A 19-year-old man has been sentenced to four years in prison with the final nine months suspended for what a judge described as a racially-motivated attack which took place on a busy afternoon in Eyre Square.
Goodnews Onyenweson, 82 Binn Bán, Cappagh Road, Knocknacarra, pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court to a charge of violent disorder, in that he along with three other youths acting together used or threatened to use violence in a public place on May 4 last year.
He also pleaded guilty to assaulting an Afghan national, causing him harm, on the same date and further pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault involving an assault on a café employee, who intervened to stop the first assault.
Sergeant Paul McNulty said he and Detective Sergeant John McElroy responded to a report of an assault which took place at 1.30pm outside Café Express.
They spoke to the male staff member who witnessed four youths attack two other youths on the footpath outside the café.
He said he intervened to stop the fight but was punched in the face by one of the four attacking males, later identified as the accused.
All four fled the scene towards Forster Street before Gardai arrived.
The witness said a young man had been kicked and punched in the face and head on the ground and looked disorientated before leaving the area.
Sgt. McNulty said he viewed CCTV footage, which made for “horrendous viewing” and saw one of the gang punch a youth who then fell to the ground. Onyenweson then stood over the victim and punched him five times in the head as he lay on the ground. He then kicked the victim four times in the head and face.
A third member of the gang was captured on CCTV kicking the same victim three times in the back and punching him to the head three times.
“I specifically observed and counted the number of vicious strikes on the CCTV,” Sgt McNulty told the sentence hearing.
He said the video footage captured the male member of staff from the café running out. He stood between the victim – who was still on the ground – and the accused.
The accused then punched him into the face for stopping the attack.
Other members of staff helped the victim to a seat as the gang fled across Kennedy Park.
Sgt McNulty said the violent attack took place on a very busy Friday afternoon of a Bank Holiday weekend and the area was packed with passersby at the time.
All four were later arrested and questioned. The other three, one of whom is a juvenile, face sentence in July for their part in the attack.
Onyenweson admitted kicking and punching the first victim as he lay on the ground. He also admitted punching the staff member who came to the victim’s aid.
The Afghan national gave a statement to Gardai that he and a friend were walking through Eyre Square when a group of males started staring at them. Words were exchanged and he said he was struck across the side of his head with a phone and was assaulted on the ground.
He sustained bruising to the side of his head, a chipped tooth and cuts to his lips and nose.
The court heard he is from Afghanistan and has lived in a city hostel for the past year.
Sgt McNulty confirmed the accused had four previous convictions for assault, trespass and public order offences. He said he was of Nigerian descent and was now a naturalised Irish citizen.
He said the accused was a prominent member of this gang and that the others were facing sentence in July.
Passing sentence, Judge Rory McCabe said there had been a racist, vicious element to this attack.
“This was a totally random, immediate attack with no possible justification for it,” the judge said.
The maximum sentence for violent disorder, he noted, was ten years before placing the headline sentence for this particular incident at six years.
He said the headline sentence for the assault causing harm charge which carried a five-year maximum sentence, stood at the high end on the scale of gravity and merited a four-and-a-half year sentence.
The lesser assault charge carried a maximum of six months and the assault on the staff member merited three months, the judge said.
“Reading the probation report handed into court today, he does not take this very seriously,” Judge McCabe said of the accused.
However, he said he had to take the mitigating circumstances into account when arriving at an appropriate sentence and in that regard, the accused had co-operated with Gardai, pleaded guilty, was young and was now saying he was sorry.
He noted that prison for a non-national was deemed to cause extra hardship, even though the accused had been living in Ireland for a long time.
He concluded by saying the proper sentence for the violent disorder charge was four years. He imposed a concurrent three-year sentence for the more serious assault on the first victim and imposed a concurrent two-month sentence for the assault on the staff member.
The final nine months of the four-year sentence was then suspended for five years on condition he come under the supervision of the probation service on his release from prison for 12 months.
The sentences were backdated to January 10 last when he went into custody.
Teenager caught with €20,000 worth of cannabis
A teenager was stopped and searched by Gardaí in Eyre Square on Monday evening, and found in possession of an estimated €20,000 worth of cannabis.
Members of the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit stopped the man, aged in his late teens, at around 6pm and searched him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. During the search the man was found in possession of a €20,000 of suspected cannabis herb. The drugs seized will be sent for forensic analysis.
He was arrested and detained at Garda Headquarters in Renmore and was released from custody this morning. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close
The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.
Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.
“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.
“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.
Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.
“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.
Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.
“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.
“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.
“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.
Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.
“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.
“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.
HSE not paying rent to councils for use of Galway Airport
Galway Airport is being provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) free of charge, the County Council has confirmed.
The Carnmore facility, jointly owned by Galway’s two local authorities, is being used as a drive through Covid-19 testing centre for the city and county.
It was confirmed to County Councillor Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) that neither the City nor County Council are benefiting financially from the HSE for the use of the facility. And he wasn’t happy.
He said Galway Airport was being given over to the HSE free-of-charge, at a time when the County Council budget was in deficit to the tune of €1.4 million at the latest count.
“The HSE isn’t paying anything to use the airport for testing. If it was the other way round, and the County Council was looking for something off the HSE, do you think that they would give it to the Council for nothing?” asked Cllr Cronnelly.
“They pay zero to us; yet we have a big deficit in the budget and Galway is the second-worst funded county council in Ireland. Why are we being so generous with our assets? Our budget is short again this year. We seem to have become a bit of a charity.”
Cllr Cronnelly said that not only was it not making money out of the airport, the County Council was actually spending money on holding meetings elsewhere, because County Hall cannot facilitate a socially distanced meeting.
He suggested that Galway Airport would be capable of facilitating a meeting of 39 councillors plus officials and media – and it would cost the local authority very little because it owns the site.
“It seems to me that there is an awful lot of waste of money going on,” he added.