Former TD tells court of shock at being pepper sprayed by garda following 'pursuit'

By Gordon Deegan

Former Clare Labour TD, Michael McNamara told a court yesterday that he was “utterly and completely shocked” when pepper sprayed by a garda outside his home in December 2016.

In evidence at Ennis District Court, Mr McNamara (43) said that “my eyes were burning out of my head” after Garda Darren McLoughlin pepper-sprayed him just after 2.10am on December 10th 2016.

In the case, Garda McLoughlin had pursued Mr McNamara in his patrol car to his home at Tobernagath, Scarriff in east Clare on suspicion that Mr McNamara had consumed an intoxicant due to the manner of his driving.

Mr McNamara passed a breath test for alcohol at Killaloe Garda Station later that night when found to be substantially under the limit but was yesterday banned for two years and fined €400 after Judge John King convicted him of dangerous driving on the night.

Judge King said that there was evidence that Mr McNamara was driving at excessive speed in a dark, narrow, undulating road and taking the centre of the road.

He said: “IF there was a pedestrian on that road? If there was a cyclist?”

Counsel for Mr McNamara, Martin Dully BL said that a driving ban for Mr McNamara “will be exceptionally disastrous for this man”.

Mr Dully said that there was evidence that Mr McNamara was driving 20km in excess of the speed limit and "what you have here is not dangerous driving, it couldn’t possibly be”.

Mr Dully said Mr McNamara is a man "of exemplary character" and has no previous convictions.

Judge King dismissed a second charge against Mr McNamara that he had obstructed a Garda in the course of his duties.

Judge King said that it would "unfair and unsafe" to convict Mr McNamara of the obstruction charge as Garda McLoughlin had not specifically advised Mr McNamara that he was invoking Section 7 of the Road Traffic Act concerning a Garda entering the curtilage of a person’s dwelling without a warrant.

In evidence, Mr McNamara told the court that he was temporarily “blinded” by the use of the pepper spray by Garda McLoughlin to his eyes, mouth and nose outside his home.

Mr Dully said that Garda McLoughlin “emptied the entire contents of the pepper spray can inches away from Mr McNamara’s face”.

Mr McNamara told the court: “I will never forget it as long as I live - in my own yard, pepper sprayed, hand-cuffed and thrown into the back of a car.”

Mr McNamara said that he was not abusive during any stage of the night.

Mr McNamara denied evidence from Garda McLoughlin that he made three separate attempts to dash into his home on the night and that Garda McLoughlin applied the pepper spray on Mr McNamara’s third attempt when trying to restrain him.

Mr McNamara told the court that he believes that his arrest on the night was unlawful.

Mr McNamara said that he told Garda McLoughlin in the yard outside his home: “I have done nothing wrong. This is crazy and I would like you to leave now. I want to go to bed.”

Mr McNamara said that he had a couple of drinks earlier that night at McNamara’s pub in Scarriff with the cast of a local production of ’Oliver’. Mr McNamara said that he had a small part in the production.

Mr Dully said that Garda McLouglin’s actions towards Mr McNamara were “over the top and utterly unreasonable”.

In reply, Garda McLoughlin said: “I would say it was quite the opposite...I never encountered such a situation that night."

The court heard from Garda McLoughlin that during the incident, Mr McNamara twice escaped from a Garda patrol car outside his home and made a third dash for his front door from a bench in the yard.

Mr McNamara denied this course of events.

Garda McLoughlin said that Mr McNamara had earlier ignored his patrol car’s blue lights and sirens as he pursued Mr McNamara on a 1.8km stretch between Scarriff post office and Mr McNamara’s home.

Garda McLoughlin said that Mr McNamara was driving at a speed of 100km in a 80km zone and that Mr McNamara was taking bends on the country road in the middle of the road during the pursuit.

The Garda said that he followed Mr McNamara to a house and he saw Mr McNamara get out of his car and walked briskly towards the house. This was denied by Mr McNamara who told the court that he had a conversation with Garda McLoughlin while he was sitting is his car.

Garda McLoughlin said that he prevented Mr McNamara from gaining access to his home and he handcuffed Mr McNamara from the front. He said: "I did this as he had failed to stop driving, had failed to stop walking towards the door and for my own safety."

Garda McLoughlin said that he didn’t know Mr McNamara was at the time and he didn’t recognise him.

Ten years in the force, Garda McLoughlin said that he had never used pepper spray before and much of the spray went over his own hands. Garda McLoughlin said that his hands were burning until 5pm the same day.

Mr McNamara lost his Clare seat in the February 2016 General Election to GP, Dr Michael Harty after the east Clare man polled 4,472 first preference votes.

Mr McNamara was first elected to the Dáil in 2011.

Mr McNamara crossed the political divide during the lifetime of the last Dáil when he married Sarah-Jane Hillery, a fellow barrister and granddaughter of former president and Fianna Fáil Minister, Patrick Hillery.

Judge King fixed recognisance in the event of an appeal against the dangerous driving conviction.

 

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