Limerick Courthouse, Mulgrave Street
FOUR serving gardai and a retired superintendent who are accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice are to be tried before Limerick Circuit Court after a judge refused to transfer the case to Dublin.
The Director of Public Prosecutions had sought to have the case moved to the capital as she feared it may not be possible to select an impartial jury in Limerick.
Making the application, Michael Delaney SC said there has been some media coverage and comments made in the Dail about the prosecution, which the DPP believes, were ‘highly prejudicial’.
Referencing three specific articles, published in the Irish Examiner last year, he said there were concerns that potential jurors in Limerick “may be strongly sympathetic towards the accused or hostile towards the garda investigation.”
He said the Irish Examiner articles had suggested the prosecution was “disproportionate and oppressive” and that there was an “improper purpose” behind the prosecution.
The five accused, who all have served in the Limerick garda division, are retired superintendent Eamon O'Neill, aged 55, who has an address in County Clare; Sergeant Anne Marie Hassett, aged 37, who has an address in County Clare; Sergeant Michelle Leahy, aged 46, who has an address in County Limerick; Garda Tom McGlinchey, aged 49, who has an address in County Tipperary and Garda Colm Geary, aged 35, who has an address in County Clare.
The DPP, Mr Delaney said, is concerned that some of the commentary in the three articles “may reflect the view on the ground” and that potential jurors in Limerick may be influenced by an “active or perceived bias”.
The allegations against the five defendants relate to the alleged ‘squaring’ of penalty point offences over a three-year period and Mr Delaney said a number of those who allegedly benefited are ‘celebrity figures’ while others are current or former members of the Limerick Senior Hurling panel.
He added that Mr O’Neill, who retired last year, was a member of the backroom team in 2018 when Limerick won the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in more than 40 years - bringing “so much joy” to thousands of GAA supporters across the city and county.
Counsel said comments made by two sitting members of the Dail - Limerick TD Richard O’Donoghue and Clare TD Cathal Crowe - last September were “inflammatory” and involved the pre-judgment of issues that are a matter for a jury to decide.
Judge Tom O’Donnell was told Deputy Crowe had likened the investigation to the Salem Witch Trial while Deputy O’Donoghue had claimed that gardai were being “prosecuted for doing their job.”
Resisting the State application on behalf of all five defendants, James Dwyer SC said there would be a “very considerable fade factor” given that any trial is not likely to take place for at least 12 months.
He said the articles in the Irish Examiner, which were opened to the court, were “balanced and carefully-worded” and could not be considered to be sensational. He further submitted that they highlighted issues and raised questions about matters that will not be before a jury.
He added there was no evidence as to how many people in Limerick had actually read the articles or were aware of the comments made in the Dail by the two TDs.
There was also, he noted, no reference to local media or comments on social media about the case in the DPP's application.
Mr Dwyer said it is appropriate that justice is “administered locally” and he suggested there was “no evidence, if any” to support the DPP’s application to transfer the case to Dublin.
Delivering his judgement, Judge O’Donnell said the issue of media coverage is “extremely difficult” for the courts and he commented that the trial, given the nature of the allegations, “will attract a certain amount of media attention and comment,” wherever it takes place.
He added that he is satisfied it will be possible to select an impartial jury in Limerick as, from his experience, jurors in Limerick are “robust” and “well able to grasp the issues and take direction”.
The judge said he was not satisfied the DPP had met the required threshold to support its application which he formally refused.
While the case has been listed for the next callover in February, it is highly unlikely that any trial will take place this year.
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