Three men have avoided conviction at Longford District Court last week after they were charged with “recklessly permitting” a horst to pose a danger to other road users while driving horse-drawn sulkies on the N4.
Martin Anthony McGinley of 5 Glack View, Longford, Christy McGinley and Martin McGinley, both of 33 Glack, Longford, told the court last week that they were exercising their horses at Coolnahinch, Longford on June 12, 2020, when they were stopped by gardaí.
On that day, shortly after 11am, gardaí received a number of reports of three males racing sulkies on the N4. Garda Allan Doherty and Garda Rachel Carlin made their way to the where they observed the three sulkies on the hard shoulder.
Sgt Mark Mahon, for the prosecution, explained that gardaí had stopped at “a safe distance” ahead of the sulkies to try and stop them, “but they turned onto the main road” and almost collided with an agricultural truck.
Solicitor for the defence, Frank Gearty, insisted that a person “is entitled to drive a horse lawfully on any road” and argued that the driver of the truck was partially at fault for the near collision.
“The truck driver should be prosecuted. The three sulkies were travelling. One horse panicked and pulled out,” said Mr Gearty.
“Mr McGinley tried to control it but there was a squad car with lights. There was a truck on the road. He lost control.”
Giving his evidence, Gda Doherty explained that the initial reports received by gardaí were of three sulkies racing on the road.
“When we arrived, we parked the car 200 yards away on the hard shoulder and activated the blue lights. We put on our flourescent jackets so we would be seen,” he said.
“They were in single file and a distance from each other. They weren’t racing. They weren’t going flat out. They were going at a nice pace, maybe 15 or 20 kilometres per hour, I wouldn’t know for sure.
“We signalled them to stop. The first sulky stopped. The second and third said that they were unable to stop.
“There was an articulated truck behind them coming down from the Ballinalee roundabout. The sulkies veered out onto the road and the truck had to brake suddenly and veer out of its lane. The two sulkies kept going and the one that stopped, we told to keep going and we escorted him back to the yard.
“There would have been a serious accident if the truck had collided with one of the sulkies. I instantly thought that an accident was going to take place.”
Gda Doherty added that there was good visibility at the time and conditions were dry. When he and Gda Carlin got to the yard, they obtained the three men’s details.
“If they continued on the path they were on, they weren’t interfering with traffic. Can a sulky be on the lefthandside of a carriageway?” asked Judge Seamus Hughes.
Inspector Paddy McGirl explained that the sulkies are entitled to be on the road but that the action of evading gardaí was the issue.
“When Gda Doherty indicated for them to stop, there was 200 yards between them,” he said.
“It was the action of veering onto the road to avoid gardaí.”
Mr Gearty noted that the gardaí had parked at a safe distance and given the three men enough time to see them signalling but reminded the court that the men weren’t the only driving force behind the sulkies.
“The horses are the main movers of the sulkies and they’re animals. You parked along the pathway they were travelling,” he told Gda Doherty.
“I gave them plenty of space to see me,” Gda Doherty replied.
“The truck driver would have seen the Garda car and the three sulkies about to come up to the car. The truck should have slowed down,” said Mr Gearty.
“He was able to break and veer out. I believe he took enough care,” said Gda Doherty.
The court also heard from one of the accused that, while one of the men stopped for gardaí, he was unable to stop as he was driving a horse with “less road experience”.
He insisted that he alerted gardaí to the fact that he was unable to stop and asked them to follow him to the stables, which were approximately 100 yards away.
“The horses that veered out onto the road might not be the culprits,” said Judge Hughes.
“The culprit might be the horse behind, or someone who shouted at the horse. So all three are complicit. I’m not going to put any blame on the horses. There’s no real control over that apparatus. A horse can bolt.”
“When gardaí came upon them, they were coming towards their own premises,” said Mr Gearty.
“The fact of the matter is if there was a serious accident, anybody with common sense would say the sulkies were responsible,” Judge Hughes replied.
“But in the countryside, you are always warned to slow down if you see a horse on the road. These horses haven’t been out since,” Mr Gearty argued.
“Well then your horses must be very stiff,” Judge Hughes remarked to the three accused.
One of the men stood up to explain that he and his family “don’t race our horses” and that they just do “pony rides for charity events”.
He added that they have family carriages and two-seater carriaged and the they were using two-seater carriages on that particular day to exercise their horses. No racing took place.
Accepting this explanation, Judge Hughes asked Inspector McGirl, “do you think there’s much sulky racing taking place in Longford?”
“No,” said Inspector McGirl, “and in fairness to Gda Doherty, he acted very promptly and he did say they weren’t racing at the time.”
Judge Hughes noted that there was no accident and ordered Section 1 (2) of the Probation of Offenders Act, inflicting no punishment on the three accused.