "The scale of the proposed cutbacks is likely to have a big impact on a range of sectors and organisations, many of which rely upon seed funding and match funding from DoE to run a wide range of valuable programmes," he said.

Friends of the Earth director James Orr said: "By affecting one third of DoE staff, and bearing in mind that the current system is not working well to protect the environment, these cuts will not just devastate the DoE but rip the heart out of Northern Ireland.

"In the end implementing these cuts will be very short-sighted. 

"By not fulfilling our legal obligations to protect the environment we will be exposed to massive infraction fines from Europe."

Quotes

"It is worrying that road safety advertising, and possibly road safety promotion and educational activity in schools, is being put in jeopardy. With 56 people killed and hundreds more seriously injured on Northern Ireland's roads last year, it's essential that life-saving road safety messages are properly communicated to the public. With a cost to the economy of £1.74 million for every single road death, we can't afford to stop investing in making our roads safer. Educating drivers and young people has to be central to this."

Road safety charity Brake

'Taking them off TV will cost lives'

Just before Christmas every year Kevin Fitzpatrick and his children pay a special visit to the graves of his wife Dana and eight-year-old son Kevin, who were killed by a stolen car on December 16, 2000.

The car was racing along Duncairn Gardens in north Belfast when it hit Dana.

"She was thrown up into the air and came down on a parked car - she was killed instantly.

"Kevin was dragged 150 yards and ended up in Baltic Drive - he died on the way to hospital," he said.

"The next few days were a blank for me. I never returned to where we lived in Manor Street. I returned that night, got as far as the door, and didn't go into the house."

After the tragedy Kevin campaigned with Families Bereaved Through Car Crime for laws to cover car crime and for the PSNI to set up a specialised auto crime unit.

"To cut these ads will cost lives. I know they're very hard-hitting, some of the ads the DoE shows, but unfortunately that is the ads they need to show, especially at this time of year. Whether it's drunk-driving or speeding, people have to be aware of it and if the DoE cuts the campaign, people are going to become complacent."

'More should be done in our schools'

One of Ireland's top circuit riders, Jonny Buckley, was on his way to do a job for his mother when he was killed in an accident close to his home in Ballyclare last October.

His father Keith, who worked with Jonny at the family firm Module Road and Race accessories store in Antrim, is still waiting for the inquest to shed some light on what happened.

"Jonny was 27 and less than a mile from his mother's home on a road he drove on every day, and he absolutely loved cars and bikes, just like many young men," he said.

"You just carry on. You live a different life. Life is difficult sometimes. You never get over it, you just get used to living a different life."

Keith is concerned that road safety education in schools could be under threat.

"I don't tend to think the ads on the TV, although effective, reach the ones they are intended for. Other people understand and see, but I don't think they get through to the minds of youngsters," he said.

"I think there should be more education in schools. Lots of accidents happen when you have a group of lads in a car and one is showing off. You see it every week and you realise it's someone's life forever."

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