A JUDGE yesterday dismissed a landmark case against a man who admitted creating an "obnoxious and revolting" internet page against Travellers.
In the first case of its kind in the country, Patrick Kissane (27), of Knockasartnett, Killarney, Co Kerry, appeared before the local district court charged with an offence under the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.
Judge James O'Connor ruled there was reasonable doubt that there was an intent to incite hatred towards members of the Traveller community.
He said it appeared that the remarks were a once-off and Mr Kissane had issued an apology.
The Facebook page contained phrases suggesting that Traveller babies should be used as shark bait as well as at feeding times in the zoo. Another phrase suggested that Travellers could be used for testing new drugs for viruses.
Two members of the Traveller community from Killarney, Patricia O'Brien and Mary Boyne, told the court they felt frightened for themselves and their children and they made a formal complaint to gardai.
But Ms Boyne told the judge that, despite her upset and shock, she was not subjected to any threat or hatred as a result of the comments posted by Mr Kissane.
The court heard that the matter could be traced back to an incident that occurred in October 2009 when Mr Kissane was working as a barman in Killarney. Up to 11 members of the Traveller community had been in the bar following a funeral and when he refused to serve them after closing time, he said they became threatening. He felt harassed, intimidated, upset and angry and when he got home he spent a few minutes setting up the Facebook page.
"I felt angry and powerless. Sitting in front of the computer was the coward's way of doing it because I wasn't able to handle myself in the bar earlier," he said.
The court was told Mr Kissane invited three friends to join his page and membership eventually grew to 644. He forgot all about it until Facebook emailed him to remove the site.
Asked by defence solicitor Pat F O'Connor how he felt now, Mr Kissane replied: "Sickened by my own behaviour."
The solicitor said his client had already wholeheartedly apologised for "a moment of gross stupidity".
He said Mr Kissane had absolutely nothing against members of the Traveller community and, in fact, he played soccer and had gone to school with Travellers.
Mr O'Connor stressed that no witness was produced in court to claim that they were subjected to hatred as a result of Mr Kissane's actions and he said the whole issue of freedom of speech had to be considered.
Dismissing the case, Judge O'Connor said the once-off insertion of material, while revolting and insulting, could not be deemed to be an incitement to hatred and he noted that, apart from his initial comments, Mr Kissane had not added or commented on anything on the page until the site was removed.
He said the event that is alleged to have occurred in the public house earlier that night gave credence to the way Mr Kissane behaved but that matter had not been checked out by gardai.
"Mr Kissane now realises his mistake. He over-reacted and did a silly thing but he apologised for it. It was a once-off, end of story," the judge said.