Tuesday 20 February 2018

Priest jailed for hiring 'Continuity IRA' men to threaten his nephew loses sentence appeal

Francis Kelleher
Francis Kelleher

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A priest jailed for hiring men who said they were from the Continuity IRA to issue death threats and intimidate his nephew into dropping legal action he was planning against him, has lost an appeal against sentence.

Cloughduv native Francis Kelleher (60), who had been residing in Cork City, had pleaded guilty to four counts of coercion in relation to compelling his nephew to abstain from doing an act he had a lawful right to do on dates between June 2012 and January 2013.

He was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to four years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on April 30, 2015.

Dismissing Kelleher's appeal against the severity of his sentence today, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said an attempt to stop an individual from pursuing legal proceedings was a very serious matter even where the threats may be mild.

In this case, the threats were “particularly nasty” and caused great fear for Kelleher's nephew and his family, Mr Justice Mahon said.

The fact that Kelleher utilised the name of the Continuity IRA for the purpose of instilling in his victim the maximum amount of fear made the offence “particularly reprehensible”.

Kelleher's nephew “absolutely believed” that he and his family were in serious danger from the threats, Mr Jutice Mahon said.

The threats were realistic enought that Kelleher's nephew felt the need to check under his car before going to work every day. He feared strange cars and walking around his neighbourhood, the judge said.

The fact Kelleher paid substantial money to people to make theses threats further emphasised the seriousness of the situation, Mr Justice Mahon said. It excluded the possibility that they were made “on a whim” or were the product of ill thought-out momentary madness.

On the contrary, he said it suggested planning, determination and disregard towards the victim and his family.

Mr Justice Mahon said it was a remarkable feature that the victim was Kelleher's nephew and Kelleher himself was a priest and hospital chaplain. These were vocations which wee normally associated with “caring for others”, the judge said.

Kelleher's barrister, Thomas Creed SC, said his client was effectively “a broken man”. He had lost his work of administering to the sick in hospital, had lost his livelihood and lost his dwelling - it had been provided by the diocese.

Mr Creed submitted that the Circuit Court judge should have suspended a portion of his client's sentence.

Whle four years may have been an the upper end of the scale, Mr Justice Mahon said the sentence imposed was within the sentencing judge's discretion having regard to the number of offences and their nature.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Paul Butler, said no error in principle had been found and Kelleher's appeal was therefore dismissed.

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