Minister slammed by judge for prosecuting “philanthropist” pilot for removing briars

A Minister and his department were criticised in court this week (July 17 ) for trying to prosecute a man who is hoping to renovate a seventh century church at his own expense.

Kieran O’Connor (64 ), from Beechwood, Celbridge, Co Kildare, and director of the National Flying Centre at Weston Aerodrome, was charged with the destruction of habitat during the nesting season when he tried to clear scrub from land he owns on Nun’s Island on Lough Ree.

“It seems to me the Minister [of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan] is an over zealous prosecutor,” said Judge Seamus Hughes.

“This prosecution is being taken by the very same Minister that took 100 years to put a preservation order on those buildings in Moore Street, and only because they all want to troop up O’Connell Street in a few years,” snapped the judge.

“There’s people in this country who’ll impinge on other people’s property rights, all in the name of protecting species. I mean, I’m an environmentalist as well, and technically he broke the law, but the Mr O’Connors of this world should be put on a plinth,” said Judge Hughes.

“I’m satisfied Mr O’Connor had no intention of damaging his own property, but tried to protect it,” said the judge, before comparing this case to a prosecution last week in Longford where the Department was seeking turf cut for St Vincent de Paul “to be put back in the ground”.

He then went on to praise Mr O’Connor for his philanthropy in his efforts in trying to return the ruins on the island to their original state, after his barrister, and former Government Minister, Mr Willie Penrose explained the situation.

Mr Penrose conceded his client had cut back the plants on a date between March 31 and September 1, but told the court that they were only “brambles and briars”.

My client was not engaged in wanton destruction. He has spent significant money on an archeological survey... and has set aside 17 acres of callows in Ballinahown for the corncrakes,” said Mr Penrose.

“He is a pilot by trade, and has carried members of the National Parks and Wildlife Service [who initiated the prosecution] on surveys,” he added.

In his evidence Mr O’Connor said he had done a survey of the 7.5 acre Lough Ree island when he bought it in 2001, and had been in correspondence with the Wildlife Service at the time.

He told the court how he wished to return the ruins of the nun’s chapel to its original state by putting a roof on it, and to make the island more accessible for visitors.

“That’ll cost you an arm and a leg, that’ll run into a six-figure sum,” said the judge.

“Ah, I don’t think it will,” said Mr O’Connor.

“Your philanthropy is very evident to me. The problem is we don’t have enough people in the world like Mr O’Connor to do this wonderful work,” said the judge before applying the Probation Act.

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