Life

TV review: The majority of people caught drink driving in the Republic will not be convicted

David Attenborough, here with a Leatherback turtle, warns of the amount of plastic in the oceans - Photographer: Gavin Thurston

Prime Time Investigates, RTE 1, Monday at 9.35pm

Ireland is one of the world's most honest countries.

The Republic sits at 17 out of the 175 ranked yearly by Transparency International. That's below the Scandinavian countries but better than France, Japan, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

On the big stuff Ireland is reasonably clean but on the basics it's occasionally still the world of the stroke or the word in the ear.

For instance, the Garda Maurice McCabe affair became about an alleged effort to blacken the name of a whistleblower in the most appalling way, but it started when he and a couple of colleagues highlighted the abuse of the driving penalty points system.

That led to the revelation that An Garda Siochana had ‘exaggerated' the number of breath tests officers were carrying out on suspected drink drivers by almost 1.5 million.

The fallout has led to the resignations of two Garda commissioners and two ministers for justice.

Now, Prime Time has revealed another flaw in the drink driving system - that the conviction rates are appalling.

An analysis of figures from the Republic's 63 district courts showed that just 48 per cent of drivers shown to be over the legal drink drive limit through a Garda conducted breath test were later convicted in court.

Think about that for a minute. If you are stopped at a Garda checkpoint over the Christmas period and fail a drink driving test you are more likely to face no sanction than to be convicted in court.

The 52 per cent disappear from the system through a variety of measures.

Firstly, gardai fail to issues summonses to between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the drivers who fail breathalyser tests.

Then the legal battles begin when the accused that are left appear in court. The sixteen road traffic acts enacted since 1961 leave plenty of loopholes for solicitors to work on.

A case can be struck out for all manner of technicalities, as judges and solicitors explained to Prime Time.

If the prosecuting garda neglects to tell the court that the test was conducted in a public place it's open to be struck out or if there are any misspellings or other inaccuracies on the court papers the case can fall.

One case fell when a Cork solicitor successfully argued that the written permission from a Garda inspector for the checkpoint to take place was in the wrong townland. The road in question divided two townlands at a point through the white line in the middle of the road. The driver was stopped on the other side of the road. Ordnance Survey maps came out in the district court and the case fell.

Some of the technicalities which got people off are the stuff of legend.

In recent years a drink driving case against a Romanian man collapsed because the prosecuting Garda couldn't prove that he was presented with an Irish version of the test results, despite the accused admitting he didn't speak English or Irish.

The case has been appealed up through the courts and is now on the Supreme Court roster awaiting on a decision which affects 300 other cases.

***

Blue Planet II, BBC 1, Sunday at 8pm

As is now traditional for David Attenborough, he finished his latest nature series with an appeal for the world to treat the environment better.

Previously he was highlighting global warming, but on this occasion it was the appalling amount of plastic in the sea and the damage it is causing to marine life and the ecosystem they survive in.

It's about time we listen to the world's greatest naturalist while he's still around to advise us.

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