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Thursday 18 September 2014

Ex-Cork city councillor who deceived former builder into handing over €6,000 sentenced

JOE LEOGUE

Published 03/07/2014 | 13:42

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A FORMER builder who was deceived into giving an ex-Cork City Councillor over €6,000 said that the financial advisor deserved every bit of the one year prison sentence imposed on him.

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Eric Higgins made the comment outside Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday following the sentencing of Gary O’Flynn (38), of Hayfield Drive, Castle Court, Whitechurch, Co Cork.

Last month a jury found O’Flynn guilty of 13 sample counts of obtaining €1,000 by deception from former builder Eric Higgins between December 31 2009, and January 27 2012.

Sentencing was adjourned last week to allow Judge Seán Ó’Donnabhain consider a psychiatric report on O’Flynn.

Last week’s hearing heard an emotional plea from Gary’s father, former Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn, who asked the court to spare his son a custodial sentence so that he could get help for his mental health.

The court also heard last week that O'Flynn had paid €6,274 in compensation to Mr Higgins since his conviction last month to account for all the money paid by Mr Higgins.

Today Mr Higgins gave a victim impact statement to the court.

He said he was absent from last week’s hearing when Mr O’Flynn issued an apology to him, but that he could not accept it.

He said the five-day trial in May had a severe impact on his health.

“I was sniggered at in the box at one point during the trial and only on an actual guilty verdict, all of a sudden the apologies flow,” Mr Higgins told the court.

During May’s trial Mr Higgins told the court that he had received a letter from a company called Debt Assist.

He contacted the company seeking help with his debts to Bank of Scotland and Friends First and then met Mr O’Flynn.

He said that Mr O’Flynn had set up weekly payments totalling €62.50 to be paid by Mr Higgins into a bank account nominated by O’Flynn.

Mr Higgins said that he believed that the payments were going towards his debts with Bank of Scotland and Friends First but that he then received letters from both institutions threatening legal action over failure to pay his debts.

In his defence Mr O’Flynn had claimed that the monies paid by Higgins were legal fees for Mr O’Flynn’s services as a solicitor and not payments towards the debts.

Tom Power BL, acting on behalf of Gary O’Flynn, said that his client would give an undertaking to the court never to practice as a solicitor again. He said that Mr O’Flynn has a history of anxiety and depression, has been in custody since his conviction May 28 last and had no relevant previous convictions.

Judge Ó’Donnabhain said that it was clear Mr O’Flynn never acted as a solicitor for Mr Higgins. He said that Mr O’Higgins was in debt and despair when he went to Mr O’Flynn, and that he relied on him to help him with his difficulties.

“At the time it would be hard to think of anybody in a more distressed condition than Eric Higgins.

“It’s not the money, it’s the breach of trust,” he said, adding that the shock Mr Higgins suffered when he discovered Mr O’Flynn’s deception was visible both in the witness box in May and at yesterday’s sentencing.

Judge Ó’Donnabhain sentenced Gary O’Flynn to three years in prison, but suspended the last two years of the sentence.

Gary O’Flynn is the son of former Fianna Fáil Cork TD Noel O’Flynn, and had taken his father’s seat on Cork City Council when the ban on holding dual mandates came into force in 2003.

He in turn resigned from the City Council in 2008 with his seat going to his brother, Ken, who was re-elected in 2009 and again in last month’s local elections.

Noel O’Flynn was first elected to the Dáil in 1997 and served as a backbench TD for 14 years. A vocal critic of both Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, he agreed not to defend his seat in 2011 at the request of party leader Micheál Martin.

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