A Ballina man ‘snapped’ when he could not get his dole money and dosed petrol over the floor of the social welfare office in protest.
Fifty-one-year-old Gerry Walsh of 33 Healy Terrace, Ballina poured petrol in the hallway of the Department of Social Welfare office in Ballina after his dole was stopped for the second time. The incident occurred on October 26, 2010 and after he was arrested he told gardaí that every man has a snapping point and he had reached his.
Mr Walsh entered the building at 11.45am with a red cannister containing a mixture of petrol and oil which he retrieved from his garden shed 40 minutes after he was told his dole had been stopped.
Up to 30 people were present in the building and he shouted for them to call the fire brigade while he poured the liquid over the hallway of the building. The building was evacuated and when gardaí arrived they observed Mr Walsh with the cannister in one hand and a cigarette lighter in the other.
Mr Walsh immediately surrendered to gardaí and when he was interviewed he explained that his dole money had been stopped before and he had not been repaid in full. He said that when it occurred for the second time he told them, ‘here we go again’ and went to get the petrol.
Mr Eoin Garavan, BL for Mr Walsh said it was never his intention to set fire to the building and that it was a gesture of protest. He said he accepted that it was an overreaction and that he had scared people in the building.
He explained that Mr Walsh received a supplementary payment and his money was normally paid into his bank account. However due to the changes in the regime the department were seeking more documentation which delayed his payment.
Mr Garavan added that there were no psychiatric difficulties with Mr Walsh and that a probation report showed he was at a low risk of re-offending and had no previous convictions.
Judge Tony Hunt said he recognised that bureaucracy and the system can be frustrating but people cannot deal with their frustrations in this way. He added that it appeared the actions of Mr Walsh was out of character and accepted it was a spontaneous with no thought or planning into it.
He told Mr Walsh he would not impose a custodial sentence but suspended an 18 month sentence for two years on the condition he is of good behaviour and keeps the peace.