An incident on the grounds of a North Galway church – as fifty schoolchildren were making their Confirmation – resulted in a man and a woman receiving prison sentences when their cases came before Tuam Court.
The two defendants claimed, during the course of the four hour long trial, that their constitutional rights were being denied to them; that they were being discriminated against and that the Gardaí were telling “barefaced lies”.
But the court also heard that during the incident outside St Coleman’s Church in Corofin, two Gardaí were verbally abused while one of them was struck by a woman in the back of the head.
It resulted in Martin O’Toole from Stripe, Irishtown, being sentenced to two months in prison for engaging in threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour towards Garda Martin Chalke and Garda Pat Kelly of Tuam Garda Station.
As a result of the same set of circumstances, Bernadette Dunning from Earls Park in Ballinasloe was convicted of the assault of Garda Chalke outside the church in Corofin and was sentenced to four months in prison.
Judge James Faughnan noted that the two defendants had represented themselves in court and said that he gave them plenty of latitude but he had listened carefully to the evidence and found that the State had proven their case. The incident in Corofin occurred after Martin O’Toole attended the confirmation of his daughter in the church.
His estranged wife Mary Teresa O’Toole contacted the Gardaí to ensure that no incident happened at the ceremony. There is an order in place preventing O’Toole from approaching his wife or children.
On March 6 last year around 50 children were making their confirmation at St. Coleman’s Church in Corofin – including Mary Theresa O’Toole’s daughter.
She told Inspector Brendan Carroll that her estranged husband Martin had turned up for the event and she told the court that she did not want a repeat of the previous year when another member of her family was confirmed and an incident occurred.
Garda Martin Chalke and Garda Pat Kelly arrived on the scene. Garda Kelly put on a casual jacket and went into the church where he found O’Toole sitting in one of the back rows. He asked him to come outside.
Garda Kelly told Tuam Court that he did not want O’Toole to cause any trouble for the family and that the defendant became violent and stuck his finger into his chest.
Then Garda Chalke told the court that O’Toole said: “Ye two bastards will not stand in the way of me seeing my children”. A scuffle resulted with the Gardaí trying to place handcuffs on O’Toole.
There was an incident in which O’Toole and Garda Kelly fell to the ground and Garda Chalke then said that he was assaulted by Bernadette Dunning with an open hand. She denied that this had happened and accused the Garda of assaulting her.
Garda Chalke said that Mary Theresa O’Toole told the Gardaí that the presence of her ex-husband put her in fear and that was why she contacted the station.
The defendants claimed that the church grounds were not public property and that they were owned by the Vatican so the Gardaí had no right to be present there. They also claimed that they were the victims of assaults by the Gardaí.
Sergeant Pat Hastings told the court that he made countless efforts to make contact with Bernadette Dunning over the alleged assault on Garda Chalke. He listed various dates and times he contacted her but failed to speak to her.
He even went to her house and left a message through her door with the number of Tuam Garda Station. In court, she claimed that there were five Garda Sergeants trying to contact her and she described this as harassment. Sergeant Hastings confirmed to the court that he never got talking to her in relation to the alleged assault.
Patrick McDonagh from Portumna, a friend of Martin O’Toole, said that he attended the confirmation and witnessed the defendant being dragged by the Gardaí by the hair and wrestled to the ground. He claimed to have a video of the event but he didn’t have it with him.
Defendant Martin O’Toole claimed that his family was “robbed from me by the State” and that he attended the confirmation to give his daughter a card and a €50 present. He then claimed to have been harassed by the Gardaí.
He said that he had seven children who had been taken away from him and described this as a degrading situation. “But I will go back time and time again every time one of them is involved in a ceremony”, he promised.
Neither McDonagh, O’Toole nor Bernadette Dunning would take the bible when giving evidence with the latter saying that she was being accused in the wrong.
She said that O’Toole had gone to the ceremony and had sat down quietly until the Garda came along and asked him to go outside.
O’Toole was also convicted of a number of motoring offences including having no insurance when detected by Garda Philip Carroll. He was banned from driving for two years as well as being fined €500.