Waters: I was weighed, measured and put in a cell with two men
Columnist presented himself at Dún Laoghaire Garda station
Of the prison experience, John Waters said: “It was the first time since I was able to walk that I was somewhere I couldn’t get out of. I had the same feeling of claustrophobia I once felt on the [London] Tube.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Newspaper columnist John Waters was briefly jailed yesterday after he failed to pay a €40 parking fine.
The Irish Times writer refused to pay the fine in a case that dates back to May 2011. A judge ordered that he pay the fine or be jailed for a day, and when his period permitted to make the payment expired a warrant was issued for his arrest.
He presented himself to Dún Laoghaire Garda station in south Co Dublin yesterday morning after going to the station by arrangement.
He was then taken to Wheatfield Prison, Clondalkin, west Dublin, in a Garda car to serve his one-day jail term. He spent about two hours in prison.
Speaking last night, Waters said he felt that what has happened in relation to car parking in Dún Laoghaire is “an unreasonable situation” in a town where “so many shops have closed partly as a result”. He said that, “more fundamentally”, people should be able to meet and chat “without the threat of having to rush off to avoid a parking penalty”.
He said that on the day in question in 2011 he parked his car on Dún Laoghaire’s Northumberland Road while he went shopping at the Marks & Spencer food shop. “When I arrived back at my car a parking ticket was planted on it though I had four more minutes’ parking time left.”
Summonsed to appear at the District Court he defended himself at the hearing in May 2011. The judge imposed a fine of €40, plus €85 costs. “I told the court I had no intention of paying,” he said.
Last summer he received a warrant for a one-day committal to Wheatfield prison in lieu of non-payment of the fine and costs. He noticed it was five months out of date, dated March 2012. Another warrant, dated March 2013, was issued. It advised Waters to present himself at Dún Laoghaire Garda station, for imprisonment. He did so yesterday.
“The garda [who issued the warrant] was very friendly. He read the warrant, as he had to do. A very nice fellow, he said he was studying theology at night, so we discussed theology,” he said.
Arriving at the prison he was screened, his phone was taken “and three cent I had in my pocket, which I estimated was what I might owe Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council”. He deliberately avoided carrying a larger amount in case it was confiscated in lieu of the fine and costs. He was measured, weighed and put in a holding cell with two men. “The Wexford man had seen me on TV. He said I was a bit overdressed for this place.”
After 45 minutes “a prison officer told me I could go. He asked if I had any money,” which, apart from the three cent, he didn’t. “He said he could give me a ticket to Busárus.”
Of the prison experience, Waters – now “an ex-con”, as he described himself – said: “It was the first time since I was able to walk that I was somewhere I couldn’t get out of. I had the same feeling of claustrophobia I once felt on the [London] Tube.”