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28 May 2022

Gardai "distressed" by media coverage over Boyle case

Man found guilty last February of assaulting a garda, obstruction, and using threatening and abusive behaviour

Carrick-on Shannon man facing jail term if he re-offends

Carrick-on-Shannon District Court

Victim impact statements from two gardai who were involved in the arrest of a Boyle agricultural contractor in 2020 said that some subsequent media coverage caused them great distress, a garda sergeant told Carrick-on-Shannon District Court on Friday, April 22.

Conor O’Neill (26), Leam, Boyle, Co Roscommon was found guilty last February of assaulting a garda, obstruction, and using threatening and abusive behaviour, after he was in a struggle with two gardai as they pulled him out of his tractor in Boyle on April 14, 2020, after a two and a half hour hearing at Carrick-on-Shannon District Court.

The defendant had denied charges of assaulting Garda Martin McTiernan and two other charges arising from an incident that happened on April 14 2020 outside Boyle Garda Station.

He pleaded guilty to having no tax displayed on the vehicle.

The court was told later that the incident had been investigated by the Garda Ombudsman following a complaint by the defendant but the complaint was not upheld.

At the initial hearing, Inspector Michael Collins showed lengthy footage of CCCV which showed the background and the altercation which lasted for quite a period. It showed the defendant being pulled from the tractor by the two gardai and he was then taken to Castlerea Garda Station.

Garda Martin McTiernan told the court in February he was on patrol with Garda Guill Carvalho when he saw a New Holland tractor that was untaxed shortly after 4pm on the date in question.

He went across to the tractor and recognised the driver as Conor O’Neill from Boyle.

The driver admitted the vehicle was not taxed and said he did not know who owned the vehicle.

Garda McTiernan asked the defendant to drive the short distance to Boyle garda station to check it out and he complied.

The garda asked the defendant for the keys of the tractor and the latter also complied.

When the garda checked out the tractor he found that it was registered to Conor O’Neill in 2017 and had never been taxed.

The garda spoke to the defendant and told him he was seizing the tractor.

“He got upset and angry and I explained to him that if he back taxed it, it would be returned to him straight away”.

The defendant then said there was no way they were taking his tractor.

“When I told him he was being arrested, he got more abusive and said there was no way he was going to leave his tractor”.

The garda added that after about 15 minutes he went up into the tractor but was told to “get the f*** out of it”.

The defendant wrapped his arms around the steering wheel of the tractor.

Garda McTiernan tried to release his arms, but they were locked tight.

But between Garda Carvalho and Garda McTiernan they managed to get the defendant’s arms released from his grip around the steering wheel.

“He struggled and during the struggle he leaned back and punched me on the face,” the garda said.

Judge Sandra Murphy said she had watched the CCTV footage carefully which was the nub of the matter.

The charge was for a Section 2 assault which was for intentionally or recklessly carrying out an action in a most heightened situation.

“The gardai were seizing the tractor and I am satisfied that the defendant did draw out with his fist”.

Judge Murphy said the matter turned into a huge issue. She had heard very detailed evidence and had no doubt that the incident would not have happened if the defendant had behaved in a different manner.

He was given a chance to leave the tractor and the force used to remove him was not unreasonable.

She said she found the facts proved in the assault, obstruction, and using threatening and abusive behaviour matters.

Judge Murphy said the defendant was someone who “escalates when things do not go well for him and he had an assault causing harm conviction at 18 years of age which was concerning”.

She ordered a Probation Report on the defendant and victim impact statements from Garda McTiernan and Garda Carvalho.

The defendant was fined €150 on the non-display of tax charge.

The case was adjourned to April 22 for sentencing.

Interview with national paper caused distress to gardai
When the matter came before the court last Friday, April 22, the court was told that following the verdict, the defendant was interviewed by the Sunday World newspaper and his comments to that paper caused the two gardai grave distress.

In that interview, even though found guilty, he said he felt he was innocent and had won that case.

He told the paper that the gardai had made a “pure mockery” of him by stopping for an ice cream after his arrest.

Sergeant Maura McGarry, Boyle Garda Station, told the court that Garda McTiernan did not want his victim impact statement read out in open court.

She added that Garda Guill Carvalho was willing to have his victim impact statement read out in open court.

Sergeant McGarry read the statement which said the garda had been verbally and racially abused in an incident in Boyle on April 14, 2020.

