A clergyman has been criticised for giving character evidence in court on behalf of a homeless campaigner convicted of stealing €26,852 from an 88-year-old care home patient.
Josephine O'Brien (60), from Ennis, Co Clare, walked free for the theft from St Joseph's hospital patient, Stephen O'Halloran, after Judge Gerald Keyes imposed a three-year suspended prison sentence on her.
Ennis Circuit Court heard Ms O'Brien used some of the proceeds of the €26,852 to open up a drop-in centre for the homeless at Chapel Lane in Ennis, where soup and sandwiches were provided.
Church of Ireland cleric Canon Bob Hanna gave character evidence in court yesterday, stating that Ms O'Brien has been involved in helping the homeless and destitute in the town for a number of years.
The Ennis-based cleric described Ms O'Brien as "a beautiful and gentle person" and "a grandmother who dotes on her grandchildren".
State counsel Stephen Coughlan told Canon Hanna: "It ill becomes you to come in here to give character evidence for someone who was using stolen money for a particular purpose."
Counsel for Ms O'Brien immediately objected to Mr Coughlan's statement.
In evidence, Det Garda Beatrice Ryan said that the victim in the case, Mr O'Halloran "is a frail man and... wouldn't like (Ms O'Brien) to get a custodial sentence".
Det Ryan said that Ms O'Brien's theft "left him with no money and nothing to care for himself."
The sentencing took place yesterday after a jury last April found Ms O'Brien of Bridge View, Roslevan, Ennis guilty on nine of the 10 counts of theft between July 2006 and October 2010.
Ms O'Brien had lived with Mr O'Halloran as friends prior to his admission to St Joseph's and had used his bank card without his consent to withdraw monies over a four-year period while he was resident at the care home.
Judge Keyes said he accepted that Ms O'Brien used some of the monies to help others.
He ordered that she pay back €100 per month, or a total of €3,600, during the three years of the suspended jail term.