On night patrol with Lifesaver gardai
It is 11.20 p.m. on Friday night. The lights are off, voices are hushed and the only illumination is a red glow from the radar gun. The Cherokee four-wheel drive is parked at the darkened entrance to a detached house and is facing the main road.
Despite the thick fog, Gardai Paul Carrigy and Mick Toner think it's likely that some driver will break the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. Within five minutes the radar gun in Paul's hands indicates a driver leaving Enfield at 56 m.p.h.
"That's a crazy speed in this fog," he says as Mick turns on the headlights and gives chase. It takes a couple of minutes travelling at up to 100 m.p.h. before they catch up with the speeding driver.
The flashing blue light and siren bring him to a stop. "Are you in a bit of a hurry?" Paul asks. The driver has no identification on him, but is sober. Paul takes his details and gives him a £50 on-the-spot fine. He is told he has 21 days to pay it, and it will not affect his driving record.
It is still early in what will be a long night on duty as part of a blitz on the Summerhill, Enfield and Kilcock areas of Co Meath by the combined forces of the Garda traffic corps in Drogheda and Kells.
They are the central nervous system of Operation Lifesaver, which was set up in the Louth/Meath division six months ago to reduce the high incidence of fatal and serious traffic accidents. As part of the additional push mounted against drunk drivers during the Christmas period, the gardai have been focusing the combined strength of the two traffic corps on a particular area each weekend night for the last month.
The detection rate for drunk driving has proved this strategy right: there have been more than 50 arrests so far.
Last Friday night a group of Garda vehicles from Drogheda and Kells gathered at Enfield Garda station. Each had been washed, filled with fuel, and checked to make sure it had breathalysers on board as well as the sealed kits used by doctors taking blood or urine samples.
In the station 12 gardai, six teams of two, were briefed by Sgt Eamonn Hennessy. They sipped cups of tea as they were given their code names, radio frequencies and specific areas to target. They all have a supply of leaflets on drinking and driving and the penalties offenders face on conviction. They will give them to motorists on their way to the pub. After closing time the only information the motorists will get, if suspected of drinking and driving, will be the arresting garda outlining their rights as they await the arrival of a doctor.
It is coming up to midnight and they decide to head towards Longwood. On the road between Enfield and Longwood they stop a car driven by a man who says he had one pint. Paul is not happy and breathalyses him. It is positive. He is adamant he has only had "the one". Mick goes back to the car and talks to the driver's girlfriend. He comes back over and tells the driver to tell the truth. "I had two pints," he says.
The 34-year-old man is told he is being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and replies: "I want to talk to my girlfriend and be up before eight in the morning." He was taken to Enfield Garda station where, within 10 minutes, a local GP arrived and took a blood sample. He is one of five drivers arrested for drunk driving by the Drogheda/Kells operation on Friday night. The last is a man who refused to give a sample. He was stopped by Paul and Mick when, at 2.40 a.m. and with only 20 minutes of their shift remaining, they decided to target the road from Johnstown to Enfield.
Within a few minutes they had stopped two sober drivers picking up sons and daughters from a disco. The next vehicle is a Nissan Vanette with three people in the front. Paul shines a torch in the back. There are a total of nine young people sitting and lying on top of each other. Mick tells them to get out and he radios for back-up. They are not happy and one young man gives out about the gardai. He refuses to behave and is arrested under the Public Order Act. Two Garda cars arrive within three minutes and the driver of the vanette and the other young man are taken back to Enfield.
Mick had a feeling the 22-year-old he arrested was not as innocent as he seemed. He was right. There was a bench warrant out for his arrest because he failed to appear in court to face a rape charge.
At 4 a.m. the gardai left Enfield to return home to Drogheda through thick fog.