A WEXFORD mother and business woman was jailed during Christmas week for not paying a planning enforcement fine.
Margaret Butler, the owner of Sea Breeze dry cleaners and launderette in Carrig-on-Bannow spent three days in Mountjoy Prison, part of it in a padded cell.
She was subjected to strip searches as she entered and left the prison and shared a cell with a drug smuggler and a woman on theft charges.
Margaret's crime was that she failed to pay a fine imposed in the District Court for operating a mobile chip van on the forecourt of her premises without planning approval.
She ran the chip van for a year from 2006 to 2007 before opening her dry cleaning business. She was taken to court by Wexford County Council for not complying with an enforcement notice to cease the unauthorised development.
The Judge fined her €400 with €842.80 expenses and €500 costs in May 2009 with five days in prison in default and when the money was not paid by the due date in July, a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Margaret sent a cheque for €400 to the District Court office a few days before the final payment date, offering to pay instalments of €100 per month but it was returned to her, as the office had no authority to accept an instalment plan.
On Monday of Christmas week, Margaret was brought to Mountjoy Prison in a squad car by two gardaí from Carrig-onBannow station and spent three days and two nights in jail.
Her four children Sheiff (20), Jasmin (17), Jusef (12) and Abraham (10) were allowed to speak to her once by telephone during her incarceration.
Margaret was released from prison on Wednesday evening and given a train ticket to return to Wexford. She arrived home in Carrig-on-Bannow at midnight to a tearful reunion with her family.
'I'm feeling worse since I got out. I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't sleep. I keep making mistakes,' said Margaret.
One of her most embarrassing moments in prison was having to take a shower in front of female prison officers, she said.
When she was initially told by the Governor that she could be in prison for Christmas, she became very upset.
She tried to remain calm during the phone call her children were allowed to make. 'They wanted to know what prison was like. I said I would tell them when I got home.'
The children's Egyptian father Mahmoud, who lives in London, was in Carrig-on-Bannow for Christmas and took care of them while Margaret was in jail.
The morning after her release, Christmas Eve, she opened her dry cleaners to finish outstanding customer orders and didn't get the time to do Christmas shopping.
Geraldine O'Grady of the Village Shop and her sister-in-law Irene Bohana and partner Paddy came to the rescue by delivering a turkey and vegetables to her that night.
'They were so kind. A lot of people have come up and shook my hand and said fair dues to you but I think there are mixed feelings out there,' she said.
Margaret said she didn't pay the fine for a number of reasons, one being that she didn't feel she had done anything wrong. When a Council enforcement officer arrived the day after she opened the chip van, she said she told her she was only trying to make a living for her family.
Magaret is a hard-working single mother who is raising her children without support from the State. She obtained a food stall licence from the HSE to operate the mobile chipper.
'I felt I didn't do anything wrong. Why should I have to pay? There are people out there getting away with murder,' she said.
She is also struggling to keep her business going in a recession and couldn't afford to pay the fine and expenses, she said.
'I did it to make a stand more than anything,' she added.
Margaret's son Yusef had his 12th birthday the weekend before she went to prison but the celebration was postponed until his mother came out of prison with the family enjoying a visit to the cinema together.
Margaret is putting a brave face on her prison experience but feeling stressed as she attempts to put it behind her. 'I'm all over the place. I'm not myself at all since I came back. It's not easy being on your own.'