Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has been convicted and fined €1,850 for driving continuously for six months without paying tax on her Mercedes car.
Mrs Healy Eames (50), from Maree, Oranmore, was not present at Galway District Court when four tax summons were dealt with. Senator Healy Eames pleaded guilty in her absence to driving without tax on dates in March, June and July last and to not having tax displayed when her car was seized in July. A fifth summons for making a false declaration was withdrawn by the State.
Garda Garrett Cafferkey gave evidence that he was on his way to work on 10 March in his private car when he saw the accused on her mobile phone while driving her Mercedes near her home. He recognised her but did not stop her car. He issued a ticket to her when he got into work for using her phone, which was subsequently paid.
He checked the Garda PULSE system and discovered the tax on her car had expired in January 2012. Garda Cafferkey said he again observed Senator Healy Eames driving her Merc near her home on 23 June last and while he didn’t stop her, he checked the PULSE system back at the Garda station and found the car tax had still not been paid since January.
Nine days later, he eventually stopped Senator Healy Eames driving near Galway City on 2 July and found a tax disc displayed on the car, which had expired in January 2012. She told him she had tried to sell the car and it had been off the road for a number of months. Garda Cafferkey seized the car and had it towed from the scene.
He contacted the Motor Tax Office the following day and discovered the vehicle had been back taxed for the month of May only but not for the months of February, March or April.
He said he checked with the motor tax office again on 12 December last and was told the arrears for February, March and April had been paid on 3 October last.
“So all of the arrears are up to date,” he said.
“Eventually,” Judge Mary Fahy replied.
Mrs Eames’ solicitor Coleman Sherry said there was no loss of revenue to the State.
“She is extremely contrite and you will not see her before the court again,” he said.
Judge Fahy observed a summons against Senator Healy Eames for making a declaration that the car was off the road when, in fact, the car was not off the road, had been withdrawn by the State.
That, she said, would have been the most serious offence and she could not have dealt with the case in the Senator’s absence if that summons had not been withdrawn by the State.
“The situation is that this lady was continuously driving a Mercedes car while employed by the State and in receipt of a good salary from the State and was not paying her car tax.
“I can understand if someone is busy or selling a car, but this car was on the road continuously,” Judge Fahy said.
Mr Sherry said he accepted that was the case and his client had come out with her hands up but there was no loss to the State.
“But it was not paid until October,” Judge Fahy reminded him.
Garda Cafferkey explained that the car was only back-taxed at first for May but then the arrears for February to April were paid in October.
“When somebody is in full employment of the State; it’s unprecedented in this court. However, there is a plea and while the solicitor says she is remorseful the court has to take into account the fact it was continuous,” the judge said.
Judge Fahy said the most serious offences were the ones which occurred after a chance had been given and she still continued to drive without tax.
Garda Cafferkey explained he had not stopped the Senator on the first two dates but stopped her for the first time in July when the car was seized.
Judge Fahy convicted and fined the Senator €250 for driving without tax on 10 March. She said the accused had ample opportunity to pay her tax before the offence was again detected on 23 June and she fined her €800 for driving without tax on that date for that reason.
Another €800 fine was imposed for the 2 July offence, while a summons for failing to display a correct tax disc on 2 July, when the car was seized, was taken into account.
Senator Healy Eames was given three months to pay the fines or serve ten days in prison in default.
“The rationale behind those fines is because the driver had ample opportunity to pay but failed to comply,” Judge Fahy explained.