A MAN jailed for breaching Covid-19 restrictions after driving 450km from Derry to Kerry to buy two puppies, said one of the animals was for his son who has autism.
Kevin McGowan (36) made the 11-hour round trip last week to bring the Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog home to his little boy (6), who he says is struggling during lockdown.
The dad, from the Creggan estate in Derry city, admitted to ignoring garda orders to turn back after being found over 400km from home.
But he said at that stage he was just 10 minutes away from the picking up the dogs and “took a chance” to drive on.
“I know I maybe shouldn’t have made that trip but I didn’t see any other way of getting the dogs,” McGowan told the ‘Sunday World’.
“My wee boy is autistic and I was getting the dog for him. Because of this lockdown his routine is all up the left so I thought if I got him a wee dog it would maybe help.
“I didn’t even get the chance to tell them that, because the guy who stopped me said that I left early in the morning to avoid the checkpoints. But I left early in the morning because it’s a long drive and I wanted to get home early.
“I even phoned the woman I was buying the dogs off and told her that the guards were sending me back.
“I asked them (gardaí) could she come to me with the dogs and he said, ‘if she comes here I’ll arrest her too’.
“I thought it was a bit unfair, especially when you see yesterday that 180 Bulgarians were allowed in to pick strawberries.
“I didn’t even get out of the car. I left the house, drove down to get the dog and was driving straight back home.
“There was a girl in Belfast who had bought one as well and because I was making the trip down I was actually said I’d bring hers home with me so she didn’t have to leave the house. She was going to make arrangements to meet me.”
The 36-year-old was stopped at around 9.45am at a checkpoint under Operation Fanacht – set up to ensure compliance with Covid-19 guidelines – at Dooneen, near Castleisland, Co Kerry.
He claimed he was travelling as part of his work for a security firm, telling gardaí he was going to Tralee to turn off an alarm.
When he failed to produce photographic ID or a driving licence he was ordered to return to Derry.
It was reported that the Derry man – who actually works as an air conditioning engineer – then drove off.
A description was circulated to other garda units in the area which resulted in McGowan’s arrest a short time later.
McGowan denied that he made off from the checkpoint.
“It was 294 miles from my house to where I was going, by the time I got stopped there was 14 miles of the journey left.
“He (garda) told me to turn round and go back, but I got to the roundabout and thought, it’s only 14 more miles and took a chance and I drove on.
“By the time I got on the road another car came with the lights on came flying after me.”
McGowan was then arrested and brought to Tralee Garda Station.
He was then brought before Judge David Waters at Tralee District Court.
McGowan pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and he was sentenced to a month in jail.
He has been freed on bail via a recognisance of €900 pending an appeal. McGowan said he doesn’t know what to expect when he returns to court.
“I’m hoping that maybe the judge was in a bad mood that day and I’ll get fined instead,” he said.
“I don’t know and no one seems to be able to give me advice as it’s new legislation.
“I’ve heard they’ve had to let some prisoners out of jails to help with social distancing so maybe they won’t add to that by jailing me too,” he added.
He also revealed that his little boy would still be getting the dog, all the way from Co Kerry.
“We’ve been telling my wee boy for ages about the pup but luckily I didn’t tell him I was getting it yesterday because I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.
“But I’m actually getting the dog tomorrow. The girl in Belfast knows a fella who transports greyhounds so he’s going to do it.”
McGowan will appear before Kerry Circuit Appeals Court in the coming weeks.