Thief targeted women as they prayed in church
A former fisherman has been jailed for five years for robbery after targeting vulnerable women in churches.
Patrick 'Paddy' O'Brien (53), who has 123 previous convictions, admitted a spate of robberies on women as they prayed at churches around the Cork area.
O'Brien pleaded guilty to four robbery charges in May and June this year - one of which saw him target an 87-year-old pensioner on three different occasions.
The woman told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that O'Brien's actions had left her fearing for her safety. The frail pensioner was singled out by O'Brien on three separate occasions, one of which saw him try to grab her handbag near St Finbarr's Church in Cork.
O'Brien also targeted the pensioner as she went to pray in St Augustine's Church in Cork.
"I was nervous of people coming up behind me in the street," she told Judge Dave Riordan.
"I lived alone for 16 years and I hope and pray I will be able to do so. I am afraid the alternative is to go into a nursing home.
"In the weeks before he was taken into custody I was not able to go out. Because I was not able to walk regularly my mobility has weakened," she said.
Another victim, a Turkish woman who is now an Irish citizen, was targeted by O'Brien as she knelt in prayer at St Peter and Paul's Church in Cork.
She told the court O'Brien demanded her handbag and threatened to stab her if she didn't comply.
She screamed, struggled with him and then ran to the Bridewell garda station having had her handbag taken.
When a garda tried to calm her, he noticed that she was bleeding from an apparent cut inflicted by a sharp implement.
Judge Riordan was told O'Brien suffers from a chronic alcohol problem and has effectively been homeless in Cork for the past 15 years.
The court was told that O'Brien's alcohol addiction was so severe he had effectively "drank away three fishing boats".
Judge Riordan heard that O'Brien, who is originally from Kinsale, now deeply regrets his actions. However, the judge said people were entitled to walk the streets in safety and it was a matter of concern that people attending church to pray had been singled out.
He jailed O'Brien for eight years but agreed to suspend the last three years of the sentence in light of his plea and remorse.
Judge Riordan made it a condition of O'Brien's sentence suspension that he stay out of Cork city for a period of three years after his release.