A judge held up the immediate payment of legal aid to three unemployed men charged separately with dealing heroin in the District Court this week (March 23 ), after each of them was found with a value of heroin greater than their weekly dole payment.
“Drug dealers are the scum of the earth,” said Judge Seamus Hughes, in the case of Joseph O’Neill (39 ) of St Anne’s Terrace, Athlone who had been found with €215 worth of the drug on his person after a search on the street by gardaí.
“You’re in receipt of €197 a week [disability benefit] and you’re found with €215 worth of heroin. Explain that equation,” demanded the judge.
“I can’t,” said the defendant.
“You are an evil person selling drugs, and I’ll take considerable pleasure in sending you to prison,” said the judge before sentencing O’Neill to four months in prison, but suspended it for two years.
Previously, in the case of Darren Gaffey (41 ) of Tormey Villas, Athlone, who was charged with possession with intent to supply €1,264 worth of heroin at St Kieran’s Terrace on April 7, 2010, his solicitor applied for legal aid but Judge Hughes refused to grant it arbitrarily, saying: “He seems to have more money than most people”, and deferred payment of any State monies until Gaffey could produce a statement of means, and remanded him on continuing bail until April 20.
Later in the case of John Ganly (43 ) Thornbury Drive, Willow Park who was charged with a similar offence at Sarsfield Square, Athlone on December 18, his solicitor’s application was similarly knocked back.
“I presume he doesn’t grow his own [heroin]. He has to purchase it. This is a lifestyle choice,” said the judge.
“Maybe if he gave up buying drugs for a month and put his money in a jar, he would have the cost of his solicitor by then”.
Judge Hughes lamented the prevalence of heroin in his new job in Athlone, and commented how it hadn’t featured in his previous districts in Mayo and Donegal. Because of this Judge Hughes was then corrected by Tony McLynn in this regard towards a Section 3 (simple possession ) charge. The judge believed it took three convictions before a defendant could be jailed on such a charge, but had Mr McLynn point out that this was only with cannabis possession, whereas jail was a first-time option for heroin possession.
“Obliged for that,” said Judge Hughes who, thus updated, deferred granting legal aid until Ganly’s sentencing.
He used one of the day’s earlier cases to indicate the consistency of attitude in this direction.
In the case of Raymond O’Neill (23 ), from Meadowbrook, Willow Park, Athlone, and nephew of Joseph O’Neill, Mark Cooney sought an adjournment for his client in order to collect a summary of evidence from the Gardaí.
“Mr Cooney, your client is on legal aid, and it is not fair the hard-pressed tax payers of the country should have to pay another €50 [the fee for a subsequent appearance] for what is a simple public order [charge],” said the judge.
He ordered Mr Cooney to sort this out with the gardaí in court, and eventually fined O’Neill €200 in the afternoon, without his case getting adjourned to a second date.