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Mayo farmer pleads guilty to starving sheep

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‘Grave concerns’ over man’s ability to keep animals in the future

A WESTPORT sheep-farmer has pleaded guilty to ten offences under the animal cruelty and welfare act after 34 of his flock were found dead on his lands due to ‘malnutrition’.
Martin Walsh (44) of Ballintleva, Clogher, Westport, appeared before last Wednesday’s sitting of Castlebar District Court charged with 34 counts of being in breach of the Animal and Welfare Act. He pleaded to ten counts, with the remaining 24 taken in consideration by the State.
Mr Walsh had over 400 sheep on rented holdings at a number of different areas across Mayo.
The court heard that the situation came to light when gardaí received a call from neighbours of Mr Walsh, who raised concerns for his sheep at lands in Shammerbaun, Kilkelly, on March 16, 2018.

‘Extremely emaciated’
Peter Byrne, a Veterinary Inspector with the Department of Agriculture for the past 25 years, said he and his colleagues visited the farms after being made aware of the situation by gardaí. When they arrived, he said they counted 35 dead sheep, 34 of which had ear tags bearing Mr Walsh’s herd number.
Mr Byrne noted that the land was poor and there was no evidence of any water or feed of any type, and that a number of other sheep were ‘extremely emaciated’. Mr Byrne said he spoke to Mr Walsh on the telephone and that he said that the sheep were fed regularly.
Under questioning from Mr Pat Reynolds, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Byrne confirmed that he believed the sheep had died from malnutrition.
Mr Reynolds told Mr Byrne that in a statement made to gardaí, Mr Walsh said he delivered ‘12-14 bales on a regular basis’ and spread ‘20 bags of nuts’ along the ground on the 40 acre holding. Mr Byrne replied that ‘he saw no evidence of that’ and that five other animals ‘were unable to rise’ due to emaciation in the field.
The court heard that in his statement to gardaí, Mr Walsh said that he previously had difficulties with his torch when he was checking the sheep in the field and also blamed ‘dodgy feed’ for the deaths.
“A torch wouldn’t adequately inspect 300 ewes in an area of ground like that,” Mr Byrne said, whilst adding he saw no evidence of the ‘dodgy feed’ and if that was the case, ‘why didn’t he change it?’.
The court heard that Mr Byrne re-visited the lands at Kilkelly on March 18 and found all the dead sheep had been disposed of, but two more dead sheep were now present.
On March 23, Mr Byrne visited a farm run by Mr Walsh at Clogher, Westport, and found 100 lambs in a shed with poor ventilation that smelled strongly of ammonia. He said there was no water or concentrates in a number of the pens.
Outside the shed, Mr Byrne also discovered a trailer with an estimated 20 dead carcasses ‘piled on top of each other’.
On March 27, Mr Byrne re-visited the lands at Shammerbaun and found six dead sheep, four ‘incumbent’ and four had lambs.
The court heard that a visit to lands rented by Mr Walsh at Fisherhill, Parke, discovered no deaths among the 50 sheep, but that one was badly caught up in briars and had to be released by Mr Byrne and his colleagues.
A return visit to the farm at Clogher discovered four more dead sheep and that some of the dead carcasses were removed but the trailer was still there. There was no water or feed in two of the pens and that one lamb had a leg injury that was being held together ‘by a piece of skin’.
Mr Walsh was ordered to dispose or sell all of the animals at that point.

Seized
On March 30, Mr Byrne and a number of his colleagues returned to the lands in Kilkelly due to the ‘urgency of the situation’ and met with Mr Walsh, where they handed him a notice stating all sheep under his flock number would be seized. The court heard that Mr Walsh dropped the notice on the ground and walked away. A total of 414 sheep were seized by the Department.
The court heard that on April 27, the Department visited lands in Bofeenaun that they were made aware Mr Walsh was renting. There were 15 sheep and 15 lambs present.
They also re-visited the lands at Clogher, Westport, and found 100 sheep in the sheds, two of which were dead. After meeting with Mr Walsh, he said that he suspected that one had died from grass tetany and the other he wasn’t sure.

‘Grave concerns’
Mr Byrne told the court that he has ‘grave concerns’ over Mr Walsh’s ability to keep animals in the future. He also stated that there had been no complaints about Mr Walsh prior to 2017.
Mr Diarmuid Connolly, counsel for Mr Walsh, requested Judge Fiona Lydon to adjourn the sentencing so that they can prepare an appropriate mitigation for their client.
He said the case has the potential for a serious financial loss for his client and could possibly cost him his liberty, but that it also poses the potential to deny him a basic human right of earning a living.
Mr Connolly requested four months so that his client could put in place proper plans and schemes for his agricultural future. He said that Mr Walsh – who has no previous convictions – is fronting up to the issues with his guilty plea and that he is prepared for a ‘radical overhaul of his farming practices so that this doesn’t happen again’.
Judge Lydon adjourned the sentencing and remanded Mr Walsh on continuing bail until January 21.

MPU Mayo