A WEST Cork autism campaigner and mum-of-five with no previous convictions has received a 60-day suspended jail sentence for trespassing at a property belonging to a group who she believes to be a ‘cult acting outside the bounds of legality.’
Fiona O’Leary (51) of Knockduff, Dunmanway pleaded guilty at Bandon District Court last week to trespassing at The Priory, Maultatanvally, Reenascreena, Rosscarbery on August 10th 2020. The property is owned by SSPX Resistance, a conservative organisation, and one of its founders is a convicted holocaust denier.
Insp Debra Marsh told the court that at 5.20pm on that date the defendant, including some of her children entered the property, despite the owner, Giacomo Ballini, requesting them to leave. Insp Marsh described Ballini as a priest.
‘Ms O’Leary proceeded to video a bedroom and an office and uploaded the footage to the internet and said she was a member of the press. He requested her to leave on a number of occasions. She was there for about 20 minutes before the gardaí arrived,’ said Insp Marsh.
Insp Marsh said that Ballini ‘was in fear’ of her at the time. In his statement, which was read out in court, Fr Ballini said he rang a ‘friend, a policeman’ after he saw Ms O’Leary and a child start to walk around his property uninvited, despite a request to leave.
In his statement, Ballini said that Ms O’Leary claimed to be a member of the press and he told her to leave, but she continued to record on her phone and insisted she had rights to be there. She told him she was from the ‘Covid Police’ and she criticised those present for not wearing face masks. Ballini said he continued to ask her to leave but she insisted she had a right to be there.
By 5.50pm she had left the property with gardaí arriving later. Barrister Alan O’Dwyer, instructed by solicitor Aidan Desmond, said his client has no previous convictions and was admitting to trespass. He said that it was his understanding that Ballini had been ex-communicated by the Catholic Church, but was interrupted by Judge James McNulty who said he did not want politics or religion discussed in court.
Mr O’Dwyer said his client is a mother-of-five, whose eldest child (30), suffers significant health issues, while she and her four other children are autistic. Both she and her partner are carers for them.
Mr O’Dwyer said his client, who he described as a campaigner for people’s rights, would have reservations in relation to the legitimacy of this particular group, the SSPX Resistance.
‘She believes they are acting outside the bounds of legality and she believes they are a cult. This was an endeavour borne out of misplaced public concern,’ said Mr O’Dwyer, who added that his client is remorseful and has not come to the attention of gardaí since the incident, which occurred two-and-a-half years ago.
Judge McNulty said it was a ‘grave offence’ and involved the ‘wilful invasion onto private property including the dwelling of the injured party’ which is protected under the Constitution.
‘She is entitled to her antipathy towards them, but the antipathy is not permitted to escalate to a stage of enmity, hostility or vitriol,’ said Judge McNulty. ‘One has the distinct impression she has taken on a role herself of the political correctness police and no matter what her objections are to the group, it doesn’t give her the right to intrude on private property, worse still take pictures and represent herself as a member of the media.’
Judge McNulty said that a fine or community service would not be appropriate. He sentenced her to 60 days in prison, but suspended it for two years in her own bond of €2,000 with no cash required.
As well as the usual conditions of a suspended sentence, Judge McNulty directed that during the duration of the suspended sentence, Ms O‘Leary is not to engage in any behaviour in any public place or forum, including social media, which is ‘abusive or offensive with any person or group who she disagrees with.’
‘She can have her opinions and nurture antipathies, but there are boundaries which are necessary for civilised public discourse and debate,’ the judge said.