Thursday 19 September 2019

Former senator 'kicked and spat' at gardaí when they arrested him outside music festival, court hears

Former Senator James Heffernan
Former Senator James Heffernan

Ralph Riegel

A FORMER senator is alleged to have kicked and spat at Gardaí when they arrested him outside a popular Irish music festival after deciding he was intoxicated and a danger to himself.

The revelation came as James Heffernan (38), a former Labour senator and General Election 2016 candidate for the Social Democrats, denied two charges of dangerous driving and one charge of drink driving after attending the Cork music festival, Indiependence.

Heffernan also denied alleged Public Order Act offences and rejected claims he kicked and spat at Gardaí.

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

However, one Garda said that, after being arrested, the Limerick politician said he had "a whole heap of porter, whiskey and gin."

Heffernan, previously identified in court as Seamus O'Heifearnain, appeared before Judge Brian Sheridan at Fermoy District Court where he denied all charges.

The counts 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.

However, 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 a Garda informed him he was being arrested, it was claimed 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".

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 for a breath test.

Judge Sheridan, having heard almost five hours of evidence, adjourned the case until January 4 next.

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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