It added that his capacity as a garda was questioned, based on is his looks and his nationality.

The statement added that he was not prepared for such allegations.

There was a WhatsApp message reported locally describing his background as some sort of “a foreign breed” which affected him gravely.

He said it was upsetting that someone was “spreading lies about me and my colleague”.

The statement added that he had got a letter from the Garda Ombudsman saying he was under investigation, and he did not know what for.

His actions had been morally correct, and it was very stressful.

“I did nothing wrong and was cleared”.

The statement added that he thought this would be the end of it, but he was wrong.

It added that his name was in a national newspaper with false allegations.

The verbal abuse he received caused a lot of embarrassment and made him question his career as a garda and he said he had been on the verge of leaving because of the false allegations.

Sergeant McGarry said it could not be emphasised enough just how much distress the coverage caused to “two hard working members.”

Defence solicitor Gerry McGovern said his client was a hard-working man who was highly respected in the farming community.

“This incident should never have happened, and he regrets it, and he told the Probation Service that he accepts that he should not have behaved in the way that he did.

“For two hours he co-operated fully with gardai. The young man was going through a stressful time due to Covid, lack of work and his family home had burned down.

“He never had any difficulties with gardai, and he had fully co-operated with the Probation Service.

“The Probation Report found that he was at a low risk of re-offending.

“He had no issues with alcohol or drugs, and he was supported by his partner who was in court and they are expecting their first child shortly.

“The defendant was determined to put things right.

“The situation got out of hand in many ways and members of the gardai and the defendant got publicity that nobody needed”.

Addressing the judge, Mr McGovern said, “You made your finding and it is accepted”.

Mr McGovern said the defendant had been taken advantage of by a national publication who were looking for “sensational stuff.”

The solicitor said they rang him, and he did not know how they got his number and they got photos of him standing beside his tractor and even a photo of him at a wedding.

“I am sure the gardai did not want this and Mr McGovern did not want this either.”

The article had caused great distress to both gardai, and the paper had also taken some verbatim quotes from the case.

“The national newspaper should not have printed anything in the way they did.

“The defendant had also received some unfavourable comments as a result of this particular article and his family and the gardai concerned found it very difficult when they saw the article.

“The defendant was not fully aware when he took the call from the paper, and it was out of his control.

“He told that paper that in his head he thought he had won it.

“We can’t stop the media”, Mr McGovern added.

Mr McGovern said he wanted to negotiate with his client on a number of charges and he was adamant that he did not assault Garda McTiernan.

Mr McGovern said this young man “got it wrong and badly wrong but he is going to have to live with it for the rest of his life”.

Judge Sandra Murphy said she had read the medical report on Garda McTiernan and it was consistent with him receiving a blow.

Mr McGovern agreed that “there was contact”.

Sergeant McGarry said she could not stress enough just how much distress was caused to two hard working members.

Judge Murphy said what was done to Garda Carvalho was “appalling.”

She added that the garda force can only be enhanced by having “diversity”.

She said it caused her great concern that national newspapers came out and exacerbated the situation.

The judge added that the victim impact statement from Garda McTiernan was very strong coming from a “very experienced member of the gardai”.

She added that what happened to Garda McTiernan was also appalling.

The judge said the defendant was assessed as being at a low risk of re-offending but he did not show any further insight as to how it affected the gardai and he still had no insight.

“That causes me grave concern and every move he made has made this situation worse”.

Judge Murphy also noted that the defendant had a previous conviction for assault causing harm and had a community service order in lieu of ten months in jail on a charge of unauthorised possession of a firearm.

The judge said she accepted that the defendant was working and had the support of his partner, but he lacks insight and is a man who “escalates” in certain situations, adding that she feared he “is going to get himself back into a similar situation”.

Mr McGovern asked for the case to be put back to see how the defendant behaves and said the couple were expecting their first baby shortly.

“It should not have happened, but it did happen, and we can’t turn the clock back”.

Mr McGovern said that when his client got the call from the Sunday World he should have said that he was making no comment.

Judge Murphy said that instead of doing that the defendant said, “In my opinion I know I lost the case, but in my own head I won the case, you’d nearly have to be in court to see how it went”.

Judge Murphy said this was a matter the gardai have taken very seriously with absolute justification.

The judge said she wanted to think further about the case and the effects it has had on the gardai, and she would take the victim impact statements into account.

The case was put back to May 17 “to finalise”.

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