Ex-priest jailed after paying for IRA threats
A former priest has been jailed for four years after he admitted paying dissident republicans to intimidate a relative on his behalf.
Francis Kelleher (59), with an address in Cork city, pleaded guilty to four counts of coercion between June 2012 and January 2013.
The intimidation was carried out by the Continuity IRA, Cork Circuit Court Criminal heard.
The details of the case were "profoundly upsetting", according to Judge Sean O Donnabhain, who said Mr Kelleher's behaviour was "appalling".
The court heard that €4,000 had been withdrawn from Kelleher's bank account and paid to an unnamed individual as threats against Kelleher's nephew Niall Kelleher (43) escalated.
Francis Kelleher, a former hospital chaplain, has since been suspended from the priesthood.
Bishop John Buckley, from the Diocese of Cork & Ross, said it was "deeply regrettable that such an offence could have been committed by anyone, and particularly by a priest".
"Now that the criminal proceedings have concluded, the diocese will initiate canonical proceedings against the priest in question," he said.
In court, Kelleher apologised to his nephew for his actions. "I never meant it to happen like this," he said.
Det Garda Micheal O'Regan said the threats against Niall Kelleher, a married father of three, commenced on June 27, 2012, when three men called to his neighbours and then to his home, where his teenage son answered the door.
They then called to Niall Kelleher's workplace in Innishannon, Co Cork, and told him, "Withdraw the statement against the priest and drop the case or I wouldn't see the following week, we are from the Continuity IRA." It was followed by threatening phonecalls.
In January 2013, following his arrest in Bandon, Francis Kelleher admitted he was responsible for the threats and that money withdrawn from his account was for the IRA.
The court heard that the threats had begun after Niall Kelleher sent a solicitor's letter over a civil matter to his uncle, then a chaplain at a Cork hospital.
In the course of his duties, the former priest met a man who had a Padre Pio relic that he distributed among the sick in different hospitals in Cork. He came under the influence of this man after he told him of his difficulties with his nephew.
The unnamed man, who denied all knowledge of the events, told Francis Kelleher that he had links with the IRA and said he could sort it out. The court heard that events spiralled beyond the control of Kelleher, described as a "timid man", into a "rollercoaster". Det Gda O'Regan said he was "extremely remorseful".