AN extraordinary row involving the Taoiseach's local golf club, a traffic warden and Mayo gardai has come to an end following a District Court ruling that could impact on club bars throughout the county.
Castlebar Golf Club in Mayo, of which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is an honourary member, was called before Judge Mary Devins to give assurances that it was complying with licensing laws which it had previously flouted.
The hearing followed a complaint by local traffic warden Lorcan Cribbin – a former member of the club – who alerted gardai when he found that the club was in breach of the Club Licensing Act by leasing its bar facilities to a third party. An objection was then lodged by Mr Cribbin and the gardai when the club tried to renew its bar licence earlier this year.
Justice Devins ruled late last year that the club had breached licensing legislation by leasing its bar and catering services to businessman Joseph McDonnell in return for €10,000. On December 5, the club was granted a licence when it gave assurances that it now had full control of the bar facilities.
Mr Cribbin had applied for costs. However, Judge Devins said that because he had been a member of the club for five years he was "complicit" with the way it was run.
The ruling could have a knock-on effect for clubs throughout the country, with legal sources claiming that the practice of leasing bar licences was "rampant" among GAA and golf clubs.
One source said: "I haven't heard of any cases where a licence has been objected to but I know of many, many places that are run like that."
After the hearing, Mr Cribbin said he felt "vindicated" by Judge Devins' ruling and now hoped to put the matter behind him.
The courtroom battle is the latest twist in a long-running dispute between the club and Mr Cribbin that began when the traffic warden left the club, claiming that he had been "discriminated against" because of his job.
In 2009, it was reported that while he was still a member of the club, Mr Cribbin complained about golfers skipping holes during competitions on the course.
His objections were rejected by the club's committee. Unsatisfied with their response, Mr Cribbin contacted the Golf Union of Ireland (GUI) about the matter.
"At a meeting, they (the club committee) said that under rule 45, section E of the handicap book, the committee could give sympathetic consideration to people who want to leave the course," Mr Cribbin said at the time.
He added: "That didn't sound right to me, so I wrote to the GUI in Dublin, who confirmed to me, and also sent a copy to Castlebar Golf Club, that the skipping of holes was a breach of the rules of golf."
Mr Cribbin was called before a disciplinary hearing at the club because the committee felt he had gone over their heads by contacting the GUI.
Local sources said that the club and the traffic warden had clashed over a number of issues prior to the argument over course rules. Both Mr Cribbin and the club brought solicitors to the meeting.
The golfer was suspended from the club for six months but subsequently resigned.
In May 2010, he wrote to each member of the Castlebar Town Council, alleging that at the meeting with the club it was said that he "would or could target cars" belonging to club members in his capacity as a traffic warden.
"I believe that I am now being discriminated against because of my occupation," he wrote. At the time, Mr Cribbin said he contacted his local TD, Enda Kenny, who said he would look into the matter.
In June 2010, former Castlebar mayor Michael Kilcoyne said the council had been "snubbed" by the golf club because it refused to engage with the council when it wrote to them following Mr Cribbin's allegations.
Mr Kilcoyne said: "As far as we're concerned, we, as elected members, wrote to them. We're not happy with that response. It is a snub. They could have said they were prepared to meet us."
Having parted company with the club, far from amicably, Mr Cribbin joined Ballaghadereen Golf Club and hostilities seemed to have died down.
However, earlier this year, Mr Cribbin noticed that the club was advertising the lease of its bar facilities. As a former publican, he knew this was in breach of the Club Licensing Act. He immediately brought it to the attention of the gardai, who investigated the matter and then lodged an objection to the bar licence renewal.
Castlebar Golf Club said: "It (the licensing issue) was before the courts and it rested on a valid objection the State had in relation to the manner in which this club operated under the licensing act.
"We are now fully compliant with the legislation. In relation to any other extraneous matters, we have no comment whatsoever."