Limerick prison ‘warmest and safest place’ for homeless Bandon granny

January 23rd, 2023 3:00 PM

Margaret Buttimer leaving court after she was convicted for refusing to wear a mask in 2021. (Photo: Denis Boyle)

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A BANDON grandmother who demanded that she should get a room at a local hotel which is currently accommodating Ukrainian refugees ended up being arrested on three separate occasions after refusing to comply with garda directions.

Margaret Buttimer, of no fixed abode, who has been previously jailed for not wearing face masks during the Covid pandemic, contested all the public order charges at Bandon District Court, telling Judge James McNulty that it was a disgrace that people like her were sleeping on benches, while a local hotel accommodates Ukrainian refugees.

Ms Buttimer faced a total of six charges from a two-day period just before Christmas where she refused to leave the Munster Arms Hotel despite being requested to do so by three different gardaí.

Gda Paul Gleeson told the court that he was on duty on December 19th last when he received a call in relation to a woman causing annoyance to staff at the Munster Arms Hotel in Bandon.

‘She was looking for a room but was told that none were available and she was asked to leave the hotel but refused to do so. She was asking why all the Ukrainians were getting rooms and why she, as an Irish citizen, could not,’ said Gda Gleeson.

She left the hotel and went out onto Oliver Plunkett Street but made an attempt to go back into the hotel. Despite being told to leave the area she refused and Gda Gleeson arrested her for failing to comply with garda directions and continuing to engage in unreasonable behaviour despite garda requests to desist.

She was arrested and taken to Bandon Garda Station and released on bail.

Gda Finbarr Russell said that the defendant was back at the hotel by 8.35pm that night and was demanding a room in the hotel while in the bar. She was told none were available and on arrival Gda Russell asked her to leave.

‘She refused and said there was no room for her and her son and she was directed to desist, but refused. She was arrested for failing to comply with garda directions and using or engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour,’ said Gda Russell.

The court heard that she secured bail at Macroom District Court on December 21st where Judge McNulty explained the conditions of her bail including that she stay away from the hotel.

However, Ms Buttimer returned to the hotel within hours and Gda Kieran Hayes told the court he received a call at 8.35pm about a female causing a disturbance in the bar area of the hotel.

‘It was very busy at the time and she kept demanding to know how many Ukrainians were staying in the hotel and at what cost was it to the Irish people and said it was a disgrace,’ said Gda Hayes.

‘I asked her to desist and she refused to do and she was arrested.’

Ms Buttimer was remanded in custody over Christmas at Limerick Prison.

She told Judge McNulty that she is currently homeless and went to the hotel to find out how many Ukrainians were staying there. She said she had been offered accommodation in Glengarriff but felt it was too far away.

Insp Emmet Daly asked her was she aware that when she was in the hotel bar causing a disturbance that some of the people there may have been Ukrainians and could have caused insult to them. But Ms Buttimer said that they probably didn’t have any English.

Judge McNulty convicted her of all three charges of failing to comply with garda directions but dismissed the other public order charge (December 19th) as well as the charge of using or engaging in  threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour from the same date. However, he convicted her of continuing to engage in unreasonable behaviour despite garda requests to desist, on December 21st.

The court heard that Ms Buttimer had a clean record up until she was 65 years old when she received her first conviction in 2021 for refusing to wear a face mask during the height of lockdown.

Ms Buttimer, who split from her partner in February, said she would be looking for an apology from the hotel.

Judge McNulty described it as a ‘sad and perplexing case’ and noted that the court went to great lengths previously to have Ms Buttimer assessed but it proved inclusive.

‘We’re back again and now the situation is more difficult and potentially dangerous for her as she’s homeless and could easily come to harm,’ said Judge McNulty.

He also said the court is concerned that she may have been ‘exploited or manipulated’ by others who have an agenda.

‘She had led a blameless life up until her 60s but since then she’s involved in civil obedience and protesting with no history of that in her entire adult life,’ said Judge McNulty.

He also noted that her mum passed away earlier this year and that one of her sons has moved into the house. 

‘One would have to ask who is the person lawfully entitled to live in the house and is it possible that it could provide shelter for her?’ asked Judge McNulty.

Judge McNulty said he requires the probation services to contact the defendant’s son who occupies her mother’s home to ascertain the nature of his occupancy and his legal right to be there and to also enquire whether he will accommodate her. 

He also directed that they make enquiries with the local authority.

He convicted her of the offences and deferred penalty. He remanded her in custody to Limerick Prison until January 19th, which he said was the ‘safest and warmest place for her’, for the purpose of preparing a probation report.

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