Mr Hassett said he had “a reluctance to get involved in this case because it involved cruelty to horses”.
He explained that it had been known to happen that vulnerable farmers such as his client would have other horses secreted into their stock.
“His land became a dumping ground,” he said.
Judge Patrick Durcan, presiding, recalled evidence previously given by Aileen Tighe, a veterinary inspector with the Department of Agriculture.
“This was the most appalling case of cruelty,” he said, which necessitated five visits by the Department to remove the starved and neglected animals.
On the last occasion Ms Tighe outlined that on one of her visits to the lands at Caherea, “The ground was bare and the horses had clearly grazed it down to the butt”.
“They had started to graze the bushes because there was no grass available. I’ve never seen that before, just to give you an idea of how bad it was for the horses,” she said.
She also went to Ballynacally, where the defendant had 50 to 60 acres of land and observed 11 horses on that date.
“The ground was bare, there was no grass growth and the land was boggy. There was no sign of extra feed being provided. Again the horses here were wild, they were not used to being handled. The ground was very difficult to travel on it was so wet,” she said at the time.
During the investigation Ms Tighe established that O’Neill had 30 horses on the home farm in Caherea and 16 at the land in Ballynacally. A notice was served on O’Neill outlining they were being neglected and their health and welfare was at risk. It required O’Neill to sell the horses or dispose of them within one month. In the case of removal he was required to give them sufficient water and feed and furthermore he was required to desist from keeping horses again.
When Ms Tighe visited the farm a short time later she said the horses had lost a considerable amount of condition.
“There was no feed available on the land and no supplement was being given. They became wild when we would get near them. I felt the defendant had not complied with the notice and I felt the Department would have to remove the animals. Because we had no feed for them we made an arrangement with a neighbour to provide silage for them from January 30”.
On another visit two weeks later she found five carcasses on the land at Caherea, while at Ballynacally all 16 were still alive but one had lost a lot of condition.
Specialised contractors had to be employed to remove the animals, at considerable expense to the Department of Agriculture and the taxpayer.
In total 22 horses were removed from the home farm, and eight fresh carcasses and another two carcasses as well as bones were discovered scattered on the lands. In Ballynacally 16 horses were removed but one horse was very weak and was later destroyed.
On Wednesday Judge Durcan said, “I can understand how someone can reach the point he reached, but at the same time I can’t ignore the level of severe cruelty in this”.
He was advised that the Department of Agriculture’s expenses in this case were €14,419 and Judge Durcan said that had to be addressed.
He directed that a folio be attached to O’Neill’s lands which would give the State an interest in the lands, and this would facilitate the compensation element of the case. “It will act as a burden on the lands, like a mortgage and that will ensure this is dealt with. I abhor the level of cruelty that was involved in this case,” he said.
Separately a sum of €2,000 was to be paid to an animal welfare charity of the court’s choosing. The case was adjourned for five weeks to allow the Department of Agriculture and the defence organise placing the interest on the lands, and for the defendant to lodge the cash to pay the charity.