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Woman avoids jail for seven-hour political protest inside food store

March 26th, 2024 5:00 PM

Woman avoids jail for seven-hour political protest inside food store Image
Margaret Buttimer was found guilty of offensive conduct. (Photo: Denis Boyle)

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A WOMAN who would not leave a West Cork health food store because she disagreed with the owner’s policy of removing Israeli products from the shelves was convicted of offensive conduct and failing to comply with garda directions at a recent sitting of Bantry District Court.

Insp Triona O’Mahony told the court that on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024 at 10.30am Margaret Buttimer, 68 of The Perrin Inn, Glengarriff  entered the Organico health food store on Glengarriff Road, Bantry and refused to leave the premises.

Giving evidence, store owner Hannah Dare told the court that Ms Buttimer asked her why the Israeli-made product range Dead Sea Magik was not on display in the shop.

Ms Dare informed her that the products had been removed as a protest in relation to events in Gaza.

Ms Dare said that Ms Buttimer informed her that removing the products was ‘unfair to Israel’ and she demanded the items to be returned to the shelves.

She told Ms Dare that she would not leave the shop until the products were put back on display.

Ms Dare said that she still had some of the products in stock and offered to get them for Ms Buttimer but she declined.

Ms Dare said that she had to attend a removal with her sister and left the shop but when they returned Ms Buttimer was still standing in the shop in protest.

She told the court that Ms Buttimer had also brought a packed lunch with her and had eaten it in the shop’s cafe.

Ms Dare told the court that while not physically aggressive, Ms Buttimer was verbally aggressive to some degree and Ms Dare decided not to inflame the situation.

She said it was a busy day in the store the day after a bank holiday and she did not have time to deal with Ms Buttimer’s issues.

She said that by 5pm Ms Buttimer was still in the shop and refusing to leave and it was at this stage that she decided to call the gardaí because she would not feel comfortable leaving her in the shop.

Garda Laura O’Sullivan told the court that she responded to the call and arrived at the shop at 5.30pm.

She said that Ms Buttimer informed her that the store was committing ‘a crime against the Jews’ by removing the products from the shelves. Ms Buttimer told Garda O’Sullivan that she would not leave, would stay ‘as long as it takes’ and would camp outside the shop until the products were put back on the shelves.

Ms Buttimer was eventually arrested at 5.40pm and was taken to Bantry Garda Station from where she was later released on bail.

When giving evidence Margaret Buttimer swore an oath on her own bible that she had brought with her.

She told the court that she did not believe her behaviour was unreasonable.

She confirmed that she would not leave the store and demanded that the products were returned to the shelves. She said: ‘I am a small person, I don’t take up much room. I don’t accept that I was being unreasonable.’

Defence solicitor Flor Murphy said that his client gets the bus from Glengarriff to Bantry regularly.

He said: ‘Most days she brings her lunch, she goes for her walks and goes about her business quite normally. She holds certain views and she is not a young person. It seems that around 2020 some switch went on.’ Mr Murphy contended that her behaviour did not constitute offensive conduct as defined by the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act.

The court heard that Ms Buttimer had 15 previous convictions dating from 2020 to the present. She had failed to comply with garda directions on a number of occasions in relation to mask wearing during Covid 19 restrictions and also in relation to the housing of Ukrainian refugees in Bandon.

Judge James McNulty said: ‘The conduct of Margaret Buttimer was not violent but it was offensive.

She had outstayed her welcome by a long shot. The proprietor would have sold her the products if she wanted them, she was not denied service, her mission was political. There is a right to protest but there are other rights too and she was infringing the rights of others.

By telling the proprietor what to do, that’s where she overstepped the mark and by a long shot. The shop owner is entitled to run their business lawfully as they see fit and Margaret Buttimer was effectively violating the rights of the shop owner by telling them what to do.’

Judge McNulty said that he respectfully disagreed with the defence and he convicted Margaret Buttimer on both charges.

On the offensive conduct charge she was fined €100 and given a year to pay. On the charge of failing to comply with garda directions she was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for two years.

The terms of the suspension direct she be of good behaviour and not come to garda attention and also that she not bring her ‘social, political or religious beliefs into the business premises of any other citizen nor interfere with any other citizen running a business’.

She was released on her own bond of €100, no cash required.

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