A FINE Gael councillor who sped away from a Garda checkpoint before abandoning his car and hiding in a bush behind a churchyard was convicted of drink driving.
Cllr Michael Hegarty (FG) was convicted of the offence and banned from driving for two years after a judge dismissed suggestions he had been unlawfully detained by pursuing gardai.
Cllr Hegarty, who is a former Chairman of the Cork Joint Policing Committee, was disqualified from driving for two years, fined €600 and had his license endorsed.
Judge Terence Finn ruled that arresting gardai had behaved properly and fully within the regulations and their common law powers when dealing with Cllr Hegarty on August 21 2012.
After the conviction was handed down, Cllr Hegarty’s solicitor, Brian O’Callaghan, said his client was “very much ashamed” of what had happened.
“There is absolutely no excuse…he said that he panicked and he very much regretted how he responded (on the night),” he added.
Gardai had found the councillor, following a lengthy foot chase, behind a bush in a derelict site not far from the churchyard
The 51 year old father of four had denied driving while over the alcohol limit at Ballymacoda in east Cork on August 21 2012.
Judge Finn in Youghal District Court was told by Garda Cillian Barry that he was conducting a routine checkpoint at midnight.
He spotted a car approaching the checkpoint and, after it halted at a nearby junction, the vehicle turned to the left with its wheels spinning.
The officers immediately pursued the car which later stopped in the car park of a church at Ballydaniel.
Garda Barry told the court the motorist jumped from the car and ran away.
The officers followed and saw the man jumping over a wall from the churchyard which leads into a derelict yard.
Judge Finn was told the officers repeatedly shouted at the man to stop and identified themselves as gardai.
Garda Barry said he spotted Cllr Hegarty in a bush in the darkened yard and instructed him to come out.
After cautioning Cllr Hegarty of Moanroe, Ladysbridge, Co Cork, Garda Barry said he responded: “I just panicked – I had a few drinks”.
Gardai said they were later informed he had attended a local GAA meeting and had consumed a number of drinks before heading home.
Garda Barry said that he detected a smell of alcohol from Cllr Hegarty and that he was speaking to them in a slurred voice.
A breath sample provided at the scene delivered a ‘fail’ reading.
An intoxyliser test at Midleton Garda Station later delivered a result of 61 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.
This was almost twice the permitted alcohol driving limit.
Judge Finn yesterday agreed to postpone the commencement of Cllr Hegarty’s driving disqualification toJune 1 to allow him get his affairs in order.
The politician has no previous convictions and, the court was told, was a long-standing supporter of the work of gardai.
Cllr Hegarty, who is an auctioneer by profession, was listed last August in Stubbs Gazette as owing €81,823 to the Revenue Commissioners.
That followed a High Court case on August 16 which involved the Collector General’s arm of the Revenue Commissioners.
Mr Hegarty has since said that he is now working on a repayment process with Revenue.
“I am hoping that this issue can be sorted out,” he said.
The sum is linked to difficulties experienced by Cllr Hegarty’s business given the recession and property market collapse.
He led the 22-member FG group on the Cork Co Council for five years.
Cllr Hegarty has insisted he intends to continue as a councillor for the Ladysbridge/Ballymacoda area having first been elected in 1985.