Judge quashes driving ban on foul-mouthed cleric

Judge says he is satisfied to remove disqualification ‘given abject apology’ from rector

A judge has overturned a driving ban on a speeding and foul-mouthed cleric but told him “even God would tell you slow down on that particular road”.

At Ennis Circuit Court, Church of Ireland rector, Canon Bob Hanna (68), successfully appealed the six-month driving ban imposed on him at the District Court last month.

In the earlier District Court appearance, Judge Patrick Durcan banned Canon Hanna from driving after describing his conduct as "despicable" when stopped by Garda Lisa McDonagh last April 17th, after speeding at 135km in a 100km zone at Bunratty on the main dual-carriageway linking Ennis to Limerick.

In court yesterday, State solicitor Martin Linnane said Canon Hanna “was extremely abusive and aggressive in his behaviour towards Garda McDonagh when stopped”.


Mr Linnane said: “He shouted at Garda McDonagh, ‘I’m late for a communion service at 1 o’clock. What are you doing? What are you stopping me for?’ ”

Informed of speed

Mr Linnane said: “He then stated ‘Chase me if you want, I’m leaving’. Canon Hanna was then informed of his speed and he said ‘I don’t give a fuck. I’m late. It is religious week. I hope that you are victimising everyone else’.”

Mr Linnane said that Canon Hanna “continued to be aggressive and kept revving his car”.

He revealed that Canon Hanna has four previous motoring convictions, and last April wasn’t the first time he was caught speeding as he was fined €100 last July for speeding in a built-up area in January 2014.

Mr Linnane said he knows Canon Hanna and described him as “disorganised”, but stated he is “one of God’s people. The headlines this attracted has caused him huge distress.”

In evidence, Canon Hanna - who arrived at and left court by bicycle yesterday - told Judge Tom O’Donnell: “I feel a little hard done by this.”

Garda McDonagh stopped Canon Hanna at 12.47pm on Holy Thursday, and he was due to give a service at St Columba’s Church, 14 miles away, at 1pm.

‘Ungracious’ language

Canon Hanna admitted his language on the occasion “wasn’t temperate. It wasn’t sharp. It was impolite and ungracious to a lady.”

He said: “It was made into the air, it wasn’t made against the lady.”

He added: “It was very short and sometimes the way it is described, it wasn’t several paragraphs of obscenities - it was just one swear word.”

Canon Hanna said: “I just plead - I was under huge stress in Holy Week, I didn’t give the lady garda much time, but I gave her all the information that she needed.

“I just felt at the time that she wasn’t understanding of my position.”

Canon Hanna confirmed to the court he had already submitted a letter of apology to Garda McDonagh for the language used.

Counsel for Canon Hanna, Lorcan Connolly BL, said his client was “under severe time constraints on the date”.

He said: “He accepts the intemperate language he used on the day was unacceptable, and he instructs me to apologise to Garda McDonagh without reservation.”

‘Chaotic lifestyle’

Canon Hanna did not turn up at the District Court last month for the case, and Mr Connolly said: “He has something of a chaotic lifestyle and he doesn’t have assistance in the rectory as such, and the Fixed Charge Penalty Notice was overlooked and the summons date was not recorded in his diary.”

Mr Connolly added that Canon Hanna looks after five churches in the Clare area.

He said: “He was under significant pressure to be back in Ennis to deal with an Easter service. He wasn’t rushing to go to a match or a private engagement. He accepts wholeheartedly the intemperate language he used on the day is unbecoming a minister, without hesitation.

The cleric, Mr Connolly went on, has “a significant workload that he tries to do on his own”.

He added: “Canon Hanna is well known in the county for his voluntary work and work done in the area of multi-denomination. He is a man who has given a lot to the community.”

Judge Thomas O’Donnell said he was satisfied to remove the disqualification “given the abject apology and letter given to [the] garda”.

The judge reduced the fine from €500 to €250 and told Canon Hanna “even God would tell you slow down on that particular road”.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times