Freed farmer vows to continue fight for farm 'promised' to him
An eight-year dispute concerning a hillside farm has resulted in numerous court battles, cattle mysteriously appearing on fields, ditches knocked, a farmer jailed for almost a year and still there is no sign of any resolution.
Last Wednesday, farmer Daniel Doherty, 40, from Templeglantine, Co Limerick, who has been in prison for 11 months, was freed despite indicating to a judge he will not leave 40 acres of farmland -- which is the issue that got him jailed in the first place.
He had been locked up since July 29 last year -- at a cost to the taxpayer of almost €70,000 -- and Judge Carroll Moran told Limerick Circuit Criminal Court that the farmer could not be kept imprisoned indefinitely.
Mr Doherty was initially jailed after refusing to obey a court order to leave the 40-acre holding at Rathcahill, Templeglantine, near his home in west Limerick. The farmland and house at the centre of the dispute previously belonged to deceased brothers, Eddie and Mattie Roche. Their neighbouring farmer, Mr Doherty helped them work the farm, save hay and walk greyhounds. Mr Doherty claims the Roche brothers promised to leave him their farm when they died.
However, the bachelor brothers did not make a will and Matt died in 2002 followed two years later by Eddie. A bitter dispute broke out between some members of the extended Roche family and Doherty over who was entitled to the farm. Ultimately the land went to the brothers' nieces and nephews.
In March 2004, Mr Doherty was ordered at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court to leave the farm and a subsequent appeal against this judgement was thrown out by the High Court in November 2010.
Last July, Mr Doherty was jailed after refusing to give an undertaking to leave the land. He was returned to court on several occasions since, but repeatedly refused to purge his contempt and was repeatedly returned to jail -- until last Wednesday.
Emmett O'Brien, barrister for the Roche family, said they consented to Mr Doherty's release if he abided by court orders. "If there is no compliance with a court order, there will be no rule of law," Mr O'Brien said.
Despite being asked to remain silent by the judge, Mr Doherty said he would be obeying the wishes of Matt and Eddie and failed to provide a judge with an undertaking to vacate the land, which he still claims is rightfully his.
"I never intended breaking the law and I am not breaking the law. I am obeying Matt and Eddie -- they had great time for me. It is them that brought me onto the land. They reared me there," Mr Doherty said.
Judge Moran noted that Mr Doherty was not of the disposition to purge his contempt, but added that he could not be "kept in jail indefinitely" and ordered his release.
Mr O'Brien protested against the release saying it was quite clear that Mr Doherty was not going to obey the court order. The judge replied that he was adjourning the case with liberty to re-enter it at any venue or at any time where he was sitting.
Speaking after he was freed, Mr Doherty said he would only respect the wishes of the deceased brothers. "I would like to thank all my supporters and the staff in the prison. They looked after me very well."
Asked would he stay away from the 40 acres, Mr Doherty replied that he would abide by what Matt and Eddie said to him. "I'm obeying Matt and Eddie's wishes -- that was understood inside in the court."
Mary Sexton, a cousin of Matt and Eddie Roche, said she was "absolutely disgusted" to see Mr Doherty released. "This has been going on for eight years. It has been very difficult. We are waiting to see if he is going to keep off the land," Ms Sexton said.
Hours after he was released, Mr Doherty returned to visit the graves of Matt and Eddie Roche and the headstone which he paid for. Later that night, gardai were back at the farm after members of the Roche family complained to them that secured gates had been tampered with and a ditch damaged.
The dispute is the only topic of conversation in Templeglantine and with no sign of any forthcoming final act to the long running controversy, deep divisions remain.