“We got there in the end,” said Christina Donnelly, when speaking to The Munster Express after the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Dáil by 75 votes to eight. “It’s been a long battle, but it’s one I’m glad I stayed the course with. It’s a massive change for road safety in Ireland and it’s one I’m proud to have played my part in.”
Christina’s world was turned upside down when her son Brendan (24) and friend Lee Salkeld (26) were killed when the car in which they were travelling was struck by a drunk driveron the N25 at Caherulton, Castlemartyr (Co Cork) at 2.45am on October 26th, 2009.In November 2010, Anthony Long (then aged 29), was jailed for five years at Cork Circuit Criminal Court after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of both Mr Donnelly and Mr Salkeld. He was also disqualified from driving for 15 years.
The case heard that Long told Gardaí he’d consumed 11 cans and bottles of beer, seven pints of beer, two vodkas, three shots of ‘Aftershock’ and a line of cocaine before deciding to get behind the wheel that fateful night.Having missed his turn for home, Long continued along the N25, intending to turn at Castlemartyr. His Ford Mondeo was travelling at speed and crossed onto the wrong side of the road when it hit the Volkswagen Polo – most severely on the passenger side, killing both Mr Donnelly (who was in front) and Mr Salkeld instantly.Since the death of her son, Christina Donnelly had campaigned for a change in the laws in relation to drink driving in the State, now referred to nationally as ‘Brendan’s Law’.
The main plank of ‘Brendan’s Law’ was see a condition implemented whereby drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes would not be permitted to drive while awaiting trial.Should the Bill progress through the Seanad, the amended law will lead to a three-month ban for first time drink driving offenders should their blood-alcohol level of between 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres and 80 milligrams/100 millilitres. As things stand, drivers caught at such levels receive three penalty points but are not subject to a driving ban.
In addition, the amended law would increase penalties for car owners who allow learner drivers to drive unaccompanied in their vehicles.”What the past nine years have proven to me is that anyone who is fighting for a good cause should never give up,” said Christine. “Someone has to be the voice for a lost loved one and the sad thing about this new piece of legislation is that it can’t bring back those we’ve lost at the hands of a drunk driver but it is going to bring some semblance of justice and comfort…and to those who will regrettably but almost certainly get the knock on the door that I did in due course – that being the nature of things – at least such families will have the satisfaction of knowing that the person who has caused a fatality or serious injury has been taken off the road until they appear before a judge.”
Expressing her relief at the change in the law, Christina Donnelly admitted that her grief for Brendan had been somewhat eased following the vote in the Dáil. “I’ll never, ever get over the loss of Brendan – he’s on my mind first thing in the morning and last thing at night, a fine young man killed for no reason at all, but I do feel a great sense of satisfaction that something good has come out of his loss. But I wouldn’t wish for any other parent to have to try and fight for something good to come out of having an empty chair at the table. But I am delighted that I never gave up and that I kept plugging away.”
Christina Donnelly concluded: “I want to offer a sincere thank you to the people of Waterford and from further afield who has been in touch through the Brendan’s Law Facebook page since the vote in the Dáil. I have had hundreds of messages in the past two weeks and it’s been absolutely overwhelming. And to everyone who has supported me throughout this process and kept me going, all I can say is thank you, I’ll be forever indebted to each and every one of you. On the bad days, on the tough days, and there’s been quite a few of them, that support and care has kept me going.
“And if there happens to be anyone reading this article who is still taking chances, who is still drinking and driving, despite all the lives that have been lost on our roads, despite all the people who are left with life altering injuries due to a drunk driver, please, please, please think about what you’re doing. And please change this terrible habit. Think about the potential consequences of your actions and, God forbid, think of the implications of your behaviour for your own family, or someone else’s, and think about that dreaded knock on the door which so many parents and loved ones like myself have had to face.”