A WEST Cork woman who described herself as ‘a conscientious protector of the environment’ has pledged not to cut down any more spruce trees after a judge warned her she faced jail if she didn’t stop such activity at a West Cork forest.
Sionad Jones (61) from Maughnaclea, Kealkill, Bantry was convicted by a jury of stealing €500 worth of sitka spruce belonging to Coillte after she felled 250 trees at the remote plantation at Maughnaclea.
Jones had been charged with two offences arising out of her actions in 2018 which saw her cut down 250 sitka spruce, ringmark another 250 sitka spruce, causing them to die and plant broadleaves in their place at the plantation.
Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin had directed the jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to find her not guilty of causing criminal damage by felling the 250 trees and ringmarking the other 250 trees, following legal argument in the court.
Summing up the State’s case against Jones, prosecuting barrister Brendan Kelly BL said that Jones knew she was committing a theft.
‘It is her view she had a right to do it for environmental reasons – that’s tantamount to saying that a neighbour who does not like your trees, they are not environmentally friendly, has a right to cut them and take them away.’
Jones’s barrister, Peter O’Flynn BL, in summing up the defence case, said: ‘Sionad Jones has been described as eccentric, colourful, passionate but I don’t think dishonesty is a word you could apply to her – she believed she was leaving the forest in a better condition, replacing the trees with better trees.
‘She had been seen earlier doing what she was doing and there was never an attempt by Coillte to stop that. She was not doing it furtively. She was doing it openly ... she believed the law entitled her to do it.’
But the jury of four men and eight women took just 38 minutes to find Welsh-born Jones, who has been living at Maughnaclea in Kealkill since 1987, guilty of dishonestly appropriating or stealing the 250 logs, worth €500, from Coillte.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said that he wanted Jones to give an undertaking that there would be no repeat of her behaviour and that she would not cut down, remove and burn any trees from the Coillte-owned plantation.
‘I understand that I am not to do that again without the permission of Coillte – I understand that and I take it seriously,’ said Jones.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said he was still baffled by Jones’s behaviour, after hearing evidence how she had cut down the trees with a chainsaw and then burnt the logs at her home and yet claimed to be a protector of the environment.
‘We heard about ‘Mother Earth’. We heard about the bees and bunnies. This lady goes out with a chainsaw in one hand and a burning log in the other. Where is the ‘Mother Earth’ in that? How does that save the world?’
‘I don’t understand how a hero of the greenery can go around with a chainsaw in one hand and a burning log in the other, and claim to be a protector of the environment – where is the protection of the environment in that?’ he asked.
He noted Jones had abided by a previous undertaking she had given at Cork Circuit Criminal in 2012 when convicted of cultivating cannabis not to grow any more cannabis plants.
He adjourned the case until October 30th to see if she abides by her undertaking.