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28 Jan 2022

‘Ambiguity in regard to Covid regulations’, says Longford judge

Longford Courthouse.

Two people who appeared in court last week for Covid-19 breaches have had their charges struck out, while a third has been fined €250 in his absence.

Two people who appeared in court last week for Covid-19 breaches have had their charges struck out, while a third has been fined €250 in his absence.

Chloe Madden, 47 Forthill, Aughnacliffe, Co Longford; Conor Heaney, Lisnanagh, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford (who did not appear in court) and Shane Comiskey, 62 Abhainn Glas, Edgeworthstown, were all before the courts for travelling in the same car, without wearing masks, despite being from three different households.

Garda Aidan Lenehan told the court that, on February 7, 2021, at 9.42pm at Main Street, Edgeworthstown, a public place, his attention was drawn to a black Audi A4. Gda Lenehan approached the car and spoke to the driver, who gave his name as Conor Heaney.

There were two other people in the car, front seat passenger Shane Comiskey, and a woman in the back.

“The girl in the back seat asked if she could go and get the food they had ordered and I said yes,” Gda Lenehan explained.
Upon further discussion with the two males in the car, Gda Lenehan found the defendants were from three different households.

“When taking details of the two males, I asked for the details of the back seat passenger and they gave her name as Chloe Madden from Aughnacliffe,” he said.

“While I was dealing with the two lads, there was no sign of her coming back, so I did a search of the area and of the take away and she was nowhere to be seen.

“I issued three fixed charge penalty notices and all three remain unpaid. I informed the males that it was a Covid fine and they would have 28 days to pay.”

Defence solicitor, Frank Gearty, informed the court that Chloe Madden believed someone “must have given her name” but insisted she wasn’t present.

“She did once live in Aughnacliffe but she now lives in Mohill,” he explained.

Gda Lenehan said that Ms Madden “looks similar” to the girl he met in the car that night and told the court that he “could say it was her definitively”.

Mr Gearty argued that his client, Mr Comiskey, was charged with leaving his place of residence during lockdown and suggested there was no allegation before the court of him being in a car without a mask.

“He was going to get food,” said Mr Gearty, reminding the court that regulations at the time cited a large list of reasons to leave your place of residence.

Gda Lenehan argued that Mr Comiskey lived within five kilometres of the takeaway and there was “nothing stopping them from walking 5km to the chipper” but, because they were in the car together, they were in close proximity.

“What is the precise regulation Mr Comiskey is prosecuted under?” asked Judge Owens. “An offence is not a matter of opinion. I’m asking what regulation he’s in breach of.”

Gda Lenehan informed her that Regulation 4 of the temporary restrictions in the Health Act, where “an applicable person shall not leave his or her place of residence without reasonable excuse”.

“If he was on the street walking, I wouldn’t have been talking to him but he was in a car with members of two other households,” said Gda Lenehan.

“Prohibition is on leaving the residence full stop,” Mr Gearty argued, “and there are a number of exceptions including going to work and a whole series of things including going to a retail outlet to get food, fuel, etc. He was within five kilometres of his home.

“I can’t say anything for Mr Heaney as he isn’t here.”

Judge Owens noted Gda Lenehan’s acknowledgement of the fact that he did not speak directly to the passenger who got out of the back seat of the car.

“In those circumstances, because he didn’t have any direct interaction with her, that creates doubt for me, so I’m striking out the charge against Ms Madden,” she said.

“In relation to Mr Comiskey, there may have been guidance but what regulation did he breach?” she asked again.

“It’s an unnecessary journey. The idea was to reduce the amount of people travelling in the same car,” said Gda Lenehan.

“I appreciate that but I’m asking what regulation did he breach?” insisted Judge Owens.

“They’re well entitled to get food separately but the girl went to get the food and there was no food. It was an excuse that was given. I’m not saying they didn’t order food but when I was with them, there were three people out of their households saying they were getting food and there was no food to be got,” Gda Lenehan argued.

“I gave three tickets and they weren’t paid and that’s all I can do.”

Judge Owens noted that Gda Lenehan made “a very valid” point that three people did not need to drive in to collect the food, asking Mr Gearty if he had any response to that.

Mr Gearty merely reiterated that his client was going to get food, which was considered an essential journey under those regulations.

“I think there is ambiguity in regard to the regulations and I’m striking that summons out,” said Judge Owens, referring to Mr Comiskey’s charges. She did, however, fine the driver of the vehicle, Mr Heaney, €250 in his absence.

Mr Heaney also appeared on the list for having stickers covering the three front windows of his car which blacked out the windows.

“I checked inside the front windows and noticed a tinted laminate,” Gda Lenehan explained, “I informed him that the front three windows have to be clear of laminate and that he had been caught on two previous occasions.

“On both occasions, he had taken off the stickers but I can only caution someone once so I informed him he’d be summoned to court.”

Mr Heaney then received a further fine of €250.

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