A SHELL to Sea protester sentenced to five months imprisonment for assaulting three gardaí in Belmullet Court said he would not apologise to them and branded them ‘bullies’.
Niall Harnett of Barnacullen, Pollathomas was found guilty of assaulting Inspector Joe Doherty, Sergeant Dermot Butler and Garda Hugh Egan at last week’s special sitting of Belmullet District Court.
Mr Harnett denied the charges and plans to appeal the verdict after surety for his appeal was approved. He said he was not prepared to apologise to Inspector Doherty, Sergeant Butler or Garda Egan because he was ‘standing up to them’.
In sentencing, Judge Gerard Haughton said that Mr Harnett felt he was above the law and entitled to do whatever he believed was right irrespective of the law.
“That type of attitude will only lead to the breakdown of ordinary law and order and ordinary regular society,” he said.
The incident took place during a sitting of Belmullet District Court on March 11, 2009 when Judge Mary Devins called for the court to be cleared to allow a family law case to be heard. The prosecution claimed that an altercation took place at the back of the courtroom and Mr Harnett charged into Inspector Joe Doherty’s back in a rugby style manner when he was being led away from the court. It was also claimed that he tried to barge past Sgt Butler and Garda Egan when he tried to get back into the courtroom.
Mr Harnett denied the claims saying that when he was leaving the court he saw Sgt Butler talking to Pat Deane who he claimed had an uncomfortable look on his face. He claimed that when he said he would be a witness to the conversation, Sgt Butler said ‘Get away you’ and flung him towards the door.
He said he went back to get his bag and claimed he was manhandled by gardaí, and flung ‘hither and thither’ out the door. He categorically denied launching himself at Inspector Doherty. He said he tried to get between Sgt Butler and Garda Egan to goback into the court to help Mr Deane who he said in his view was being ‘detained’.
Under cross-examination from Inspector Joe McKenna, Mr Harnett denied that he had ‘lost the head’ but it may have been possible that he bumped into Inspector Doherty.
Giving evidence in Mr Harnett’s defence, Mr Eoin Ó Leidhin claimed that Sgt Butler pushed Mr Harnett towards the door and Inspector Doherty purposely stepped in front of him. Mr Leo Mulrooney, BL for Mr Harnett said the evidence of the state suggested that Mr Harnett had performed an assault on Inspector Doherty that would make ‘Bruce Lee green with envy’.
In giving his verdict, Judge Gerard Haughton said that in his attempt to get back into the courtroom, the defendant directed force on Sergeant Butler and Garda Egan and did not have the slightest doubt that they were assaulted. He was also satisfied by the evidence that Mr Harnett also assaulted Inspector Doherty.
In a separate incident, Mr Harnett pleaded guilty to obstructing traffic on the roadway at Pollathomas when a wide load was being transported from the gas terminal in Bellanaboy to Glengad. Sergeant Pat Lavelle said Mr Harnett would not co-operate with them and he was forced to tow his van away.
The court heard that Mr Harnett had previous convictions involving Shell to Sea protests and is awaiting a probation report after being found guilty of assaulting Garda Hugh Egan.
Judge Haughton sentenced Mr Harnett to five months imprisonment for each of the three assault charges, to run consecutively, and disqualified him from driving for two years for the road traffic offence and fined him €400.