A Limerick farmer who shot and injured another farmer in a long-running dispute over a right of way has been sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Ted O’Donoghue, aged 74, of Kilmoreen, Kildimo, had pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including recklessly discharging a firearm, at Ballycasey, Kildimo on June 16, 2017.
Imposing sentence this week, Judge Tom O’Donnell said despite the age and poor health of the defendant a custodial sentence had to be imposed given the seriousness of the offence.
During an earlier sentencing hearing, Detective Garda Jason Mitchell told Limerick Circuit Court the incident was connected with a long-running dispute.
He said a laneway which passes through Mr O’Donoghue’s lands is used by a number of other farmers to access their lands.
However, the defendant has taken issue with how the laneway is used and does not believe tractors and heavy vehicles should be driven on the laneway.
“They are tearing it asunder,” he told gardai following his arrest adding the right of way dates back to the era of horses and carts.
Det Garda Mitchell said a major investigation was launched after John Hayes (67) sustained wounds to his shoulder after Mr O’Donoghue discharged his legally-held shotgun at him at around 10.30am.
Mr Hayes’ sheepdog, Lassie, which was in the cab of his John Deere tractor, died after being struck by multiple pellets.
The court heard Mr Hayes was confronted Mr O’Donoghue as he arrived to carry out work on his farm. The defendant, who was inside the gate, told him “you are not coming in here, you are never again coming in here”.
He then retrieved his shotgun from his van and discharged a shot in the direction of Mr Hayes and his tractor.
Mr Hayes told gardai he heard his dog screaching but did not immediately realise he had been shot.
Following his arrest later in the day, Mr O’Donoghue told gardai he had “blazed” Mr Hayes but insisted he did not intend to hurt him and did not realise he had hit him.
He added he did not know his sheepdog was in the tractor which was struck by pellets.
Det Garda Mitchell said the defendant’s shotgun was seized when he was located in Patrickswell a number of hours later and that he has not sought to have it returned or to renew his firearms licence.
Anthony Sammon SC said land disputes such as the one outlined in court “can become an obsession” and “have a way of turning right-minded people into obsessive fools.”
He said his client had gotten “worked up in a way he should not have” and had become frustrated as efforts to resolve the dispute had failed.
Imposing sentence, Judge O’Donnell noted Mr Hayes thought he was going to be killed and that there has been a “substantial psychological fallout” as a result of the incident.
He commented that the right-of-way has been an “enormous source of conflct” but that this did not justify what happened.
The judge accepted Mr O’Donoghue is “deeply attached to the land” and has been involved in farming all his life.
He said there were a number of mitigating factors in the case including the defendant’s age, guilty plea, his compliance with his bail conditions and his previous good record.
However, he said given the circumstances of the incident and the injuries sustained, a custodial sentence was warranted.,
He imposed a two and-a-half year prison sentence, suspending the final 18 months.
He agreed to a put a stay on his order until midday on January 7, 2019.