Mayo drink driving numbers have not reduced in 15 years - Judge
MAYO’s District Court Judge has stated that the number of drink driving prosecutions brought before her is as high today, if not higher, than it was when she first sat on the bench in the county 15 years ago.
Judge Mary Devins was speaking in Westport District Court last Thursday, sitting in Castlebar, where the state successfully brought four drink driving prosecutions, all of which were contested by the defendants. Other cases which involved drink driving charges were deferred to later courts for various individual reasons. Across the various District Court sittings in Mayo [Achill, Belmullet, Ballina, Castlebar, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, Swinford and Westport] drink driving prosecutions would be among the most regular offences brought before the judge, despite years of costly national awareness campaigns on the dangers of drink driving and an increase in the potential sanctions [driving ban period] in more recent years.
In one of the most stark examples of drink driving in Mayo heard in recent times, one defendant admitted in court last week that he was sipping vodka and 7-Up behind the wheel as he drove in the N5 Castlebar Road towards Westport at 5.15pm on February 16 this year.
Michael McNally (62) of Ballyhip, Louisburgh, admitted he was drinking alcohol behind the wheel on the day in question, drawing Superintendent Seán Colleran to tell him: “I’m stunned with the admission of drinking while driving, I find it difficult to comprehend.”
Despite this, Mr McNally contested the charge of drink driving, primarily on the claim that he had taken a drink from this same bottle of Vodka and 7-Up, while in custody in Westport Garda Station, which if proven would have rendered the subsequent blood sample he gave null and void. However, his version of events were strongly contested by member in charge of Westport Garda Station on that day, Garda Denis Egan, who said that when the defendant reached into his pocket for the bottle, he informed him he could not drink from it.
“When I told him he was going to be searched he took out a 7-Up bottle from his left jacket pocket and went about opening it. I told him to desist as he was to be searched but he attempted to take a drink from it so I lunged across the desk at him and while both of us got wet from the contents he did not take a drink from it.”
An ‘unsuccessful attempt’ to drink from the bottle was logged in the official station custody record from that evening, which was produced in court. Mr McNally later provided a specimen of blood to a doctor which returned a reading of 174mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, over three times the legal limit.
Open bottle in car
Giving evidence to the court, the officer who arrested him at Drummindoo, Westport that day, Garda Caitriona O’Malley, stated that his driving had been reported by a concerned member of the public and that he stopped when indicated to by Gardaí before swerving onto the road again. The garda said she noticed an unsealed bottle of Huzzar Vodka and a half empty bottle of Tesco Vodka in the front of the vehicle.
Giving evidence, Mr McNally said he has a history of alcohol problems and that he had not drank in six months before buying drink in Westport that day. He said his habit was to buy a bottle of 7-Up, sip a bit out of it and put vodka in it. He was adamant that he drank from the bottle in the garda station. He said in court that he informed Garda Egan that evening that he was going to give evidence in court that he drank from the bottle in the station.
Under cross examination by Supt Colleran, the defendant denied that he intentionally tried to take the drink to frustrate the legal process, rather he had a craving for alcohol, and this was the way he always drank [from the bottle in his pocket].
Defending solicitor Dermot Morahan said the case boiled down to whether the judge believed he drank after he was arrested, and it he did the sample was flawed and the charge compromised.
Judge Devins said the defendant ‘cannot have it both ways’.
“He was very confident to tell the court that he said he was going to come into the court and say he took a sip, but when cross examined as to why he said that he feigned ignorance of the law. Either he is arguing it was an attempt to frustrate the law or not. Garda Egan did everything according to regulation and Garda O’Malley gave every detail necessary. If the defendant had succeeded in drinking in the public office in the garda station he could have been charged with attempting to frustrate the conviction.”
Finding the facts were proven Judge Devins stated: “Anybody who considered it vaguely acceptable to sip vodka as he goes along a busy road at home time [home from work time in the evening] should not be on the road. It is a good thing maybe, from your client’s point of view and society’s that this prosecution was successful,” she said to the defending solicitor, before going on to make her remarks about the level of drink driving cases coming before her. Sentencing on Mr McNally’s case was adjourned until November.
Young people not getting drink driving message
In another case last week, a 24 year-old professional male was asked by Judge Devins why he thinks people of his age were appearing on drink driving charges. He responded: ‘I’ve a fair idea’.
“In Dublin after you leave a nightclub you get a taxi and go home. On the night in question in Westport [when he was detected] my regular taxi driver was in hospital and I couldn’t get a taxi. My brother used to walk home regularly at night and has told me stories of having to jump in ditches to avoid getting knocked over on dark roads. It is a problem.
“Marketing to younger people is out of touch when it comes to drink driving. The RSA (Road Safety Authority) have a €34 million budget a year but they are not on Snapchat or social media. I live in a house in Dublin with three guys, all aged under 30, and we have no television or radio,” he confidently told the Judge, who was in full agreement with him and appreciative of his contribution.
“I agree, I listen to ads on radio and television, people who listen to these or watch them are my age, they do not seem to get the message out to younger people,” she replied.
The defendant was convicted and given a two year driving ban [the level of alcohol in his reading saw him escape a three year ban by 1mg of alcohol] though Judge Devins reduced his fine to €250, ‘because of the tutorial’ he had given the court.