FORMER Minister Jim McDaid drunkenly drove up the wrong side of a busy dual carriageway before a concerned haulier brought a madcap chase to a safe end.
The Fianna Fail TD and former minister was then arrested by a plainclothes garda who had also joined the pursuit.
It is understood he stopped his car after the haulier, who had been pursuing him, used his articulated vehicle to block two lanes of a roundabout.
As Dr McDaid last night unreservedly apologised for his behaviour, details of his bizarre behaviour emerged.
The Donegal TD was apparently returning from the Punchestown racing festival on Tuesday night.
An eyewitness said Dr McDaid was still wearing a badge for the Punchestown races when he was stopped. The lorry driver had spotted him at some time between 10pm and 11pm driving on the N7, heading from the direction of Dublin towards Kildare.
The TD turned left on a slip road from the N7, heading for Newbridge, and came to Newhall roundabout.
There, he turned right and drove the wrong way around the Newhall roundabout before going up the wrong side of the dual carriageway known locally as the Newbridge Road.
Other vehicles, which met the TD's brand new Volvo, were seen swerving to avoid the car. At one stage an ambulance also met him, flashing its lights.
Staying in contact with the gardai, the haulier continued on his side of the dual carriageway and flashed lights to alert vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
Finally, the haulier was able to get to the Togher roundabout in advance of the TD and used his truck to block two lanes and halt the car's progress.
The haulier then got out and removed the keys from the ignition of Dr McDaid's car. A plainclothes Garda, who had also joined the pursuit, made the arrest before uniformed gardai arrived.
An eyewitness who observed the TD when his car was finally stopped said: "He was civilised but at the same time he did not know what he was doing." He described him as being "very, very drunk". He added: "If he had met an articulated truck there would have been phenomenal damage."
Details of his arrest emerged as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made a plea in the Dail for motorists to drive responsibly and with care for others over the bank holiday weekend.
Officially, gardai have only confirmed a car was stopped just outside Naas, Co Kildare and a man was arrested under Section 49 of the Road Traffic Act for driving under the influence of alcohol, and later released.
They said the man was taken to Naas Garda station and later released. Samples have been sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.
As news of the development spread yesterday, Dr McDaid issued a brief statement apologising for the incident. He said: "I wish to unreservedly apologise for my serious lapse in behaviour last night. It was completely wrong of me to drive a car while under the influence of drink. This will now be a matter for the G?rdai to deal with."
The former minister said he accepted that, as a public representative, he had a particular obligation to uphold the law. "I wish to apologise to my family, my constituents and to the Gardai," he added.
News of the arrest came as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern yesterday reiterated the Government's commitment to tackling road safety.
But he warned: "You cannot have a garda on every road, on every motorway, on every back road in the country to monitor people's habits of driving. You have to appeal to the good sense of drivers."
Mr Ahern appointed Dr McDaid to his first Cabinet in 1997 as Minister for Tourism and Sport. He lost out in the 2002 Cabinet team and was appointed a Junior Minister at the transport department.
Since his return to the backbenches last September after the Taoiseach's ministerial reshuffle, Dr McDaid has publicly disputed Mr Ahern's claim that he resigned and insisted he was sacked.
As Junior Transport Minister in November 2002, he spearheaded the Government's anti-drink driving campaign. At the launch of that campaign he warned: "Some drivers still choose to ignore our drink driving laws and as a result innocent lives are destroyed."
He said the National Safety Council's campaign, called Shame, sent a forceful message that drinking and driving carried high-risk consequences.
The then minister said drink-driving was not acceptable at any time of the year.