The operation of paid parking at public car parks in Athlone is embroiled in legal uncertainty this week.
It comes after District Court Judge Seamus Hughes advised motorists who were previously convicted of offences at certain car parks in Athlone, to make application to appeal the convictions and to recover their costs from Westmeath County Council.
Judge Hughes made his comments at last Wednesday's sitting of the district court in the town when the council's solicitor requested that all the parking prosecutions listed for the day's sitting be withdrawn.
Questioned about the reasoning behind the decision, a representative of Regan McEntee Solicitors, Trim, who appeared for the council, advised Judge Hughes that the cases were being withdrawn due to an “administrative error”.
It's understood the issue relates to whether bye-laws enacted to administer the operation of pay and display public parking in Athlone actually properly designated the official public car parks.
Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, Westmeath County Council's Director of Services Barry Kehoe confirmed the council was examining the issue.
“We want to be certain of where we stand regarding our bye-laws... There’s a doubt about them, and the areas that they covered, so that’s what we’re trying to clarify.”
It's not clear which public car parks are embroiled in the controversy, though there are suggestions that the issue could relate to all public car parks in the town.
Mr Kehoe confirmed that the council is seeking to clarify which car parking areas are covered by the bye-laws and if any are not.
In total eight prosecutions were listed for hearing on Wednesday, relating to offences detected at Payne's Lane car park, Custume Place car park, Fairgreen car park and Connaught Street car park, along with summonses for parking in a loading bay.
All were withdrawn and three of the motorists facing prosecution, who were present in court and had legal representation, each had €300 costs granted against the council.
Deborah Riley, a traffic warden employed by Westmeath County Council and who was present in court, told Judge Hughes she had only been informed of the council's decision.
She said she had issued summonses for traffic offences in Athlone, including in car parks, for sixteen years.
Questioned as to whether the issue related only to those prosecuted for non-payment of parking fines or also involved the actual legal basis for levying parking charges, Director of Services Barry Kehoe said: “That depends on the outcome of the analysis that we’re doing at the moment. I can’t say, with certainty, one way or the other.”
The current uncertainty raises the possibility that people who were previously convicted of certain parking offences in Athlone might end up bringing their cases back before the court in an attempt to have them quashed.