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PODCAST: 'My son was killed by a drunk driver - I had to fight for some semblance of justice'

Both Brendan Donnelly and his friend Lee Salkeld were killed instantly when a drunk driver ploughed into their car.

When tragedy strikes it often falls to families to fight for answers, for change and for justice. TheJournal.ie’s podcast Left Behind, speaks to those accidental campaigners about their attempts to make sure other families never have to experience their pain. 


Source: Left Behind/SoundCloud

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“I WAS SIMPLY a mother who knew what happened to my son was wrong and I would fight tooth and nail, with every breath in my body until I got some semblance of justice.”

Christina Donnelly has been instrumental in pushing for stricter laws to crack down on drunk drivers in this country.

She started her campaign about a year after her 24-year-old son Brendan was killed when a drunk driver crashed into the car he was travelling in.

Brendan’s friend Lee Salkeld was also killed in the crash on 26 October 2009. The driver of the car, a then 29-year-old man called Anthony Long from Leamlara in Co Cork, left the scene. 

PastedImage-2341 Brendan

He later admitted he was involved in the crash. He had consumed 11 cans and bottles of beer, plus another seven pints, two vodkas and three shots of After Shock. Long had also done a line of cocaine before he got behind the wheel.

Donnelly said when she received the news of her son’s death “it was just like a tsunami had gone through my heart and my home”. 

She said that time is a blur for her as she tried to make sense out of his senseless death, arrange his funeral and support her other son Seán.

“The boy who should have been texting me to say that he’d landed, that everything was fine, he ended up going to the morgue in University Hospital Cork because of the actions of somebody else, a drunk driver.

My heart and soul were absolutely ripped out of me and ripped out of Sean. I couldn’t over the fact that Brendan was never coming home to me again. 

‘Invisible’

She was horrified when she heard just how much Anthony Long had consumed before he got into his car.

“He had no respect or regard for human life.”

She said she had felt “invisible” in the court, like so many other families in her situation.

“Everything that is said is afforded to the defendant, not to the victims or the families.”

About a year after Brendan’s death, Donnelly began her campaign. Her first focus was on the fact that Long had been able to drive between the time he was charged and his conviction.

She contacted local councillors and garda stations to ask them about it.

I got the same answer from all of them – it had never been challenged or asked before.

She said she was “like a dog with a bone” because she felt so angry and so lost over Brendan’s death. With the support of TD John Halligan, she made it to the Dáil where she was able to make her case to the Transport Committee. She has lobbied multiple taoisigh and has met Minister for Transport Shane Ross a number of times.

In 2016, Cabinet approved Ross’ proposal for a change to bail legislation which would allow for a ban on people driving where they have been charged with a serious road traffic offence. This law, which Christina had for years been calling ‘Brendan’s Law’ was signed in by the President last year.

‘It was worth it’

But Donnelly did not stop there. She was a strong advocate of the recent changes to drink driving laws, speaking in the media to promote it and to challenge its opponents. 

The legislation includes an automatic three-month driving ban for first-time offenders if they are caught with blood alcohol levels of between 50mg per 100ml and 80mg per 100ml.

It came into force on 26 October, the ninth anniversary of Brendan and Lee’s deaths. 

Lee and Brendan were both killed instantly when Anthony Long crashed into their car.

“It was absolutely worth every single moment of it,” Donnelly said. She said she is glad she started on this journey, but she is still heartbroken over her son’s death.

“I know that there are so many beautiful and wonderful families it thee saying exactly the same thing. They understand what I’m going through and what Seán is going through and vice versa. They understand my pain.”

Listen to Christina Donnelly’s episode of Left Behind here.

The Left Behind podcast is presented by TheJournal.ie’s Senior Reporter Michelle Hennessy, and produced and edited by Nicky Ryan.  

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