Tuesday 24 October 2017

One of Ireland's biggest pig farmers jailed for 18 months after starving pigs cannibalised each other

Judge called the situation 'cruelty on an industrial scale'

Pig farmer Rory O'Brien from Killicane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork pictured at Cork Circuit Court
Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Pig farmer Rory O'Brien from Killicane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork pictured at Cork Circuit Court Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

ONE of Ireland's biggest pig farmers was jailed for 18 months after his starving pigs cannibalised each other in what a judge warned was "cruelty on an industrial scale."

Rory O'Brien (60) pleaded guilty to animal cruelty after admitting he caused unnecessary suffering to one pig by failing to treat it after it was found eaten alive.

Other animals were found sick and starving while some pig units even overrun by rats.

O’Brien, whose north Cork pig unit handled up to 20,000 animals, now owes €22m to the banks with Cork Circuit Criminal Court told his finances are "absolutely catastrophic."

The father of five pleaded guilty to a total of five animal cruelty charges.

Judge Sean O’Donnabhain said he had "never come across like this before" in all his years of dealing with distressing animal cruelty cases.

"He openly defied them (the Department of Agriculture). What brazenness in the context of the evidence," he said as he noted that O'Brien had even written to inspectors insisting his Mitchelstown farm met the highest standards.

On one occasion, a Department of Agriculture inspector felt so threatened by O'Brien at his farm that she had to call the Gardai.

On another occasion, an inspector became very upset at seeing workmen watering plants and shrubs in the garden near the pig farm while animals inside the shed suffered in May heat without adequate food and water.

Pigs were found to have cannibalised each other.

One animal was found to have an untreated abscess the size of a small football on its leg.

The court was told that O’Brien of Killicane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork was admitting five charges brought under animal welfare regulations.

Rory O’Brien had faced a total of 32 counts.

The charges to which the farmer pleaded guilty included that on July 25 2011 he caused unnecessary suffering to a pig by failing to treat or euthanise it after it was found eaten alive with a large bleeding wound on its left side at Killicane, Mitchelstown.

He also admitted that, between May 3 and Sept 8 2011, he failed to take the necessary measures to ensure the welfare of the pigs under his control and that he failed to ensure the animals were not caused unnecessary suffering or injury by failing to treat or euthanise them.

O’Brien also admitted that, between June 7 and 10 2011, he failed to comply with a welfare notice relating to the animals in his possession or under his control and care, the notice being dated June 7.

The farmer admitted that, on May 9 2011, he caused unnecessary suffering to a pig by failing to treat or euthanise it after it had its flesh extensively eaten out of its ribcage.

Finally, he admitted that, on June 3 2011, he caused unnecessary suffering to a boar by failing to treat or euthanise it when it had swollen joints and serious abscesses.

Rory O’Brien ranked as one of the largest-scale pig farmers in Ireland.

He waged a high-profile campaign against the closure by Dairygold of its Galtee Meats plant in Mitchelstown in 2007.

The plant – one of Ireland’s biggest pigmeat processing facilities – closed with the loss of almost 500 jobs as part of the rationalisation of Dairygold operations.

His pig operation was four times the size of the average Irish pig farm and, at its peak operation, employed over 40 people.

Judge O'Donnabhain noted that O'Brien's animal welfare issues occurred at a time when he was under severe pressure over his finances.

However, he said the severity of the animal welfare and cruelty issues required a custodial sentence.

He jailed O'Brien for 18 months.

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