A friend tells a story of appearing in the District Court in the early 1960s. The family being short of money, he had resorted to the expediency of removing the lead from the roof of a closed railway station. Apprehended by Gardai, he was summoned to appear in court, where he found other charges had been laid against him; charges of theft from a church.
“Your Honour, I admit to taking the lead. I would never think of taking anything from a church”.
The judge said he believed him; fined him £2 for the lead and dismissed the other charges.
My friend laughs when he tells the story. “Do you know, we were so hard up, I had to go back to the station to get enough lead to sell in order to pay the fine!”
His story comes to mind as I try to frame a letter to a country solicitor in support of a Traveller whom I have known for the past ten years. He is due before the District Court next week on charges of being drunk and disorderly, using abusive language to Gardai and possessing an offensive weapon.
I spoke to him on Tuesday to check the details. “Tell me again what happened”.
“We’ve always been people for ponies, I have told you that”.
“Well, my uncle gave me this pony and it was in foal and I kept meaning to close up a hole in the hedge in the field where the pony was. Anyway, I don’t drink often, but sometimes I take too much and these friends called and I drank about twelve of the cans they brought and I was drunk”.
“What time was this?”
“About half past one in the morning. I decided I would go and fix the hedge at half past one because I was drunk”.
“I was walking down the road with a slash hook and I met the Guards in a car”.
“You said it was a bill hook before”.
“No, it was a slash hook, a long handled one”.
“So what did they say?”
“We had an argument and then a fight and I was arrested”.
“Who did they say you were going to attack with the slash hook?”
“They didn’t say I was going to attack anyone – they said I was drunk and abusive and that it was an offensive weapon. They have little to be doing”.
“What does the solicitor say?”
“He says he thinks I’ll be fined and put on probation”.
What am I going to write? Had he not met with a Garda car, no crime would have arisen because he would not have been disorderly and would not have used abusive language and would not have been deemed as carrying a weapon.
He can no more afford a fine than could my friend the de-roofer; it will simply impose pain on his family.
We have to find better ways of doing justice.