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Whoever paid €2,200 fine is my enemy, says freed ex-IFA chief

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Former IFA president
John Dillon arriving at
Limerick Prison yesterday
to serve an eight-day
sentence for non-payment
of a fine relating to his
electronic general
election signs last ye

Former IFA president John Dillon arriving at Limerick Prison yesterday to serve an eight-day sentence for non-payment of a fine relating to his electronic general election signs last ye

John Dillon 's electronic general
election sign

John Dillon 's electronic general election sign

/

Former IFA president John Dillon arriving at Limerick Prison yesterday to serve an eight-day sentence for non-payment of a fine relating to his electronic general election signs last ye

A FORMER Irish Farmers' Association president jailed after he refused to pay fines for illegal election signs rounded on the mystery donor who stumped up €2,200 to secure his release.

John Dillon (64) was taken from his farm by gardai and brought to Limerick jail yesterday morning. But he was released a short time later -- at 2.15pm -- after spending just three hours in a prison cell.

Mr Dillon was taken into custody because he refused to pay fines totalling €2,200 after illegally erecting electronic signs along busy roads in a number of locations across Limerick.

The signs were canvassing for votes in last year's general election which he contested as an independent candidate.

It is understood a cash payment was lodged to the prison service to secure his release. It is unknown who paid the fine.

But Mr Dillon -- who runs a 140-acre farm with his son Sean -- said yesterday he did not instruct anyone to pay the outstanding sum.

"Anyone that paid the fine on my behalf would actually be an enemy of mine. I would not appreciate it or thank them one bit," he said.

After spending almost three hours in a cell with a man awaiting trial for murder, Mr Dillon was freed just after 2pm.

Speaking outside the prison gates, Mr Dillon -- who served as IFA President from 2002 to 2006 -- said he did not receive any reason for his early release.

"The gardai asked me yesterday would I present myself to the prison and I said, 'No, I don't want to go to jail'. I said I'll be there (at the farm) if you want me so they came and collected me.

Freezing

"They took all my particulars and put me into a cell. It was a very, very cold cell -- it was freezing. There was seats that weren't too comfortable either.

"Another guy was put into the cell with me a short time later. He said he was up in court again in the next few weeks for murder."

Mr Dillon said he refused to eat the prison lunch.

"I didn't open it -- I don't know what was in it. I had decided I wasn't going to eat anything for the eight days in there."

"They called me a couple of hours later and said they were releasing me. They didn't give me any reason. The prison wardens were top class to me -- they just said I was being released," he said.

Mr Dillon said the whole experience left him feeling "very bad".

"I put up electronic signs and was told to take them down by the council.

"I wouldn't take them down because others had them up in other counties. I felt I was being victimised," he said.

"I am very upset about this. I didn't want to go to jail. Jail is not the place to be -- I am not a criminal. I should never have been put into jail. I don't regret anything."

Mr Dillon said he hoped this would be the end of the matter.

At Newcastle West District Court last May, Limerick County Council successfully prosecuted him for failing to comply with enforcement orders to remove two signs.

The local authority had written to Mr Dillon advising him that the signs were illegal under the planning act and were a distraction to motorists and a traffic hazard.

Judge Mary O'Halloran ordered that Mr Dillon pay fines totalling €200 and €2,000 in costs to Limerick County Council. Failure to pay would result in eight days' imprisonment.

Mr Dillon refused to pay the fines and cited other general election candidates who used similar signs and were not prosecuted.

Yesterday morning, two garda officers arrived to his farm at Killuragh, Pallasgreen, Co Limerick, while he was feeding cattle yesterday at 10.30am. They brought him into the Mulgrave Street prison at 11.10am.

Mr Dillon, who has nine children and more than 20 grandchildren, manages a farm with up to 700 cattle -- mainly dry stock -- and 130 sheep.

He works full-time on the farm where his family have lived for 300 years.

Running as an independent candidate last year, he received 4,395 first preference votes in the Limerick constituency, but was eliminated in the three-seat race on the third count.

Irish Independent