Limerick Circuit Court
A MOTHER and her three young children were forced to flee their home after the adjoining house was set alight following a drunken row between two brothers, a Limerick court has heard.
More than €75,000 worth of damage was caused to two council-owned properties as a result of the blaze at Lisheen Park, Patrickswell in the early hours of March 10, last.
John O’Neill, aged 43, who was living in one of the houses has pleaded guilty to arson and will be sentenced in the new year.
Detective Garda Paul Crowley told Limerick Circuit Court the alarm was raised at around 4.30am and that one of the houses was completely destroyed while the other was badly damaged.
He said the woman who lived next door was woken sometime earlier in the night by shouting and roaring and “what sounded like glass being broken”.
The woman then heard a smoke alarm and a crackling noise and when she realised a fire had broken out she woke her children and fled from the house.
Thomas O’Neill – a brother of the accused man – who had been drinking with the defendant told gardai that he left the house at around 4am after he had an argument with his brother over who would inherit the house as their mother had died a week earlier.
Three units of Limerick Fire and Rescue Service attended the scene of the fire for several hours.
Detective Garda Crowley told John O’Sullivan BL, prosecuting, that a forensic examination was carried out and that it showed fires had been started in at least three locations in the house.
The main seat of the fire, he said, was found in the main living room while smaller seats were found under the stairs and in an upstairs bedroom.
Judge Tom O’Donnell was told the defendant was reported as missing by members of his family in the immediate aftermath of the fire but that he was subsequently located and arrested.
During interview, he told gardai there had been an “argy bargy” between him and his brother on the night.
He later admitted he had pulled some curtins off the wall in the living room and had set them on fire as he was frustrated.
“He accepted he set the fire and that it got out of control,” said Detective Garda Crowley.
The witness accepted that Mr O’Neill “had completely shut down” when gardai encountered him and that he was taken to Unit 5B for assesment before he was questioned.
Brian McInerney BL said that while no issues were detected, his client has since been diagnosed as suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.
He said his client, who voluntarily surrendered his bail in April, is undergoing treatment and that he has been able to engage with him in a “coherent and logical fashion”.
He submitted the defendant had cooperated with gardai, accepts his wrongdoing and had entered an early guilty plea. He urged the court to consider the underlying medical difficulties saying “prison is not the answer”.
Judge O’Donnell said he had to consider all of the evidence before him including the impact the fire had on the family living next door whio have since been rehoused elsewhere in Patrickswell.
Adjourning the matter to February he commented that he is keeping all of his options open. He directed that a probation report be prepared.