Wednesday 17 January 2018

Gardai will never be respected if they keep alienating the public

Failure to pay your motor tax is a major fault, but it should not result in fear and humiliation, writes Marie Crowe

I have to hold my hands up and say I was wrong. I had no tax on my car, and I deserved to be punished -- as in pay an appropriate fine, plus the back tax, plus this year's tax. That's about right, isn't it? Unfortunately, I wasn't that lucky.

Last Tuesday, I was driving to Dublin airport from Clare with my brother Timmy. He is 18, and this was a big day in his life. He had been selected for the first time to represent Ireland at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar.

En route to the airport we were pulled out of traffic on the N7 by men in uniforms, and informed that the car was going to be seized. I explained to these men in uniforms about my brother's trip to the World Championships as he removed his Ireland gear bags from the car. I explained it was my responsibility to get him to the airport on time.

The whole situation had all the characteristics of an elaborate car-jacking. These were men in uniforms all right, garda uniforms, but it was only as one of them drove off in my car that doubt set in.

As I stood and watched my car disappear, the thought struck me I might never see it again -- had I just been conned out of a perfectly good Mini Cooper?

Because a garda would identify himself, a garda would tell me where my car was being taken to and a garda would issue me with a receipt for me to produce on reclaiming it. But despite repeated requests, none of these were done for me.

The other guard dropped us a few hundred metres up along the N7 and told us to call someone to pick us up. Bear in mind this is one of the busiest roadways in the Republic with cars speeding by at motorway speeds.

There was no footpath for us to walk safely on, but that didn't seem to matter as we were abandoned on the side of the road in rush-hour traffic. I was distressed and reiterated to him that we were not from Dublin and that we had to go to the airport as my brother was on his way to represent his country.

To which he replied "if ye keep walking ye will find a hotel and this is your own fault for not taxing your car".

He then drove off leaving us on the busy N7 dual carriageway complete with my brother's Irish team luggage and no transport to take us to the airport.

We walked to the Louis Fitzgerald hotel where the staff made some inquiries about the whereabouts of my car and helped organise lifts for us.

Four garda stations were contacted before I was able to locate my car. It was at a compound in Airton Road and for every extra day it is left there the cost increases. If I waited to receive the offered correspondence from the guards the expense of retrieving my car would have increased significantly.

My brother made his flight and I back-taxed my car and got it released from the compound.

It all came back to me on Friday night during an episode of Traffic Blues on RTE. A similar situation to mine occurred. A non-national was apprehended for having no tax. However, he also had no valid insurance disc. After informing him that they would be seizing his car, the gardai then insisted on dropping him to his preferred destination for safety reasons.

On seeing the treatment received by the man on the show, I put a call into the Garda Press Office to find out why he was afforded a lift and we weren't.

I was told by the press officer that "there is no set protocol or procedure. What happens is at the discretion of the officer." And with regards to safety, "all factors are taken into consideration." Is the N7 during rush hour traffic a safe place to leave pedestrians with luggage? I wouldn't have thought so.

I am fully aware I am at fault for not having tax on my car, but my brother and I did not deserve to be left stranded on the side of the N7. He is an 18-year-old Leaving Cert student who was on his way to represent his country.

If the gardai want to be respected by the general public, alienating people is not the way to go about it.

Sunday Independent

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