A DUBLIN youth has pleaded guilty to an animal cruelty and torture charge after a homeless man's pet rabbit was thrown into the River Liffey last year.
John Byrne (39), who had spent the previous 22 years living on the streets, had been sitting on O'Connell Bridge in Dublin city-centre for 10 days when his pet rabbit Barney was thrown into the Liffey, on July 3, 2011.
Hundreds watched as he risked his own life and went into the river to save Barney. Both were subsequently rescued by the Dublin Fire Brigade. His rescue of the rabbit was captured on video and went viral on the internet with clips on the You Tube website getting tens of thousands of hits.
Gary Kearney (20), who is from Crumlin but has an address at Conyngham Road, in Dublin city-centre, was later charged under the Protection of Animals Act in connection with the incident.
The charge states that it is alleged he “did cruelly torture or terrify an animal to wit did throw a rabbit into the River Liffey from O'Connell Bridge”.
He also faces a breach of the peace charge. Last month at Dublin District Court, Kearney had denied the charges and the case was set down for hearing today. Mr Byrne had turned up, without the rabbit, to give evidence.
However, when the case, which was on its 16th court listing, was called Judge Ann Watkin was told that Kearney is serving a sentence. Defence solicitor Aine Flynn said that Kearney had not been brought to court but she informed the judge that her client had changed his plea.
Judge Watkin noted that Kearney was now pleading guilty to the offence and the case was adjourned for facts to be heard on December 4.
His charges, on conviction, can result in fines or prison terms.
The rabbit's owner, Mr Byrne, who is originally from Ballyfermot in Dublin, had been presented with a compassionate citizen award by the charity Animal Rights Action Network last year.
A supply of carrots for the rabbit and food for Mr Byrne's Jack Russell dog, Lilly, also came with the award.
“Barney and Lilly my dog are my babies,” Mr Byrne had said afterwards adding that he would not hesitate in coming to the rescue of his pets.