Challenge to drink drive flaw considered

Minister may go to Supreme Court to prevent thousands of dismissals

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe may appeal to the Supreme Court over the drink-driving loophole, amid fears that thousands of drunk drivers could have their cases dismissed.

Mr Donohoe enacted emergency legislation to close the loophole, hours after Monday’s High Court ruling which allowed a Romanian man to escape a conviction because his breathalyser test result was not issued to him in Irish.

The results supplied to a drink-driving suspect no longer have to be in both Irish and English, but can be in either language, as chosen by the suspect. However, the status of cases whose proceedings had begun but which had yet not come to hearing before the High Court ruling is unclear. District courts have been adjourning cases pending the High Court ruling.

In Ennis District Court on Monday, it emerged that gardaí had been advised by the DPP to seek further adjournments in case of a Supreme Court appeal. Mr Donohoe did not know how many cases might be hit.

“The Garda Síochána and the DPP are looking at that issue, at the moment,” he said.

“They will be supplying those figures to me soon.”

Ennis District Court
Ennis District Court

He would give no guarantee of the safety of recent convictions secured.

“That matter is under review,” Mr Donohoe said. “We will now move on to considering whether a further appeal is necessary and the DPP and the attorney general’s office are weighing that matter up.”

Mr Donohoe said that, to quantify the cases in doubt, it would be necessary to separate the different kinds of drink-driving detections, as the loophole only applied to breathalysers in Garda stations.

“This does not apply to samples that were gained by the roadside,” he said. “It also does not apply to either blood or urine samples.”

Mr Donohoe has come under fire for failing to act faster to close the loophole, which was first raised by Independent TD Tommy Broughan last March.

Mr Donohoe replied then: “I am satisfied, following consultation with the gardaí, that there is no requirement to change the Road Traffic Act, 2010, to make amendments of the kind suggested by the deputy.”

The problem was raised again in July, when the Romanian man’s challenge was referred from the district court to the High Court, but still the minister did not act.

Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Timmy Dooley said: “I am concerned that this case seems to have taken the Government by surprise.”

Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley
Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley

Mr Donohoe defended the decision to await the High Court ruling. “It was a case we expected to win,” he said.

The loophole is the latest in a series of flaws in driving laws that have enabled motorists escape convictions and/or penalty points, but Mr Donohoe insisted the legislation was robust.

“The road traffic law is challenged every single day in our courts and we have road traffic legislation that works very well, and very effectively, in dealing with the vast majority of cases,” he said.

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