Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

The drink-drive advert Geraldine should be in

The police star of an anti-drink drive advert has been punished for drinking and driving. But she has a role to play in the campaign, says Jude Collins

Is PSNI Constable Geraldine Donnelly better-looking than her female colleagues? Probably, since she was chosen to feature in that TV ad campaign against drink-driving. When presenting the public with a corporate image, companies make sure those chosen as part of that image are easy on the eye, and it's fair to assume the PSNI gave some attention to such matters.

Mind you, they may have debated some before deciding on Ms Donnelly (above). The babe quotient in the ranks of PSNI women officers is notably high, to the point where Gregory Campbell may soon abandon his complaints about Protestants being disadvantaged in PSNI recruitment and start champion- ing the cause of ordinary looking women unsuccessful in their application to join the service.

But whoa - let's not get sidetracked. Ms Donnelly is in the public eye these days because she herself was found guilty of drink-driving, was fined £120 and lost her driving licence for a year. What you might call an own-goal, and an expensive one at that, since it's hard to see how those drink-drive ads can continue to be used without people starting to throw things at their TV screen. Pepsi had a similar experience with its ads when chief endorser Madonna aired her Like A Prayer video.

As it happens, however, Ms Donnelly's appearance in the drink-drive ad is also a distraction. The core of this controversy is that Ms Donnelly has been convicted of drink-driving and is still working as a PSNI officer, even though in March 2006 Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton promised that any officer caught drink-driving would be ejected from the ranks. So why not Ms Donnelly? Top cop Leighton's explanation is that each drink-driving case must be looked at individually. What if a parent over the limit had to rush a sick child to hospital? he says.

The question raises a number of issues, the first one of which is that the Deputy Chief Constable appears to be either writing a play in his head or talking through his baseball cap. Ms Donnelly wasn't rushing a sick child to hospital or anywhere else, so why introduce this reject plot from Casualty?

Central to her case is an issue that Mr Leighton doesn't discuss, and it's this: should people be punished more than once for the same crime? By establishing its drink-and-drive-and-you're-fired ruling, the PSNI is clearly saying that it sees punishment in the courts as insufficient.

One group of people familiar with this double jeopardy are former prisoners from the recent conflict. Having been punished by the courts for their actions, on their release they find any number of opportunities closed to them, including jobs within the civil service. Emergence from prison does not mean their slate has been wiped clean - the punishment continues indefinitely.

In terms of the police, we're told, the double punishment of sentencing in court and dismissal from the service exists because the police must have higher standards than other people. The idea is that if you are charged with upholding the law, you should be doubly scrupulous in observing it yourself. If you preach something, you'd better make sure you practise it.

This is a popular notion, widely accepted. In the 1980s, when Cecil Parkinson, a member of Maggie Thatcher's cabinet, was found to have fathered a child outside his marriage, there was outcry that the party of family values should contain such a prominent member.

Similarly, the disgust felt over revelations of sexual abuse among members of the Catholic clergy was widespread and deep because those found guilty had spent much time urging their flocks to walk the road of chastity. It's the hypocrisy of the thing that stinks. For such people, we feel, double punishment isn't half enough.

The only snag is, if you're going to condemn hypocrisy convincingly - if you're to point a steady finger and give an impressive roar of disapproval - you must be squeaky-clean yourself. Which is not always easy. Drink-driving, now: I'm opposed to that but I've done it, and more than once. In mitigation I didn't, like Geraldine Donnelly, smash into another car, and I did it several decades ago when drink-driving was at worst considered reckless and at best sort of endearing, and I wasn't caught. But I did it, which means if we apply the hypocrisy rule, I should keep my trap shut on the subject of booze mixing with petrol.

Except it's a rule I reject. "Use every man after his desserts, and who should scape whipping?" Shakespeare asked, and as usual he was right. If all our masks were stripped away, the nastiness and hypocrisy beneath would shock even those who love us. But that doesn't mean we don't give good advice when we warn others, including loved ones, against wrong-doing. It's the former sinner who is often the most convincing advocate of reform.

So no, the PSNI should not fire Geraldine Donnelly. She's already been punished. Instead, they should redraft those drink-driving ads and put the sad-and-lovely Ms Donnelly at the centre of them. She'll look the audience in the eye and say: "Hi. My name's Geraldine. I'm a drink-driver and I want to tell you why you shouldn't be as stupid as I was."

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