Minister is against use of poor box in place of penalty points

Paschal Donohoe responds to ‘Irish Times’ report on drivers who avoided convictions

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe at Leinster House, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe at Leinster House, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe is “unequivocally against” use of the poor box by District Court judges in cases where penalty points might be imposed and has expressed his regret that the practice continues.

Mr Donohoe was responding to a report in The Irish Times which said that almost 2,000 drivers had been allowed to avoid convictions for speeding offences by making contributions to the court poor box over a 27-month period.

This was despite the Road Traffic Act 2010 prohibiting the use of the poor box in cases where offences attracted penalty points. The law came into effect from June 2011.

Mr Donohoe said judges’ use of the poor box in this way was “incorrect”, that this had already been brought to the courts’ attention, and that he expected that ultimately his department would succeed in bringing it to an end.

In February 2014 Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, then of the High Court, said that the District Courts had no jurisdiction to impose informal sanctions, such as donations to the poor box, as this would amount to an “indirect circumvention of the law”.

At the time a spokeswoman for Mr Donohoe said the comments of Mr Justice Hogan had been brought to the attention of the courts and discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee on road safety.

The poor box is a non-statutory system used by judges at their discretion if it is deemed justified not to impose a sentence.

The poor box predates the foundation of the State. In 2005 the Law Reform Commission recommended the system be replaced by a statutory financial reparation order.

The money goes to a number of charities. In 2014 the court poor boxes collected €2.18 million, almost half of it collected in Co Kerry.

Road crashes

Susan Grey, chairwoman of the road safety group Parc, has said the use of the poor box in relation to speeding offences trivialised one of the main factors contributing to fatal and serious road crashes.

The poor box is most commonly used for public order offences.

These include breaches of the peace, intoxication or disorderly conduct in a public place, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place or failing to comply with a direction from An Garda Síochána.

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