AN 80-year old Skibbereen woman has avoided jail by lodging an appeal in her case.
Catherine O’Brien of No 6, Mardyke Street in Skibbereen denied assaulting two people, as well as a Section (6) Public Order offence of engaging in threatening and abusive words and behaviour, on the street outside her home on two occasions on February 20th and 21st, and again on May 6th last.
Solicitor Joe Cuthbert appeared at Skibbereen District Court on behalf of Catherine O’Brien, who had spent most of her life living in England, where she worked as a waitress, before returning to her native Skibbereen and buying a house in Mardyke Street ten years ago.
Judge McNulty noted that a previous charge of assaulting a shopkeeper, Adrian Brentnall, at Bridge Street Skibbereen on August 16th 2014 had been adjourned and that Catherine O’Brien had been remanded on continuing bail.
Both the 2014 and the 2016 charges relate to Catherine O’Brien’s reaction to the placing of sandwich boards, traffic cones, or other items, on the street or roadway in her area.
In February, Mairead Keane said she put out cones and put up a sign advising her neighbours that she was going to power wash a house she owns in Mardyke Street, but Catherine O’Brien moved the cones, refused to desist her actions, started using foul language – ‘a string of ‘F’ words’ – and began waving her walking stick around.
Michael Sheehan, O’Brien’s neighbour, said O’Brien also ‘swiped’ her walking stick at him and that he was forced to use a traffic cone to block the blows.
On February 21st, Mairead Keane also alleged that Catherine O’Brien pushed her, causing her to lose her balance.
She said Catherine O’Brien subsequently hit her three times with her fist in the chest and spat in her face – allegations that the accused denied through her solicitor and in direct evidence.
On May 6th, the accused, complaining of noise, called to the home of Michael Sheehan, who had been gluing a cabinet together, and had in her possession a hammer.
Michael Sheehan said O’Brien had it raised in a threatening manner, but the accused denied this, saying she merely took it with her after using it to ‘de-clump’ coal.
In evidence, Catherine O’Brien said she has ‘an awful job to get in and out’ of her home because of items placed on the street and roadway.
She also stated: ‘I can’t understand why I am here. I am shocked at the lies I have heard here today.’
But Judge McNulty held that the witnesses for the prosecution has given ‘credible and truthful evidence’ and he sentenced O’Brien to thirty days in respect of the 2014 assault charge, and the two assault charges on February 20th and 21st. He also imposed a three-month sentence in respect of the assault committed on May 6th.
Commenting on the case, and a healthcare report that had been prepared, Judge McNulty said the accused ‘does not meet the criteria for admission to a primary care setting.
‘This is one of those difficult cases – how does a court punish a lady who is 80 years old?’ asked the judge, who said the imposition of fines was ‘not appropriate.’
‘Does that person have to conform to norms so people can live in reasonable harmony day to day, or does a community of people in the street have to conform to the needs and demands of a person who is difficult, cantankerous, quarrelsome and troublesome?’ he asked.
‘The Council has to protect the public interest. The court can’t ignore this lady re-offending. It is not easy to send a lady of 80 to prison but if the situation is not dealt with in a clear and decisive manner the situation will continue.’
After sentencing, the accused’s solicitor asked for recognisances to be fixed for appeal and Judge McNulty set bail at €10,000 with the instruction that 10%, or €1,000 in cash, would have to be lodged in court before the accused could be released on bail.
The case was put back to the end of the list, and before the court finished, Catherine O’Brien handed over €1,000 before signing the recognisances, which requires her to be of good behaviour between now and the date of her Circuit Court appeal.