Maura Harrington, Doohoma, faced two charges of dangerous driving at Ballina District Court on Tuesday after she was observed driving erratically — while she pursued a white transit van carrying 16 IRMS security workers who are employed on Shell’s Glengad site — through the townlands of Annaghmore and Ballinglen, Ballycastle.
Garda Adrian Kearins told the court that on July 3 2008 he received a report from gardaí in Ballina about a silver Bora being driven dangerously behind a white transit van in the Ballycastle area. Garda Kearins, who was accompanied in the Garda car by Garda Caroline Taaffe, came across both vehicles and followed them. Garda Kearins noticed that the Bora — driven by Harrington, accompanied by her husband Naoise Ó Mongain — was very close behind the van. Near the Garda station in Ballycastle the white van stopped, as did the car. The garda spoke with the driver of the van, Mark O’Se, who said he was concerned for the safety of his passengers due to the erratic driving of the Bora. The garda signalled for the van to carry on, but the Bora also followed. Garda Kearins followed the Bora and activated the lights and siren on the car, however the car failed to stop and prevented the Garda car from passing it by driving on the wrong side of the road over continuous white and broken lines. According to Garda Kearins on two occasions the Bora “swerved” in to avoid colliding with two oncoming vehicles.
Near Annaghmore National School the van pulled into the side of the road, Harrington “overshot it” and Garda Kearins managed to stop the defendant. The total distance the gardaí observed Harrington’s driving was for five kilometres,
Garda Kearins asked Harrington to step out of the car but she said that “it was unsafe to do so” and only had her window open a fraction before she produced her driving licence. When asked by Garda Kearins why she was following the van, Harrington said that she thought the van “looked suspicious”; said that she thought the gardaí were following the van, she refused to explain why she was driving on the wrong side of the road.
Witness Keith O’Sullivan, a security officer in Glengad, said the incident “was scary at times” as the road is “so bendy” and Harrington was “so close behind us”, “veering from one side to the other” and “had to avoid oncoming traffic.” A copy of footage of the incident which Mr O’Sullivan recorded on his mobile phone was shown in court.
Mark O’Se of IRMS security, who was driving the bus, described Harrington’s driving as “erratic” and told the court that he was “not sure what she wanted to do”.
Harrington told the court that around 7pm that day she was the passenger in the car driven by her husband and they were on the way to meet with a client of her husband. As they approached the Glengad site the white van pulled out “very sharply” in front of their car and Mr Ó Mongain reacted to avoid an accident. Harrington said that she attempted to make a complaint to Belmullet Garda station about the van, however she had no phone reception and so decided to follow it to establish who was driving. Harrington said that when the van pulled in Aughoose, she and her husband pulled in. Harrington said that out of “genuine concern” as to who these men were, which she had been trying to establish for some time, she stood in front of the van. A Garda jeep then arrived along with “some others” — supporters of Harrington’s.
Harrington said that both she and her husband were trying to tell gardaí that there was no tax, insurance, or NCT visible on the van, but were not given an opportunity to make a complaint about the van as both were “manhandled” by Belmullet gardaí. The van continued on and the Garda jeep followed. Harrington drove behind the jeep. Harrington said that the Garda jeep was acting as “shotgun for Shell” and prevented her from passing them out. Eventually the jeep pulled away.
When the van pulled in past Ballycastle, Harrington also stopped. The van then reversed and Harrington followed. In Ballycastle, Harrington saw Garda Kearins speak to the driver of the van, but Harrington was not spoken to. When the van continued on Harrington followed. She claimed that when she tried to overtake the van it pulled out in the middle of the road to prevent her from doing so and said that she had a clear view of the other vehicles approaching so had sufficient time to pull in. The defendant also said that she thought the Garda car was trying to stop the van, not her.
Superintendent Frank Walsh put it to Harrington that the route they drove that night was to find out who the men in the van were. Harrington said that it has since emerged that two former IRMS employees have Bolivian links and so “our concerns were well justified”, but she said they went that way as it was the shortest route. Supt Walsh also put it to Harrington that she was using the allegations of the van pulling out in front of her car as a “colourful guise” so she could stop the van, and said that her actions on that evening were “dangerous” and “disregarding” other road users.
Video footage shot by Terence Conway, after Harrington was stopped by Garda Kearins, was shown in court. Judge Mary Devins asked why the Garda jeep from Belmullet which initially intervened was in the background, which neither Garda Kearins nor the superintendent could explain. Judge Devins adjourned the case so that a witness from Ballina Garda station who originally took the call of the dangerous driving complaint could give evidence. The case was listed for mention in Ballina District Court on May 26.
Trespassing and assault case
Judge Devins also referred to an upcoming decision which was due at Belmullet District Court next month in relation to trespassing and assault charges against Harrington. Judge Devins said in light of recent media reports about the connection between IRMS staff and issues in Bolivia the superintendent would go back to the DPP about the credibility of the two IRMS witnesses as the DPP may direct that it was now time for their employers to come into court.