Three people were before court on Tuesday to face prosecutions by Inland Fisheries Ireland. The three, John Ferguson jnr, 14 St Muredach’s Terrace, Ballina; Declan Hopkins jnr, 12 Mount Assumpta Place, Ballina; and Margaret Hopkins, 12 Mount Assumpta Place, Ballina denied the charges brought against them.
Inland fisheries officer Pat Armstrong told the court that on August 28 2012 at 4pm he received a call that there were fishing nets dumped in the back of a laneway near St Muredach’s Terrace, Ballina. He along with two other officers drove to the area after finding out from gardaí whether it was a public place. At the scene metal barriers blocked off the laneway and a green wheelie bin had fully loaded salmon nets in it—it is illegal to have salmon nets. As he took the nets he heard shouting from a house; it was Margaret Hopkins. According to Mr Armstrong she came into the laneway and blocked the fisheries vehicle from moving. He said that she punched the bonnet and screamed at him to leave back the nets as they were hers. She also asked them if they had a search warrant as they had entered her property.
Ferguson then arrived in the laneway and he was aggressive towards the officers. Two other fishery officers then arrived at the scene. Mr Armstrong said that Ferguson went to swing a punch at him, however he was blocked. He shouted at Armstrong that he was taking his father’s nets.
Hopkins jnr then arrived, he pushed an officer and according to Mr Armstrong “made a beeline for me”. Mr Armstrong said that Hopkins jnr tried to punch him, but he blocked him. He heard Ferguson shout for a hammer and then he had one in his hand. Ferguson tried to swing at an officer with it. Mr Armstrong said that he went to this officer’s help and then Ferguson swung at him with a hammer. The gardaí who had been called then arrived at the scene. The hammer had been thrown away before they arrived.
Fisheries officer Edward Doherty said that he observed Ferguson run at an officer and Hopkins jnr hit into an officer. He said he heard Ferguson ask for a hammer and Mr Doherty said that Ferguson tried to hit him a few times with the hammer. Mr Armstrong came to his aid and he saw Ferguson try to hit Mr Armstrong with the hammer. He said that Ferguson told him that he would “get me” and said that he “would burn me out of my house”. Ferguson then banged the hammer on the wall. Again as Mr Doherty went to leave he said that Ferguson said to him that he was going to get him and burn his out of his house.
A third fisheries officer also gave evidence. Brian Flannery said that he saw Hopkins jnr assault an officer in the chest and he also saw Hopkins jnr swing at Mr Armstrong. Mr Flannery said that he saw Ferguson try to hit Mr Doherty and Mr Armstrong with a hammer. Mr Flannery said that as he was leaving Hopkins jnr put his mouth to his ear and said “I know you, I’m going to burn your house.”
Margaret Hopkins told the court that the nets were on private property. She said that there is a history between the fisheries and her family as “my father was a poacher”. Hopkins said that the nets were not in use and the only use for them was for cutting off pieces for her father’s grave.
Declan Jnr said that he never hit or threatened anyone and only went out into the laneway as there was five fishery officers around his mother who was three months pregnant.
Ferguson said that he made no threats and did not have a hammer at any stage in his possession.
Solicitor for the defendants, John Gordon said that the fisheries officers should not have entered the private laneway and produced no evidence in court to show the contrary. The bye-law for seizing the nets was not produced in court either and Mr Gordon said that the officers conduct was “illegal and over the top”.
Judge Mary Devins said that she would need to look at the bye-law and proof as to the public/private nature of the location. The judge added that evidence heard is most serious in relation to threats to burn the officers out of their homes and asked why there was no criminal prosecutions arising from this and instead prosecutions being brought under the Fisheries Acts. The judge adjourned the case to July 9 for consideration.