Anger at drug death sentences

The sister of tragic teenager, Alex Ryan has spoken of her disappointment at the sentences handed down to three people - including a young Kerry woman - who had been charged with drug offences arising from her brother's death after ingesting a lethal synthetic drug at a house party in Cork city.

Nicole Ryan said she felt the sentences handed down to Harry Clifton, Ruairi Maher and Jessica O'Connor were "an insult" to her brother. Mr Clifton was jailed for six months as the balance of a two year term was suspended and both Mr Maher and Ms O'Connor received two years suspended sentences.

Jessica O'Connor (20) of Rosebank House, Ballyhar, Killarney, walked free from court after being given a suspended jail sentence for drug offences following a garda investigation into the death of Mr Ryan (18) who died five days after he took a lethal designer drug at a house party in Cork city earlier this year.

Miss O'Connor was given a two year suspended sentence after pleading guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to possessing a synthetic drug called 251 NBOMe, colloquially known as N-bomb for supply to another in Cork city on January 18, 2016.

Judge Gerard O'Brien said the case of Ms O'Connor, Harry Clifton of Proby's Quay, Cork and Ruairi Maher from Ballycurrane, Thurles - all involved in sourcing the designer drug, N-Bomb which led to the death of Alex Ryan - highlighted the fact that recreational drug use has become a normalised activity for some young people.

"The arrogant disregard by young people, admittedly a minority, to the laws in respect of drug taking and their mindless carelessness of their own lives, not to mention their health, is most disturbing and deeply regrettable," he said at last week's sentencing hearing at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Turning to Ms O'Connor, Judge O'Brien noted that she had no previous convictions and he accepted a submission by her barrister, Siobhan Lankford, that she was "young and very naive" over her involvement in the drug escapade which led to the tragedy.

"It can't be overstated, however, that she put the lives of others and herself in danger and it was still a criminal act - possessing the drug for supply to others - she is a well educated person who should have known better," said Judge O'Brien.

Judge O'Brien said that he believed Ms O'Connor's remorse was genuine and he noticed how nervous she was during the hearing. "I have no doubt she is deeply ashamed and is unlikely to re-offend," he said.

He noted that she had co-operated fully with the gardai investigating the death of Alex Ryan and that was to her credit and he believed the appropriate penalty was a two year sentence which he would suspend on condition that she would be of good behaviour and keep the peace.

Judge O'Brien sentenced Ms O'Connor's co-accused Harry Clifton (29) to two years in jail but suspended the final 18 months while he sentenced her other co-accused, Ruari Maher (22) to two years in jail but suspended the sentence in its entirety.

Judge O'Brien said young people have always felt invincible but that sense now extended to recklessly taking dangerous drugs made by criminals for profit - something which the middle class participants in this case had ignored as they allowed their search for "a high" cloud their judgement.

He noted that the case had attracted considerable media attention due to the middle class backgrounds of those involved, whereas "the deaths of socially deprived young people that have drug addiction problems hardly warrant a comment because they are not privileged".

"What is recreational drug use for the upper middle class is scumbag drug use for those who live in less affluent areas," he added

Ms O'Connor, who was studying architecture in UCC at the time, had no previous convictions.

Ms Lankford said that following the tragedy her parents had removed her from UCC and she had returned home to Ballyhar and started working in Tesco and was now doing a course in the Institute of Technology in Tralee.

Judge O'Brien heard that all three were deeply remorseful for what had happened and never expected the drugs to have the fatal consequences that they had.

Speaking outside the court after the trio were sentenced, Nicole Ryan said that she would have liked to see all three serve jail sentences.

"Alex bears most responsibility for what happened but he has paid his price - he has died... I am aware he chose to take the drugs but he was also 18, naive and uneducated ... young people do have disregard but the people who sell these things do have to be held accountable," she said.