Jail sentence for farmer who shot neighbour in land row

By David Raleigh

A farmer received a 12-month jail sentence yesterday (Wednesday, December 19) after shooting another farmer and his dog, in a “feud” over a passageway linking their lands, last year.

74-year-old farmer Ted O’Donoghue shot and injured John Hayes (66) on June 16, 2017, at lands at Ballycasey, Kildimo, Co. Limerick.

The pensioner, who is in poor health and who appeared in court with two walking aids, will spend Christmas with his family as his sentence was deferred to January 7, 2019, to allow him to get his affairs in order.

He must present himself at Henry Street garda station on this date to begin his sentence at Limerick Prison.

Limerick Circuit Court heard that a spray of pellets from a shot that was fired from O’Donoghue’s legally-held shotgun had travelled through Hayes’ tractor, injuring him in the shoulder and killing his sheepdog Lassie.

O’Donoghue, of Kilmoreen, Kildimo, admitted firing at John Hayes from the licensed gun.

He pleaded guilty to all three charges against him, including: one count of a reckless discharge of a firearm; one count of assault causing harm to Hayes; and one count of animal cruelty.

Incident

Around 10:30am, on the morning of the shooting, Hayes was about to open an access gate at the right of way when he was met by O’Donoghue, who was holding the shotgun.

O’Donoghue said he told Hayes: “You are never coming in here again,” and then fired at him.

Following his arrest, O’Donoghue told Gardai he believed the passageway was being destroyed by tractors travelling up and down it.

“They have it tore asunder with tractors…but I’ll stop them,” he said. He told Gardai he went and shot Hayes after he had observed him driving his tractor towards the right of way on the morning in question.

He said that, having travelled ahead of Hayes in his own van, he got out of the vehicle and shot him, telling Gardai that he had “blazed him”, firing off a shot at him as he went to open the gate.

When asked by Gardai if he had deliberately shot Hayes, he replied: “Not exactly…I don’t know…I don’t think so.”

Impact

Hayes wrote in a victim impact statement afterwards that he became “withdrawn socially, fearful and stressed” following the shooting, detailing how, at the time, he was sure O’Donoghue was going to kill him.

Garda Jason Mitchell, Newcastle West garda station, told an earlier hearing at Limerick District Court, the shooting was part of “a long running feud over a right of way”.

O’Donoghue’s barrister, Anthony Salmon SC, had later stressed in a sentencing hearing in the Circuit Court last October, the DPP’s view was there had been “no intent” to endanger Hayes.

The court heard the right of way is located on O’Donoghue’s land, and that it is the access route to a number of other farmers’ lands. O’Donoghue became “obsessed” about the passageway, Salmon said.

A neighbour told Gardai there had been tensions between O’Donoghue and other farmers, about the right of way, for “40 years”.

O’Donoghue “tried to deal with it through solicitors, but he wasn’t getting anywhere with it”, Salmon said. “It was festering away. It was like an obsession boiling over.”

‘Obsession’

Describing O’Donoghue as “a decent hardworking man”, he added: “These disputes have a way of turning right-minded people into obsessive fools.

“Incidents of a minor nature can become obsessive and overshadow their lives.” O’Donoghue “deeply, deeply regrets his actions”, he said.

Nine months prior to the shooting, O’Donoghue produced a knife during a row with the son of another local farmer, it was also heard.

Arising out of this, O’Donoghue appeared in Newcastle West District Court, but he escaped without a conviction after the court applied the Probation Act.

Sentence

Handing out today’s sentence, Judge Tom O’Donnell noted the victim, John Hayes, had suffered a “substantial psychological fallout” following the shooting incident.

The judge said he took into account that Mr. O’Donoghue was “deeply attached to the land”, but he said he had to impose a custodial sentence, despite the defendant’s age and poor health.

He sentenced O’Donoghue to two and a half years in prison, suspending the final 18 months.

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