A man described as the “oldest drugs mule to come before the courts” and another man have been jailed for three years for the possession of €1.2 million in drugs.
Last month the Court of Appeal found that the suspended 10-year sentences originally imposed on Edward Rooney (65) of Ballinacorribeg, Roundwood, Co Wicklow and Des Ryan (55) of Belfield Springs, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford were too lenient following a successful appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In October 2013 Judge Desmond Hogan handed down suspended terms of 10 years to both men after they pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possessing 4.5kg of heroin and 227g of cocaine for sale or supply on April 5, 2012.
The court heard that the men had been under financial pressure when they agreed to transport and collect a bag containing drugs from the UK to Ireland.
Returning a written judgement today, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Sean Ryan said that an issue arose in the case whereby the two men had been at liberty and now came to be imprisoned.
“There is additional disappointment at the end of an extra period of anxiety for a person who has survived more or less unscathed in one court sentencing process to find himself facing sentence following a successful prosecution appeal,” Mr Justice Ryan said.
He said the “stressful nature of that experience” had been recognised as “perhaps justifying some degree of leniency”.
The judge said the situation had been referred to as “double jeopardy” and courts in other countries had made allowances for it by reducing the new term of imprisonment.
Mr Justice Ryan said the court was of the view that “some significant allowance” should be made for this and the fact that a considerable period had elapsed since the date of sentence.
However he said there “must be imprisonment” as the offending was serious, the value of the drugs was “very substantial” and their nature was in “the most dangerous category”.
Whether the men actually knew which drugs they were moving is of little relevance, Mr Justice Ryan said, because they were willing to get involved in the business whatever the particular drugs were to be transported.
“They chose this way to make money - small amounts admittedly - and played roles that are essential to the business of drug dealing,” Mr Justice Ryan said.
Allowing the maximum mitigation Mr Justice Ryan said, the appropriate sentences for these offences was five years imprisonment.
However, because of new testimonials and references submitted in mitigation and the other considerations, the court would reduce this to a sentence of three years to date from today.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms Martina Baxter BL, had previously told the appeal court that the imposition of a sentence of ten years suspended for seven years was an error in itself.
Ms Baxter submitted that there were no “wholly exceptional circumstances” that could warrant such a departure from the sentencing norm. Counsel said there were public policy matters and general deterrence aspects that must be taken in to account in sentencing.
Mr Sean Gillane SC, for Ryan, told the court that Ryan had led a blameless life up to close to the age of 60, which in terms of the usual profile of a drugs possession offender was “almost unique”.
He said the evidence from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation was that Ryan was not someone who would be expected to be back before the court. Counsel said Ryan’s level of ignorance of drugs was such that he did not know the physical level at which heroin was to be found.
Counsel for Mr Rooney, Mr Anthony Sammon SC, told the appeal court that Rooney “must be the oldest drugs mule to come before the criminal courts in Ireland” and he had not come across an older one himself.
He submitted that Rooney was at an age that would put him in the category of elderly offenders before the court.
In reply, Ms Baxter said she would think that there are many people in their sixties who might take exception to being placed in the category of “elderly”.
She submitted that the trial judge erred in principle in terms of the “excessive weight” he attributed to the personal circumstances of the two accused men, and the error in sentencing was a serious departure which warranted the intervention of the court.
The men were arrested after gardaí set up a surveillance operation in the car park of a pub in Finglas.
Mr Rooney, driving a Ford Mondeo, was seen parking alongside a truck driven by Mr Ryan and walking over to the driver's window.
Ryan was then seen handing over a black hold-all bag which Rooney put in the car boot and drove off.
Both men were arrested very shortly afterwards and brought to Finglas Garda Station.
Gardaí recovered the hold-all bag containing nine plastic bags containing packages of heroin worth €1.26 million, and one bag of cocaine worth €15,939.