Declan Brennan and Jessica Magee
A healthcare student who drove home drunk from a friend's house party with her young children in the back of the car will have charges of child neglect dropped if she engages with the Probation Service.
Lawyers for the mother of two told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court at a hearing last November that it was the woman's “first time out in years, literally” and she had arranged to stay overnight with her children.
Pieter Le Vert BL, defending, said people had gone to bed when one of the children became unsettled. The woman rang a taxi, but then realised she had no money to pay the fare and made the decision to “get in that car” and drive home, counsel said.
He said she now knows her behaviour on the night was reprehensible and she regrets it.
Garda Lee Kelly told the court that he pulled the woman's car over at around 4am on the night of September 1st, 2019, after seeing the car swerving across and driving on the wrong side of the road.
He said the woman co-operated initially, however, Gda Kelly said he smelt alcohol and noticed she was slurring her words. He asked her about this, at which point she became abusive towards gardaí.
He said she began screaming at her two children that “this is your f*cking fault” and shouting at them to get out of the car. The children were around four and six-years-old. The woman cannot be named to protect their anonymity.
Gda Kelly said the children were crying, screaming and pleading with gardaí not to arrest their mother.
Gardaí waited until the woman's father arrived at the scene to take the children before taking her into custody. She later refused to take a breathalyser and continued to abuse gardaí.
A Tusla investigation subsequently deemed the incident as neglect, but did not identify any other child welfare issues. The children are still in the care of their mother.
The woman (34) pleaded guilty to two charges of child neglect contrary to the Children Act, 2001 and one of refusing to give a sample, contrary to the Road Traffic Act, 2010. Her two previous convictions are for public order offences.
Gda Kelly agreed with Mr Le Vert that the woman has since apologised to gardaí for her behaviour on the night.
Mr Le Vert said his client was a single-mother who in 2019 began studying to be carer, including palliative care. He said she is by all accounts an extremely caring, sweet person who had gone to her friend's birthday party on the night of the offence and had not planned to drive home.
Counsel asked Judge Melanie Greally to consider applying Section 100 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which allows the court to discharge an accused person from an indictment.
He said a conviction for child neglect would likely prevent her from employment as a carer and “God knows we could use more carers at this point”.
On Thursday, Judge Greally noted from various reports and testimonials before the court, including an assessment from Tusla, that it was “an isolated incident” when the woman’s standard of care for her children “fell very below what was acceptable”.
The judge said because the woman was “generally speaking a very good mother to her children”, she believed it would be too harsh to leave her with a conviction for child neglect.
“For her children to observe that standard of behaviour is totally unacceptable,” Judge Greally said, before she accepted it “was not a true reflection of the kind of care which she generally demonstrates towards her two children”.
Judge Greally said she would set a headline sentence of nine months in prison, but took into account various mitigating factors including her employment history, excellent testimonials, lack of previous convictions and remorse, before she indicated that a sentence of six months would be appropriate.
The judge said she would consider discharging the woman from the indictment, as per Section 100 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, and fine her €100 in relation to the counts of child neglect should she engage with the Probation Service satisfactorily for three months.
Judge Greally disqualified the woman from driving for four years in relation to refusing to give a sample to gardaí.