The trials of four Galway turf cutters cannot proceed until the Supreme Court makes its ruling regarding a legal challenge brought by two Kerry turf cutters, against the constitutionality or otherwise of their prosecution by the State for the alleged cutting of turf on protected bogs.
That was the position put forward by the State this time last year at Galway Circuit Criminal Court and nothing has changed in the intervening twelve months as the same submissions were made again this week.
The separate trials of the four men – who were initially charged in 2013 with moving machinery onto protected bogs in 2012 – had been set down in July 2016 for hearing in December 2016 at Galway Circuit Criminal Court.
But the court was told in October 2016 that the Kerry turf-cutters had sought judicial review in the High Court, testing the constitutionality of similar charges brought against them under EU conservation legislation and that the Galway trials could not proceed until the higher court had made its ruling in the Kerry cases.
The four Galway men, who were the first to be prosecuted by the State after the EU habitats directive imposed more stringent restrictions on turf cutting on 53 Irish bogs in 2011, were initially due to stand trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court in March 2014.
But their trials have been adjourned again and again in the interim as their Kerry counterparts appeal their prosecutions through the higher courts.
The Circuit Court, the High Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal have, in turn, held that the Kerry prosecutions are constitutional, but the turf cutters there have since lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court and that is where the matter now rests.
State prosecutor for Galway East, Geri Silke BL, informed Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week that the Galway trials could not proceed until the Supreme Court made its ruling.
Defence barrister, Conal McCarthy, asked the court to fix a trial date for his client, Anthony Porter, pointing out that the matter had been on the court list since 2013. He said his client were most anxious to have the matter dealt with.
Judge Brian O’Callaghan agreed to adjourn the matter to October 8 to see what stage the Supreme Court case was at then.
Michael Darcy (44) from Ballycahill, Killimor; Padraic Byrne (58) from Main Street, Killimor; Pat McDonagh (44) from Portumna; and Anthony Porter (45) from Woodford, face prosecution under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, in relation to incidents of turf cutting which allegedly occurred at Clonmoylan Bog, near Killimor in south Co. Galway on May 22 and, 23 and August 2, 2012.
Their Roscommon counterpart, Patrick Lavin, from Mullen, Frenchpark, is also charged with cutting turf on a protected bog near Ballymoe on the Galway/Roscommon border on June 28, 2013.
He too, has been remanded on continuing bail along with the Galway four, to the October date.
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‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.