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Wednesday 24 January 2018

State papers - 1980: Colley took Valium to calm his nerves after state car crashed

Brian Hutton

Former Tanaiste George Colley was prescribed Valium to help him relax during car journeys while finance minister, newly released state files revealed yesterday.

The senior Fianna Fail figure's doctor recommended the sedatives for anxiety on chauffeured trips which began after he and his wife Mary were involved in a crash.

Confidential documents also reveal Mr Colley and his wife secured the equivalent of more than €30,000 compensation for the accident.

The pair had been returning from Sligo to Dublin in the early hours of April 15, 1978, when the ministerial car skidded on loose chippings at a sharp bend near Drumsna, Co Leitrim.

The assigned garda driver lost control of the Peugeot 604 as it careered from left to right on to a grass embankment before flipping over on to the road again and into bushes.

An official report said the car was so badly damaged it would have cost more to fix than to replace.

But the Colleys and their driver escaped with just minor cuts and had already made their way to a doctor in Carrick-on-Shannon by the time local gardai arrived at the scene.

However, a protracted claim against the State for personal damages -- including the cost of a gold lighter apparently lost in the crash -- reaped the finance minister and his wife IR£7,315 compensation -- equivalent to €32,236 today (according to the Central Bank).

Mr Colley suffered cuts to his scalp and legs, twisted his back and was struck days later with "severe delayed shock", according to his doctor.


Although the pain was all but gone during a check-up a year later, Dr Ciaran Barry said Mr Colley had become anxious getting into cars.

"He cannot relax when driving and remains tense throughout the car journey," he wrote in a letter, supporting the compensation claim.

"This, as you know, is a considerable disadvantage to a minister who had so much travelling to do."

Dr Barry said it was likely to take a year or more for Mr Coffey to get over the trauma.

"I have recommended that he have a small dose of Valium at the start of his journey to help him to relax and to settle down," he said.

A doctor's report on Mrs Colley showed she suffered cuts to her scalp, two black eyes, delayed shock and anxiety travelling in cars but was deemed to have no permanent ill effects.

The state files released under the 30-year rule show Mr Colley was "not all that pleased" with an original offer of IR£2,000 damages because he was no longer able to "snooze on long journeys".

After the chief state solicitor complained the case was "beginning to drag a bit", damages were eventually settled at IR£7,315 -- including medical costs -- with approval from the attorney general in May 1980.

Among the unvouched claims settled were for a gold cigarette lighter valued at IR£15 and a claim for a fee paid to a doctor in Carrick on Shannon of IR£15.

Accepting the settlement, Mr Colley's solicitors Hickey, Beauchamp, Kirwan and O'Reilly of Wellington Quay in Dublin said in a letter to the chief state solicitor: "We hope we can agree a reasonable sum for our fees without the necessity of taxation."

Irish Independent

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