Wipe the slate clean or leave as is?

THE majority of TDs questioned for an Irish Examiner survey said they never sought nor had penalty points cancelled from their driving records.

While some refused to answer questions about penalties on their licenses, several from different parties admitted having received speeding fines.

Others said they were asked by constituents to help get points wiped from other people’s records.

The practice of having penalty points quashed from licences has been raised by Independent TDs in the Dáil in recent months.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has said he will publish the results of a Garda inquiry into the practice of canceling points.

Senior members of the force have the discretion to wipe points from records for a number of reasons, including medical, emergency or personal matters.

Article 15.13 of the Constitution also exempts Oireachtas members from certain offences “going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of”, Leinster House. It is an old rule dating back to the Civil War years.

However, it is unclear how many elected members have invoked this right over the years.

While 77% or 128 TDs replied to queries regarding the cancellation of points, the remainder failed to respond or refused to. These included the leaders of the major parties, except for Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, who said he never sought nor had points cancelled.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins refused to answer queries about driving penalties as did Independent TDs Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry as well as Fine Gael’s Paul Kehoe.

Mr Healy-Rae said: “I’m the most guilty man in the house for speeding over the years. More guilty than anyone else for speeding. I’m very honest and open, but I don’t have to answer those questions.”

Fine Gael and Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle admitted that his wife was issued with two penalty points after he was caught speeding while driving back through Kilmacanogue returning from a late night vote in the Dáil.

Mr Doyle said that the couple had filed in forms to return to the authorities saying that while the car was in his wife’s name he was in fact the driver on the night. However, the forms were never returned and the points ended up on his wife’s driving record.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he explained: “I signed the forms but she held onto it them in her bag. We didn’t realise the time limit [to returning them]. The car was in her name.”

Despite his wife taking his speeding points, Mr Doyle condemned the recent revelation of Independent TD Luke Ming Flanagan having his own points cancelled through the gardaí.

Seamus Kirk, the ceann comhairle of the last Dáil, admitted it was just a matter of ringing up gardaí to get points cancelled.

However, the Fianna Fáil TD could not remember if he had invoked the exemption for elected members to have his points cancelled. But if he had, he said he felt it was not an abuse of the system.

“Years ago, I had minor traffic issues. I wouldn’t be into the business of just having them quashed. If I’m on the way to the Houses for a vote, it’s a different matter. I don’t remember. That’s not to say that I didn’t not have any [quashed].

“The normal thing if I did, the procedure would be to notify people who impose the penalty points that these were imposed on the way to Leinster House for a vote.

“At this point and time, I can’t remember. That’s not saying that I didn’t notify the penalty points imposition office, that is whoever was dealing with penalty points.

“I’m not ruling it out. Whatever the procedure was. In the past it may have happened, possibly it did.

“If I received penalty points, I would notify gardaí on the way to Leinster House and they were cancelled.

“It was a matter of lifting the phone or writing and pointing it out to them, not a question of gardaí ringing me. There’d be no contact with local gardaí. It’s whatever office issues the fine.”

But other TDs admitted receiving penalty points going to and from Leinster House and said they never considered getting them wiped.

These included Labour TD Gerard Nash and Fine Gael TDs Frank Feighan, Ray Butler, and Paudie Coffee.

Mr Butler said: “It was 10.30 at night near St James’s Gate, doing 54kms in a 50km zone. I paid the fine, took it on the chin, and got on with it.”

Other TDs have been asked to try and arrange for penalty points to be wiped for locals.

Fine Gael’s David Staunton explained: “One or two people [came and asked] and I said that’s the law of the land, I can’t.”

Fine Gael’s Tom Barry said he was asked too but referred people to a superintendent.

That same party’s chairman, TD Charlie Flanagan, said he was asked by a garda who caught him speeding if he wanted an exemption.

“I have a number of penalty points, I wouldn’t dare avail of a constitutional immunity unless I feel it is very necessary, like an emergency situation, which it was originally designed for.

“It was put to me if I would like to claim my constitutional immunity and I said I wouldn’t. It was put to me by a guy [a garda] who may have had a motive. Unfortunately, I had been speeding.”

He said the garda may have been sarcastic at the time, but he added: “There’s a bit of public unease about the cases of certain people being treated differently under the law. The [justice] minister needs to clarify the position.”

Labour’s Robert Dowds said: “I was unaware until the Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan stuff that there was a facility to quash points. It’s very questionable. It is important TDs are not hindered from going to the Dáil. But they should not be above the law in relation to traffic or other offences.”

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