A LOCAL mother’s lengthy campaign to strengthen the country’s drink driving laws has finally come to fruition.
Christina Donnelly’s youngest son Brendan and his friend Lee Salkeld were killed in a road crash caused by a drunk driver outside Castlemartyr in October 2009 as they travelled to Cork Airport.
Throughout the past seven years, Christina has campaigned tirelessly through ‘Brendan’s Law’ in order to bring about changes in legislation surrounding drink driving in Ireland.
A key element of ‘Brendan’s Law’ is the condition that drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes would not be permitted to drive while they are awaiting trial.
Christina has brought her campaign for the implementation of ‘Brendan’s Law’ to Leinster House on numerous occasions and, last week, the Bail (Amendment) Bill was approved for publication by the Cabinet.
Reacting to the news, Christina says she has received the best Christmas gift she could get.
“I now have my Christmas wish thank God,” she said.
“This will never bring our loved ones back but it will offer some semblance of justice to bereaved families in the future and could also save lives. During the years I have been campaigning to strengthen the law, I have been contacted by families from all over Ireland and Europe who believe this is the correct thing to do.
My heart is broken when I think of Brendan but some good has come from our many years fighting for change.”
Christina says she has been motivated to keep campaigning thanks to all of the messages of support she has received from people across the world, particularly through the ‘Brendan’s Law’ Facebook page.
“I was determined I would never give up on this. I want to thank everybody who has supported me along the way,” she said.
“I’ve had thousands of messages of support. I’ve received messages from Australia, New Zealand, from throughout the US, from Irish people in Cambodia, Venezuela, and so many people across the UK.”
She continued: “This is the best Christmas present I could get. It truly still hasn’t sunk in yet, but I’m looking forward to getting that official handshake in Leinster House. This is not a campaign of vengeance. It is a campaign of justice for those who have been bereaved and for families of the future that will get that awful knock on the door.”
She believes a culture of drink driving has existed in Ireland for so long because of a lack of deterrents.
“The laws have not been strong enough in this country for drunk drivers. Up until now, they were free to leave a Garda station and resume driving again until such time as they appeared before a judge. They could still go to work and go about their normal lives until they went before the courts,” she said.
“I was baffled that somebody, regardless of how far over the limit they had been, could leave a Garda Station and get into a motor vehicle which is a lethal weapon.
It’s a privilege to be able to hold a driving license in this country and you should not abuse that privilege. If you want to abuse it, and if you destroy lives in doing so, then you have to pay the price. People like myself have been left serving a life sentence.”
She continued: “I hope this will change people’s views on drinking and driving. It’s important that all drivers all over the country absorb this as there is a view that ‘this will never happen to me’. Alcohol is still a contributing factor in a large percentage of the fatalities on our roads.”
Minister of State John Halligan paid tribute to Christina’s dedication to the campaign and her commitment to supporting other bereaved families, describing the legislation as “long overdue”.
“Minister Ross promised myself and Christina that his Department was examining ways to strengthen the law around serious road traffic offences and he has been true to his word. The new Bail (Amendment) Bill will provide for stricter bail conditions so that a court will be able to prohibit a person charged with a serious road traffic offence causing a fatality from driving until their trial,” he said.
“As Christina has said since she started her campaign, this will reduce the risk of further road traffic offences being committed while an accused person is out on bail. She deserves great credit for her tireless campaign in bringing Brendan’s tragic story to the Dáil. Christina’s objective is to ensure that we can try and stop this from happening to another family. The amount of support for Christina from TDs across the Dáil is overwhelming.”
Commenting on the change to bail laws, Transport Minister Shane Ross said: “I hope that this proposal may provide some comfort to those families who, like Christina, have lost a loved one through the selfish act of a driver who has committed a serious road traffic offence including a drunk or drug driver who has been charged with dangerous driving causing death. It sends out a strong message to those who commit serious road traffic offences that you may now lose your licence to drive in advance of any conviction in court.”
The Bail (Amendment) Bill is expected to be passed when it comes before the Dáil in early January.