The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said it is “extremely disappointed” that just 40% of drink-driving cases listed before the country’s district courts since 2013 resulted in convictions.
Figures released by the Department of Justice show that, of the more than 20,000 people due before the district courts for drink-driving offences, just 6,700 or 40% were convicted.
For the first five months of 2015, the percentage slumped to 28%.
The conviction rates stand in stark contrast with the 97% conviction rate for similar offences in England and Wales.
The Department of Justice figures, released following a parliamentary question tabled by Independent TD Tommy Broughan, show that Kerry had the lowest conviction rate at just 29%, while the highest conviction rate was secured in Offaly at 68%.
The former state solicitor for Donegal, Ciarán MacLochlainn, said he was not surprised at the figures and that drink-driving cases often failed on technicalities as their is ample room for solicitors to challenge.
“My own experience would be even less than that in terms of percentages and convictions — anything up to 70% getting off... Drink driving cases — I always liken them to running a 110m hurdles race and there are about 10 hurdles to get over. If the garda hits any of the hurdles the case will collapse. And, if as invariably happens, you have a young and inexperienced garda that is giving evidence they can sometimes hit a hurdle and down goes the case,” he told RTÉ.
Mr MacLochlainn said the penalties for drink driving here were so severe that people were willing to challenge them directly in court.
“The consequences for someone being convicted of a drink-driving case are very, very severe. You could lose your driving licence for three years or four years. That to anyone is a very severe punishment, so people, invariably, want to contest the case.
“People are prepared to go to court, put it up to the garda as to how they should give their evidence and test their evidence and in a lot of cases the evidence falls.”
Mr McLochlainn said that solicitors in Northern Ireland were less likely to challenge drink-driving prosecutions but said this was not the case in the South given the myriad of ways a case can fall.
“From a prosecutors’ point of view, people go away, maybe guards who are based in a rural area are transferred to another. A young garda may leave the force for one reason or another. A garda may be off sick or pregnant. Basically, anything can happen,” he said.
Independent TD Tommy Broughan said a entire root and branch review of the penalty points system was now needed. He also defended the role of the gardaí stating they were hugely under-resourced.
“It’s also unfair to An Garda Síochána who are very much under-resourced and the Traffic Corps has been cut drastically over the last year or two. Having done their job, and summonsed people to court, we don’t in fact have a result. The whole purpose of testing for drink driving and of penalty points offences is to make us all better drivers so the roads are much safer,” he said.
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