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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Warning graphic content: Former farming leader jailed for "appalling" animal cruelty

A pony found dead on John Deegan's Wicklow farm
A pony found dead on John Deegan's Wicklow farm
A severely malnourished horse on Deegan's farm
An animal carcass found on Deegan's farm
One of more than 10 dead sheep found on the farm

Jim Cusack

These are some of the horrifying images of starving and dead animals on the land of one of the country’s one-time farming leaders.

John Deegan snr, 74, former president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, pleaded guilty at Carlow District Court to neglect of a large number of cattle, sheep, horses and donkeys on his farm in County Wicklow last year.

Some of the images of dead animals in possession of the Sunday Independent are too horrifying to be published.

The treatment of the animals was described as “appalling” by Judge Eamon O’Brien after he viewed pictures of emaciated animals and dire conditions on Deegan’s farm at Barnacashel, Crablane. He sentenced Deegan to five months’ imprisonment.

Garda Chris Murray gave evidence of the neglect of dozens of animals when he visited the farm with animal welfare officers last year.

Inspectors from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said after sentence it was one of the worst cases of farming cruelty they had ever dealt with.

An animal carcass found on Deegan's farm

Barbara Bent of the Society said: “Waterford SPCA received a call and visited the farm with Garda Murray on the 24th of April last year.

 “There were some 75 horses, many pregnant and emaciated, some with last year’s foals in a most dreadfully poor state and two horses’ carcases were present, one of which was there quite a time.  

“One tiny new pony foal was struggling to keep with its mum around what was an old jeep with hay in the back. Horses were clamouring over the rusty bonnet to get at the feed. We had to immediately remove this vulnerable little one to a safe place. There were also donkeys in urgent need of hoof care present.

“Further up the fields we found three dead sheep and then about ten more, hard to be accurate about numbers as the foxes had eaten them and also loads of bits and bones all over the place.

“The ten suckler cows present were very poor and grass was very scarce due to the farm being extremely over stocked. There was a downer cow, still alive in an old shed but in a bad way.

“At Mr Deegan’s second farm we were totally shocked at the condition of the suckler cows. They were in a most awful condition, emaciated, calving on slats with slurry underfoot, giving calves little chance of survival. We have never seen cows kept is such a state. It was unbelievable, totally unacceptable and we hope never to see animals in such conditions again.”

The ISPCA revisited the farm in May last year and found conditions had not improved.

Ms Bent said: “Many foals had been born and there was still far too many animals present, but on finding a ewe with a little lamb at foot and another dead one hanging out of her we made a great effort to catch both only to see Mr Deegan pick up the little lamb and fling it into the back of his van with such force we were speechless. Naturally it bleated in pain and struggled out towards the door only to be given the same treatment again, certainly not the behaviour of a ‘good shepherd’.”

One of more than 10 dead sheep found on the farm

Deegan was elected president of the 8,000-member ICSFA for a year’s term in March 2003. He previously served as Sheep Committee chairman and Leinster vice-president.

Deegan has some 300 acres of mostly hilly and reclaimed land. At the time the inspectors visited he had three expensive race horses which were in “top class” condition.

It is understood he is appealing the jail sentence.

A severely malnourished horse on Deegan's farm

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