Farmer avoids jail for damage to ringfort

SIMON BROUDER

A MAN who demolished an ancient ring fort has been told he will not be jailed for the offence but faces a substantial fine.

John O'mahony with an address at Clashmealcon, Causeway appeared at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court on Monday to be sentenced for carrying out unauthorised work near a monument on his family's farmland in Causeway in 2008.

At a previous hearing Judge Carroll Moran heard that the family of Mr O'mahony, a 64year-old farmer, owned lands which contained a ring fort and a series of underground tunnels, or souterrains, which dated back to between 500 and 100AD.

The ring fort and souterrain system were deemed to be national monuments of historic importance and had been placed on a national register.

While landowners are allowed carry out works on or near national monuments that are on the register they must contact the Department Environment and receive express written permission from the minister before they proceed.

The trial heard that in February 2008, without seeking permission from the department, John O'mahony hired workers who demolished the majority of the ringfort and used the materials to fill in a nearby pond which Mr O'mahony believed posed a safety risk to children and livestock.

In the course of the work, the majority of the fort was destroyed while two thirds of the souterrian was demolished.

When the Department of the Environment learned of the demolition they contacted Gardaí in Listowel who launched an investigation.

During the garda investigation, John O'mahony initially claimed he was unaware that the site had any great historical significance.

However it emerged that Mr O'mahony had previously objected to a planning application seeking permission to construct four houses on the same site on the grounds that it contained a "historical ring fort".

He subsequently admitted to ordering the demolition of the fort but said he didn't know he wasn't allowed touch the site without two months notice and permission from the minister.

Defence Barrister John O'sullivan said that Mr O'mahony, who had pleaded guilty to the charge, regrets what happened and apologises to the court.

The case is the first of its kind to be heard in ireland and the offence carries a potential sentence of five years in prison or a fine of up to €50,000.

Judge Carroll Moran said that while a custodial sentence was not appropriate in this case he felt that there had to be a penalty for Mr O'mahony's actions, which he described as "unacceptable."

Judge Moran said he would impose a fine, which would be a "reasonable" amount but would take regard of John O'mahony's financial situation.

He adjourned the case until February 21 to allow Mr O'mahony time to provide the court with details of his financial situation.

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