When gardaí carried out a search of a house in Mountrath last year they found nine rolls of plastic silage wrap, which had been stolen from a farm the previous month.
Arising from the search a 37 year old farmer Garrett Kirwan with an address at Ringstown, Mountrath came before Portlaoise District Court last Thursday (2 March).
He pleaded guilty to a charge of handling stolen property valued at €720 at his home on 13 July last year.
Inspector Jer Glavin told the court the nine rolls of silage wrap seized at Mr Kirwan's house was just some of the property that was taken from a farmyard in June, with “no connection to Mr Kirwan to that crime.”
Barrister Colm Hennessy instructed by solicitor Tom O’Grady said that Mr Kirwan is self employed and works in the agriculture business. He said he travelled around in a van with his telephone number on the side of it.
Mr Hennessy said that on 10 July Mr Kirwan received a telephone call from three individuals who wanted to meet him. When the meeting took place, “which was not by prior arrangement,” said Mr Morrissey, the men put nine rolls of silage wrap in the back of his client's van.
“No money actually changed hands and he was getting them at half price €360. When he got home he got his son to put them in a shed. All nine rolls were recovered,” said the Barrister.
“Judge Alan Mitchell asked: “People just came and put the bales in the back of the van?”
Mr Hennessy said that Mr Kirwan had on several occasions tried to ring the people who gave him the silage wrap but got no answer to his calls.
“They told him that they had already sold 200 rolls of wrap locally. He also uses those wraps. He never saw the people again. They never returned for the payment. The next thing he knew was when the gardaí called to his home.”
Judge Mitchell said: “He had them for three days. Why didn't he ring the gardaí to say that something suspicious had happened? Three men put silage wraps into his van?”
Mr Hennessy said: “He just wasn't thinking straight. He has no previous convictions. To find himself in court is totally incomprehensible to him. This will damage his reputation in rural Ireland.”
The Barrister said that his client is a self employed Artificial Insemination (AI) Technician, one of only five in Laois and “his reputation is in tatters.” He said that the defendant's bank had suspended his credit line pending the outcome of the court case.
Mr Hennessy handed in a number of testimonials from people about his client's good character and standing.
He said: “They say that he is honest, reliable, trustworthy, well known and well liked.”
Judge Mitchell said: “If he is held in such high regard he should be able to overcome this bump in the road.”
Mr Hennessy said that the incident had affected Mr Kirwan's wife and children and also handed in a letter from the children's school.
He also said that Mr Kirwan had €1,000 with him in court as a show of remorse for his actions.
The defending barrister also said that Mr Kirwan was: “utterly ashamed, embarrassed and absolutely disgusted with himself. It's going to take him a very long time to restore his credibility.”
Judge Mitchell rejected the offer of €1,000 saying: “There is an unwritten law of trust in the farming community. It is considered a serious breach of that trust to steal property and then in turn for other farmers to accept and buy the stolen property. There's a lot in the agricultural community and in rural Ireland saying that there are not enough guards around. But people like your (Mr Hennessy) client lead to a lot more thefts taking place. Everyone has to go in and buy their own bales of wraps. But he took them at half the price.”
Judge Mitchell said that he didn't want the message to go out that those who offered money in court for their remorse would be treated any differently than those who come before the court with nothing.
Mr Hennessy said that the court has to send out a signal in relation to such offences. He said that Mr Kirwan's appearance in court is a deterrent in itself.
“His reputation is on the floor and it will take come time for to restore it. His bank might say good luck and good bye, that they don't want to deal with him again. It was an act of naivety and stupidity,” said the Barrister.
Judge Mitchell said that he noted the problems that the issue had brought to bear on the defendant's family, however, he said that Mr Kirwan “brought these problems on himself.”
Insp. Glavin said that thefts from farms “is a huge rural issue. Without people receiving stolen goods there wouldn't be a market for them and in turn for people to go out and commit the crimes.”
Mr Hennessy asked Judge Mitchell not to make Mr Kirwan, “the poster child for rural crime. It was an isolated incident.”
“This is not an isolated case,” replied Judge Mitchell, “It is for your client. This offence is an attack on the agricultural industry and agricultural communities.”
Judge Mitchell went on to convict Mr Kirwan of the offence and fined him €720, the amount the bales were valued at, and fixed recognisances in the event of an appeal.
Before disposing of the case Judge Mitchell said that he hoped the farming community would remember a quote from the Bible: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”