A FATHER of five who was €10,000 in arrears on his mortgage and struggling to feed his children grew cannabis to raise money to relieve the financial pressure he was under, a court heard.
Dundalk Circuit Court heard Richard O'Connor (34) had been paying an interest-only mortgage of €1,400 a month, but this was due to increase to €1,900 a month.
He admitted a single charge of cultivation of cannabis at his home at Elmwood Close, Termon Abbey, Drogheda, on September 19, 2011.
When Garda Amy O'Sullivan arrived at the door with a search warrant, the accused told her he had cannabis plants in the attic and took a key out of his pocket to unlock the room.
Garda O'Sullivan showed the judge photographs she took of the room. There were heat lamps hanging from the ceiling, fans circulating the heat around the room and the windows were lined with black plastic to keep out the light, the court heard.
She said there were 108 medium-sized plants as well as 21 smaller ones in incubators on the floor.
He told her he had been growing them for the previous four weeks and kept the door locked to keep his family out. Garda O'Sullivan estimated they were worth €51,600 but were not of great quality.
The court heard O'Connor, who is a telecoms engineer, has always worked but had lost his job and, according to his lawyer Lily Buckley, things had got very serious and there was a threat of the family home being taken.
She said he had "in desperation, committed this offence".
After the garda raid and with legal proceedings pending, he had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to hospital. He is now working full-time and has sorted out his finances, the court heard.
Passing sentence Judge Michael O'Shea said, "this was the wrong way," to deal with his problems.
He imposed a three-year jail sentence but suspended it for four years. However, he warned O'Connor that if he came before the court again there would be serious consequences.