Man 'acting for IRA' threatened to burn farmer's sons if he didn't hand over cattle

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Patsy McArdle

A man who claimed to be acting on behalf of the IRA has been jailed for an attempt to extort livestock valued at €20,000 from a farmer.

The man was handed a three-year-jail sentence at a sitting of the Circuit Criminal Court in Monaghan.

But Judge Martin Nolan agreed to suspend 18 months of the jail term which he imposed on Marc Finnegan, 31, of Cullenstown, Readypenny, Dundalk, Co Louth, who pleaded  guilty to demanding, with menaces, 18 in-calf heifers, valued at about €20,000, from Oliver Burns, at Mullinclavin, Magheracloone, Co. Monaghan.

The court was told that threats were made during a phone call on July 9, 2011, and that Finnegan claimed to be a member of the IRA. He had threatened Mr. Burns himself, and also his wife and sons.

Similar threats were also made in a second phone call two days later.

Detective Garda Oliver Flaherty, in response to questions from Mr. Frank Martin BL, prosecuting counsel, confirmed that that the victim in this case was a farmer based at Magheracloone in South Monaghan who specialised in cattle dealing.

During a conversation that lasted 45 minutes, Finnegan stated he was from the IRA, and had warned that Mr. Burns’s sons would be taken across the Border in a van and burned, that his wife, who worked in a Garda station, would be sacked, and that his cattle business would be closed down.

The call was recorded by Mr Burns’s 17-year-old son, who happened to pick up a receiver in another room, the court was told.

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Det Garda Flaherty confirmed that he recognised the voice of Mr Finnegan from this recording.

Judge Martin Nolan was told the defendant had a total of 54 previous convictions, 37 of which were for road traffic offences, while 16 were for animal cruelty, relating to cattle, and other incidents in December 2009 and May 2010.

The garda witness agreed with defence counsel, Richard Lyons SC that another person had been along with Finnegan when he made the call and may have been "prompting” the defendant. This person had been questioned but made no admissions and was never charged.

His lawyer said Finnegan was an only child who was living with and taking care of his parents. He had suffered a severe sexual abuse incident when a young teenager, and had threatened and attempted self-harm in recent years. It was accepted the case had been adjourned from time to time, but this was because of his client’s mental health.

He said that despite the threats made, Mr Finnegan had never actually been involved with the IRA and had no history of violence. He had also come up with €7,000 for the Burns family as a tangible expression of remorse, counsel said, even though his own family were in very poor circumstances.

Giving his judgment, Judge Nolan said the threats made by Finnegan had been deeply distressing to the injured party and his family. He sentenced Mr. Finnegan, as stated.

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