Drink-driving campaigner is caught on wrong side of road

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A hair-raising car chase involving a drunken government backbencher on one of Ireland's busiest roads has caused serious embarrassment to Dublin.

A hair-raising car chase involving a drunken government backbencher on one of Ireland's busiest roads has caused serious embarrassment to Dublin.

Jim McDaid, a former cabinet minister, drank wine for five hours before embarking on an extraordinary journey in which he drove erratically for miles along the wrong side of a dual carriageway.

Tuesday's bizarre and potentially lethal incident ended only after the driver of an articulated lorry used his truck to block two lanes, forcing Dr McDaid to stop.

Dr McDaid, a GP, is a member of the governing Fianna Fail party. Ironically, as minister in charge of a drink-driving clampdown several years ago, he forcefully declared that drunken driving cost innocent lives.

Dr McDaid has issued an apology. Details of the incident emerged just as the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called on motorists to drive responsibly during the bank holiday weekend.

At the same time, Irish police are warning that they are to target motorists coming from pubs. According to police, 22 people have been killed and 516 injured during the past five May bank holiday weekends.

Dr McDaid said it was not until he saw the flashing lights of a police car that the full gravity of the situation hit him. He said: "I just thought, 'Oh my God, what have I done?' I abhor drink-driving, I have no time for it and yet here I was being stopped for it."

He said he had been unexpectedly invited by a friend to travel by helicopter to Punchestown racecourse in Co Kildare. He had not taken a drink for a number of months, he added, but in a hospitality box he was offered a glass of white wine. "In those corporate boxes they just keep topping up your glass," he added. "I was there from about 3pm until 8pm and had nothing to eat, but I couldn't say how many glasses of wine I had."

Later he was dropped back to his car and "made the stupid decision to drive the short distance to my hotel".

The lorry driver who spotted him contacted police and flashed his lights to warn vehicles that the car was travelling on the wrong side of the road. After blocking the car he removed the car keys from the ignition.

An eye-witness described the politician as being "very, very drunk".

Dr McDaid has had a series of misfortunes in recent years. In addition to being dropped from the cabinet he had to endure the embarrassment of having his former wife publishing a highly critical "kiss and tell" book about their marriage.

Following the drink-driving incident he has been roundly criticised by the Irish media and by other politicians, but he is not facing a clamour for his resignation.

Michael McDowell, the Justice Minister, described the incident as a very serious lapse, saying it was a matter of huge importance that the public be given an example by those in politics.

Fianna Fail is expected to wait for the outcome of any prosecution before deciding whether to take any action against Dr McDaid.

Ironically, he had just this week been pressing for reinstatement as a minister. In a Donegal newspaper interview published on the day of the incident he said he was angry about being dropped from the cabinet but had since forgiven Mr Ahern. His chances of advancement will depend now on whether Mr Ahern and the rest of political establishment will forgive him .

The episode happened as the government is updating its outmoded drink laws to encourage a new breed of continental style cafe-bars which by law must sell food.