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Ruling may let banned motorists from Northern Ireland drive in Republic

By Greg Harkin

Published 10/02/2016

Hundreds of motorists banned for drink-driving in the UK may be able to continue driving in the Republic after a landmark ruling by an Irish Circuit Court judge
Hundreds of motorists banned for drink-driving in the UK may be able to continue driving in the Republic after a landmark ruling by an Irish Circuit Court judge

Hundreds of motorists banned for drink-driving in the UK may be able to continue driving in the Republic after a landmark ruling by an Irish Circuit Court judge.

The Republic's Road Safety Authority (RSA) is examining how it can change its procedures after a loophole in the law was exposed.

Judge John O'Hagan was hearing a District Court appeal involving Martin Holmes of Castlefinn, Co Donegal, who pleaded guilty at Omagh Magistrates Court in March 2014 to drink-driving.

In the Republic, Northern Irish driving bans are enforced through a Road Safety Authority (RSA) application to the courts.

Northern Ireland motorists barred from driving in the Republic have their bans imposed after receiving a notice of the conviction from the RSA.

However, Frank Dorrian, solicitor for Holmes, argued at the Circuit Court in Letterkenny that the procedure in the South was flawed because the RSA brings its applications by way of a District Court clerk-issued summons, which can only be served in criminal cases.

"The court clerk in this case was exercising jurisdiction which cannot apply to this situation," said Mr Dorrian.

Solicitor Jacqueline Maloney, for the RSA, said the cross-border recognition of driving bans was introduced under European legislation which had not been enacted "in our part of the world".

She argued the application to apply the ban in the Republic was a process that did not amount to criminal proceedings.

However, Judge O'Hagan agreed that the summons was not the proper "vehicle" for the application of a ban.

"It is for the administration to create vehicles to bring matters before the court," said the judge.

He added the procedure referred to a summons, and since the application in court was not an offence in the Republic, he was allowing the appeal. "The process is punctured and I cannot repair the puncture," he said.

Mr Holmes' two-year drink-drive ban in Northern Ireland expires at the end of March.

Northern Irish drivers banned in the Republic cannot make a legal challenge to the ban being extended at home.

The ban applies automatically because of the way the UK signed up to the EU directive on cross-border disqualifications.

The RSA has withdrawn a number of other cases as the bans had since expired.

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