‘I’ve been left reeling by tsunami of events’ says Healy Eames after car tax revelation
‘On the car tax issue, I was totally wrong’ — Fidelma Healy Eames
By Mary O’connor
A Galway politician who hit the headlines recently over what she terms an “unfortunate series of events” spoke out this week in a bid to explain the “tsunami” of occurrences which have resulted in largely negative press for her.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who was fined for boarding a train without a ticket earlier this month and had a court case taken by a plumber against her, dismissed last week at the Galway Circuit Civil Court, says she is not suggesting for a minute that she is “without faults or failings or beyond question”.
It also emerged yesterday that she had her car impounded at rush hour in Galway city lately because it did not have valid car tax.
However, speaking to the Advertiser last night, she alleged that some stories that have been printed about her are untrue and she is anxious to set the record straight.
“July has been a very difficult month in my life and in the lives of my family,” she says. “It has been constant back-to-back media coverage, much of it of a negative nature and all arising from an unfortunate series of events. As a public representative I know I have a duty to my constituents and the nation. Here I’m taking the opportunity to explain the tsunami of events which came my way in July and the context in which they occurred.”
The Fine Gael senator, who was issued with a €100 on-the-spot fine on Thursday July 12 - after she boarded the 6.50am Galway to Dublin train without a ticket - says she did so in the belief that she could buy one “on board” as she had done previously.
“On the morning of Thursday, July 12 I took the 6.50am train to Dublin from Athenry. A Thursday trip was unusual in that normally I go to Dublin on a Tuesday morning and arrive home on a Thursday evening. I had already been in Dublin that week but under exceptional circumstances had returned home on the Wednesday. When I left home on Tuesday my daughter Ruth had been quite sick and had been to the doctor. In addition there were two local constituency events in Oranmore on the Wednesday that I’d been asked to participate in. This led to my train journey back on the Thursday morning to resume Seanad duties. I was thrilled to be up at 5.30am to be able to catch an early train for a 9.30am education meeting in Leinster House on small rural schools with the Minister for Education, an issue I have been working on for some time.
“When I got to Athenry train station the train was already on the track and there was a person being served at the ticket window. I had no confidence that the train would wait if I queued for the ticket window or the vending machine. (The train had left ahead of schedule in the past, something which I tweeted at the time). So, I jumped on the train. While I knew it was preferable to have my ticket before I boarded I was also sure I could purchase a ticket on board as I had purchased one as recent as June 19. I even had two counterfoil tickets with me which proved this point to the Revenue Protection Officer.”
She stresses that she did not know it was wrong to board a train without a ticket. “I certainly did not know one could be fined for having no ticket if there were facilities at the station. I know all that now! I had absolutely no intention of evading the fare. The rest is history. The media had a field day with it.”
She insists that she did not “tear strips off the inspector” as was reported by a social media user and states she was immensely grateful to a fellow passenger who refuted these comments and gave an “honest” account of what he saw and heard to the Irish Times.
“Little did I know that so many others up and down the country had experienced similar train fines in situations like mine. I am grateful for the support shown by the train travelling public. Iarnrod Eireann has since promised to improve communications so that passengers clearly know the rules. Ticket purchasing rules are station-dependent which adds to the confusion. If that happens it will be worth it. By the way I did pay the €100 fine!”
The Oranmore politician says the recent court case in which the judge dismissed an action taken by a plumber against her over work carried out at her home but ordered that her husband pay unpaid fees, claims there was an attempt by some sections of the media to “sensationalise” her involvement in this matter.
“This private case has now been played out in court in the full glare of the media. I am very grateful to the judge for dismissing the case against me and for saying that he was satified that I was neither ‘intimately or peripherally involved’. It is not to suggest, though, that it is without an enormous personal cost. There was an attempt to sensationalise my involvement. What I have learnt is that any politician or close family member of a politican can’t afford to have a dispute. This makes it particularly difficult on family members and diminishes their rights in real terms.”
She alleges there was another attempt to “sully” her name last weekend amid claims that she had broken planning rules in relation to a garage at her home in Oranmore.
“I am satisfied having reviewed the file yesterday and spoken with the head of planning that at all times I acted within the law. The background is as follows. In 2008 we were advised by the council that the original plans submitted for our garage were not acceptable. We then reduced the size of the garage in a second set of plans and we were granted planning. Construction started in Summer 2008. This coincided with a family trip to Romania. We had adopted our daughter from Romania in 2000 and this was our first time taking her back. It was a trip that had been planned for over a year.”
She states that while they were away there was a mix-up involving other people regarding the set of plans for the garage and only on their return did her family realise the wrong garage had been built.
“It was two storey instead of single storey. On realising the error, I immediately contacted the council to inform them of what happened. The planner listened and he advised me that, within the law, I could apply for retention. There was no intention to hide what had happened. We wanted everything to be above board. There was no request to demolish the garage and at no point were we written to requesting same. Last year we were granted retention and the garage is fully compliant with planning. All of this information is available for viewing on our file. I said at the outset that July was a difficult month. On these three issues, the ticket, the court case and the garage planning I have acted in good faith.”
She outlines that however, another event - her car being impounded by the gardai for not having a current tax disc - happened on July 2. She says this is not in the public domain but she believes it is important to speak about it “for the record”.
“ It happened during rush hour between Moneenageisha cross and Cemetery Cross. I was mortified. On this matter I was totally wrong. Mea culpa. Ironically, only hours earlier I had been organising a garda escort with Mill Street for the Chinese Ambassador to visit our China-Ireland symposium at the Volvo for the following day. Truth is I had been trying to sell the car. I was using public transport up and down to Dublin and I had neglected the car tax. There is no excuse. I was completely in the wrong.”
She insists she never meant anyone any harm and entered politics with the best of intentions. “I can put my hand on my heart and say that I never intend to do bad by anyone or to create a situation that would lead to such. I know I came into politics for good reasons namely to contribute towards social change, to enable others and to improve the quality of life in our society. These are still my goals. I feel now it is time to move on and get back to the job I’m elected to do as a member of Fine Gael, a party in Government. I hope people can support me on my journey.”