independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

TD 'abused privilege' by naming writer and rugby player over penalty points

Paul Williams (left) and Ronan O'Gara

A TD was accused of abusing Dail privilege by naming a rugby hero and journalist in the penalty points row.

Ireland rugby ace Ronan O'Gara and crime writer Paul Williams were the latest high-profile figures to be named in the Dail for having penalty points cancelled by the gardai.

It came as the garda investigation continues into claims by a garda sergeant that thousands of penalty points for road traffic offences had been cancelled on appeal to a garda superintendent.

Independent TD Joan Collins named the Munster out-half O'Gara and Mr Williams as being among the motorists who had penalty points written off.

The Irish Independent has learned Mr Williams' penalty points came about as he was making his way to a medical emergency involving a "family relative".

He has been a contributor to this newspaper in recent months on matters relating to the criminal justice system.

Ms Collins was accused of abusing her Dail privilege, which protects against being sued for remarks made in the chamber.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said it was a total disgrace for people to be "named and shamed" in the House.

He said it was wrong to imply that anyone who had penalty points cancelled was getting special treatment.

This newspaper last month first revealed that at least two judges, a sports star and TV presenter were among those who had points written off, according to a garda whistleblower.

But Mr Shatter said there were only 197 allegations made in relation to 1.46 million penalty points applied via "fixed charge notices" over the past three-and-a-half years.

"From the interim report I received, I have noted that some of the cancellations of fixed-charge notices relate to ordinary individuals who are not VIPs," he said.

Mr Shatter said some of the people had penalty points written off because they were not the owner of the car identified by the speed camera.

"There have been other instances, including one in which a young child was being taken to hospital in an emergency," he said.

A superintendent has the power to cancel points if he receives an appeal in writing, outlining the grounds why the offender feels the points should not be applied.

Mr Shatter warned TDs not to assume all cancellations were inappropriate.

Independent TD Mick Wallace complained that the authorities had given "no protection" to the garda whistleblowers who had come forward with allegations of 100,000 cases of penalty points being written off.

He raised concerns that there might be a "cover-up".

But Mr Shatter said there would be no cover-up of anything on his watch – as he vowed that the allegations would be properly investigated by the gardai.

"There will be no special treatment because they are celebrity or pal of someone. Under my watch, the law will be applied," he said.

Irish Independent

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