Paul Williams: Acquittal of man charged with murdering intruder sends out message to make would-be burglars think twice
The acquittal of a man who had been charged with murdering an intruder at his home is a significant watershed in Irish criminal justice history.
Martin Keenan (20), from Finglas, Dublin, walked free from court on Wednesday after becoming the first person in the State to use the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which allows a person to use reasonable force to defend their home against an intruder.
He had pleaded not guilty to murdering Wesley Mooney (33), a convicted criminal and drug addict, at St Joseph's Park halting site, Dunsink Lane, north Dublin, on June 5, 2016.
The trial heard Mooney died after sustaining fatal stab wounds when Mr Keenan struck him twice with a broken garden shears: one stab wound penetrated both lungs and sliced two of the main blood vessels.
The incident occurred when Mr Keenan and his wife had returned home that night to find two strangers - Mooney and his girlfriend - in the bedroom of their mobile home.
The defendant claimed Mooney had attacked him and he picked up the nearest object to him - the broken garden shears - and used it to protect himself.
He told gardaí: "They were two junkies and I was frightened ... He [Mooney] came running at me so I picked up some kind of a tool yoke and I hit him with it.
"I hit him twice, high and low ... He fell on the ground."
In the wake of the landmark jury decision, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) expressed concern that the 2011 Act may encourage the increased use of lethal force by homeowners in similar circumstances.
The Act was introduced in the wake of the controversial case of Mayo farmer Padraig Nally who shot dead a notorious burglar, John 'Frog' Ward, at his isolated farmhouse in October 2004.
Mr Nally, who had been living in fear of being attacked and robbed in his home, was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and jailed for six years. However, following an appeal and a second trial, the farmer was acquitted after a jury accepted he had acted in self-defence.
The new 2011 Act, introduced by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, clarified the rights of the homeowner. It removed the requirement that homeowners were obliged to "retreat" from intruders on their property rather than confront them.
The argument put forward by the ICCL is that this result may send out the wrong message to homeowners that they can use lethal force if they want to protect their families and properties.
But while the concerns are certainly well intentioned, it seems highly unlikely that the law-abiding citizens of Ireland will feel compelled to suddenly tool themselves up to begin eradicating thugs who trespass on their property with malign intent.
They won't be buying new shotguns or heading down to the local Woodies store this weekend to stock up on chainsaws, axes and shears.
If this landmark court decision is to send out a message, it should simply be to dozens of gangs of highly dangerous thieves who have been terrorising rural Ireland for years now.
The reason the laws around defending one's family and property were clarified and updated in the 2011 Act was down to people power - people power in the sense that many of the public were outraged at the treatment that Padraig Nally received under the law of the land.
In recent years we have witnessed several extremely violent and terrifying home invasions, especially attacks on elderly people living alone in isolated rural areas of the country.
And while it may upset the sensibilities of the liberal elite, the truth is that the vast majority of the ordinary, decent people of this country - the silent majority - have absolutely no sympathy for any criminal who is killed or seriously injured while engaged in such heinous acts.
The overwhelming public support for Mr Nally is evidence of this universal revulsion for hoodlums who prey on the most vulnerable in our society.
Graham Lowndes was one of those ordinary citizens who welcomed this week's court acquittal - but he knows more about this than most. In 2012 he shot and injured a thief at the home of his elderly father in north Dublin. Graham, who also received massive public support for his actions, said that this result will be of comfort to homeowners - and might make intruders think twice about trespassing and burglary.
The old adage of don't do the crime if you can't do the time should be amended: if you don't want to end up being lawfully injured or killed in the commission of a crime, then stay at home.