Monday 20 May 2019

Former Senator convicted of kicking and spitting at gardai outside of music festival

Former Senator James Heffernan pictured at Fermoy District court
Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Former Senator James Heffernan pictured at Fermoy District court Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Ralph Riegel

A FORMER Senator was convicted of kicking and spitting at Gardaí when they arrested him outside a popular Irish music festival after deciding he was intoxicated and a danger to himself.

James Heffernan (38), a former Labour senator and General Election 2016 candidate for the Social Democrats, was also disqualified from driving for three years after being convicted of driving while over the alcohol limit.

The former Limerick politician was arrested by Gardaí three times in the space of 24 hours over July 31/August 1 2016.

The court heard one Garda say that, after being arrested, the Limerick teacher boasted he had "a whole heap of porter, whiskey and gin."

Former Senator James Heffernan at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke
Former Senator James Heffernan at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke

Heffernan had denied drink driving, two charges of dangerous driving, three assault charges and one Public Order offence before Fermoy District Court.

Previous evidence to the court had alleged Heffernan spat in the face of an arresting Garda with the officer later having to undergo precautionary blood tests.

Judge Brian Sheridan ruled in favour of the State following the two-day case and convicted Heffernan on a total of seven charges.

Judge Sheridan noted that Heffernan was stopped while driving with a 100mg blood alcohol level.

He disqualified him from driving for three years and fined him €500.

Judge Sheridan said that, in light of defence legal submissions, he would reduce the two dangerous driving charges to careless driving, convicting on both counts.

He imposed a fine of €400 for the two offences.

The judge said he was also convicting Heffernan on the three assault charges - two of common assault and one of assault causing harm.

However, Judge Sheridan said he did not want to deal with sentencing on these charges until he had the benefit of a Probation and Welfare Service (PWS) report.

He adjourned the matter until March 15 next when a PWS report may be ready.

Judge Sheridan noted Inspector Tony O'Sullivan's confirmation that the defendant had no previous convictions.

"I should say that the evidence of the defendant was at strong variance with that of the Gardaí and the independent witness," he said.

The former senator denied suggestions he ever spat at officers - and said he simply asked them to leave him alone outside the festival grounds.

Heffernan, identified in court as Seamus O'Heifearnain, asked for recognisances to be fixed in case of appeals.

The charges all related to July 31/August 1 2016 and involved locations at either the Limerick Road and Coolnanave area of Mitchelstown, not far from where the Indiependence music festival was concluding.

Judge Sheridan was told that security staff at the festival made the decision not to allow the defendant back onto the festival grounds.

However, the defendant insisted he was never on the festival grounds.

Gardaí intervened when Heffernan was seen kicking security barriers which then fell onto the roadway.

Gardaí said they initially asked the defendant's friends to take him away but, when he fell into the barriers, officers were worried he posed a danger to himself and others.

When informed he was being arrested, a Garda said Heffernan fell to the ground and pretended to be unconscious.

Gardaí explained they had to physically lift him towards a parked patrol vehicle - with one festival security guard explaining the defendant refused to walk and dragged his feet along the roadway.

Security guard Keith Thompson told the court said he then saw the defendant kicking one garda and spitting at another.

In total, witnesses claimed Heffernan spat or kicked out at three Gardaí.

Gardaí said the defendant became even more aggressive in Fermoy Garda Station, kicking a garda in the mouth so that he was left bleeding from a cut lip.

He then spat in the face of Detective Garda Jim Fitzpatrick.

The detective, who is now retired, said he had to undergo a HIV test and wait three months for the results to come back all clear.

Judge Sheridan was told by Gardaí that, at one point, it required four officers to deal with the defendant.

A few hours later, the defendant was said to be calm and coherent.

Gardaí said he apologised to them and, on being released, told them they were all "sound as a trout."

However, Heffernan had to be arrested again a short time later, at 6.10pm on August 1, after being seen walking in a dangerous manner across the busy Fermoy-Mitchelstown road near Fermoy Park.

Earlier, at 8.47am that day, Garda Dave Delea told the court he was on routine traffic patrol in a marked squad car in Mitchelstown.

As they approached a roundabout near the Firgrove Hotel in Mitchelstown, just a few hundred metres from the festival grounds, they spotted a silver Toyota Avensis.

It was stopped at the roundabout. The Avensis suddenly jumped forward, forcing an oncoming car to halt.

The Toyota then stalled on the roundabout and blocked traffic. When it restarted, it almost mounted the central median of the roundabout.

As it exited the roundabout by the Limerick road, it collided with a traffic island.

The car then swerved onto the wrong side of the road and almost struck a ditch.

Garda Delea said they triggered the lights and siren on their patrol

car and indicated for the driver to stop.

He said when he approached the vehicle, he got a strong smell of

alcohol from the driver, Mr Heffernan.

"His speech was slurred and his eyes were glassy. I formed the opinion

he had been drinking."

The defendant initially refused to get out of his car and kept asking

Garda Delea: "Are you acting under your oath?"

Eventually, he got out of the car where the Garda said he staggered

and was unsteady on his feet.

Mr Heffernan was taken to Fermoy Garda Station where a 100mg blood

alcohol reading was obtained.

The former senator appeared in court wearing a brown coat, tan

waistcoat and slacks.

Mr Heffernan of Baile na Lyna, Kilfinane, Co Limerick was elected as a

Labour Party senator to the 24th Seanad.

He had unsuccessfully contested the 2007 and 2011 General Elections in

Limerick County for the Labour Party.

A graduate of the University of Limerick and a qualified primary

school teacher, Mr Heffernan taught at schools in both Ireland and the

UK.

He is also a former member of Limerick Co Council.

Mr Heffernan lost the Labour whip after he voted against the Fine

Gael-Labour Government over the 2012 Social Welfare Bill.

He contested the 2016 General Election for the Social Democrats but,

despite garnering over 3,000 votes, was not elected to the Dáil.

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