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No convictions in Rail case

No convictions in Rail case

Michael Duffy

FOUR Castlebar people who appeared before the local district court on charges of failing to close an Irish Rail crossing gate escaped convictions after Judge Mary Devins said she did not think ‘scapegoating’ was natural justice.
Solicitor for Irish Rail, Mr Rory O’Connor, admitted in court that the State body were not ‘looking for a pound of flesh’ by bringing the case, but they felt the matter needed highlighting as the public needed to be aware of their obligations.
It was also admitted that the four defendants, Mr John Boyce, The Cottage, Mountdaisy, Castlebar; Mr Tony Burke, Westport Road, Castlebar; Mr Michael Blake, Mountdaisy, Castlebar and Ms Theresa Kelly, Mountgordan, Westport Road, Castlebar, were not the only members of the public to commit the offence.
Judge Devins said the issue certainly needed to be highlighted as the situation could be ‘totally lethal’.
Mr O’Connor said members of the public had been successfully prosecuted at both Athenry and Sligo District Courts and fines of up to €1,000 had been imposed.
He said there were six services passing this crossing and there was plenty of signage to warn passers-by that they must close the gates. Animals wandering on the track had the potential to cause serious accidents and this needed to be avoided.
However, Judge Devins said that from the photographs made available to her she felt some of the writing on the signs was too small and a stranger to the area would have no chance of understanding them.
Mr Kevin Bourke, solicitor, representing Mr Tony Burke, said he felt that the surveillance used to gather evidence in the case appeared to him to be a form of entrapment and that the defendant’s privacy was infringed upon.
Judge Devins concluded by stating the matter had been well highlighted due to the bringing of the case by Irish Rail, but she chose not to convict and ordered that the four defendants pay €50 each to the local Special Olympics fund. No order in relation to costs was made.
Cllr Michelle Mulherin, Fine Gael General Election candidate, welcomed the decision of Judge Devins and said that the cases highlighted the need for level crossings along public roadways to be automated.
“The resources of Iarnrod Éireann would be better placed in installing automatic crossings than spending taxpayers’ money on private investigators and court prosecutions. Expecting people to get out of their cars to open and close the railway crossing gates at Knockaphunta where it is badly lit and confusingly signed is not reasonable. Also, it is not practical for a wheelchair user or any other person with mobility problems to access the crossing to open and close gates.”
Cllr Mulherin added that Iarnrod Éireann has been spending considerable money upgrading and modernising the country’s railway lines and part of this programme should include the automation of railway crossing lines which in effect traverse public roads.
“This should be included as an essential safety feature of such crossings. This is a problem which I intend to pursue and have examined at the Roads and Transportation Strategic Policy Committee of Mayo County Council with a view to liaising with Iarnrod Éireann.”
However, during the course of the case Mr O’Connor said the resources were simply not there to be spent on automated crossings as there were 1,200 of these countrywide and it would cost something in the region of €1.2 billion to install them.