Judge had 'no idea' he was head-shop landlord
A JUDGE known for showing no mercy to defendants on drug charges was apparently unaware he was the landlord of a so-called "head shop" that sells legal "highs".
Judge John Coughlan earned himself a name as a "jailing judge" because of his frequent refusals to grant bail.
Yesterday, the judge came to an "agreement" with the owner of the Happy Daze in Naas, Co Kildare, and the business will vacate its premises.
Judge Coughlan is a district court judge who is assigned to different areas of the country.
And he said he believed the site of his former legal practice was an alternative medicine centre.
Happy Daze, directly opposite Naas Courthouse, sells herbal cigarettes and various paraphernalia and other substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs.
However, in a statement issued by the Courts Service yesterday, Judge Coughlan said he had "no idea" of the premises' current use.
"It has been drawn to my attention that a premises I let to a commercial tenant, the site of my former legal practice, has been operated as a place of trade commonly referred to as a 'head shop'," he said.
"I had agreed to allow the premises be used as a venue for an alternative medicine centre and had no idea of its current use.
"The moment I realised this, I contacted my auctioneer, who reached an agreement immediately with the operators of this shop that they will vacate the premises and seek accommodation elsewhere."
The judge had earlier told a local newspaper he had asked gardai about the business -- and they had told him it was perfectly legal.
"I know the gardai are satisfied with it. I cleared it with the gardai and all that is sold and done at the shop is perfectly legal," he told the newspaper.
These comments had sparked a raft of complaints from callers to 'Liveline' on RTE radio yesterday.
The owner of Happy Daze was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Mary Harney promised to bring in legislation -- similar to laws introduced in Britain -- banning a range of substances on sale in head shops by June.
"Some of the substances in question have legitimate uses, for example, in the production of plastics and industrial solvents," she said.
"It will be necessary to assess the level of use of these substances by industry in Ireland and the implications for industry of placing these substances under the ambit of misuse of drugs legislation."
Parents nationwide have lodged complaints with gardai about the sale of substances that mimic the effect of illegal drugs. Senior gardai last night said they were awaiting a change in the law before they could investigate the growing number of head shops.
Businesses such as Happy Daze have been the subject of complaints but they are operating fully within the law, a spokesman said.
Elsewhere, a second public meeting was held last night by a group protesting about the High Times shop in Roscommon town.
And in Co Clare, the HSE has called a special meeting with school principals for next Tuesday in response to concern over the number of such shops.
The move came after local consultant psychiatrist Dr Moosajee Bhamjee said there would be an increase in suicide and murder among young people if the Government didn't act now to close the shops.