Man sent to jail for mountain of dirty nappies
‘Shocking’ waste left within touching distance of young children for at least 12 months
A Ballinrobe man has received a nine-month jail sentence after continuously refusing to clean-up his ‘disgusting’ back garden which was full of household waste, including a ‘mountain’ of dirty nappies.
Tom Sweeney of 17, Gort na Gcloch, Ballinrobe failed to appear at Castlebar District Court last Wednesday. Two weeks earlier, Judge Mary Devins warned Sweeney that if all the rubbish in his back garden was not removed by last Wednesday’s court sitting, he would be going to jail. Charges against his wife, Ann Sweeney, were struck out.
The court heard that an environmental enforcement officer with Mayo County Council had called to the Sweeney house on the morning of the court and that none of the rubbish had been removed.
Vile, rotting waste
The waste had been accumulating in the back garden of Tom and Ann Sweeney’s house for at least a year. Four young children under the age of seven, and another due shortly, live in the house within touching distance of the vile, rotting waste, which Judge Devins described as ‘utterly shocking’.
At Castlebar District Court last May, Des Hannick, an Environmental Enforcement Officer with Mayo County Council, told the court that the council first investigated the matter last August. The Sweeneys were given many opportunities to address the matter before it went to court, he said.
Included in the waste is a three-foot high ‘mountain’ of dirty nappies, overflowing bins and household rubbish. The nappies are located close to the back door of the house, Mr Hannick told the court in May. He added that he had received several complaints from local residents about vermin and the smell from the rubbish.
The Sweeneys failed to appear in court in May, and so a bench warrant was issued for their arrest. Tom Sweeney appeared in Castlebar District Court on July 4 last. That court heard he had failed to clean-up any of the rubbish. Sweeney told the court he had ordered a skip and would get another one as soon as possible, as one skip would not be enough.
Defending solicitor Cathy McDarby described the back garden as ‘disgusting’, while Sweeney admitted it was a ‘disgrace’.
Judge Devins asked Sweeney, who is a social welfare recipient, why he couldn’t find time to clean the mess. “You are doing nothing else all day,” she said. “The Government is giving you money hand over fist. Why don’t you get up and do some work. I wouldn’t allow a child of mine next nor near to that, yet you are bringing a new-born child home to that filth and dirt,” she said.
When Sweeney told the court on July 4 that his wife had gone into labour, Judge Devins remarked that she didn’t know how a newborn baby could be brought back to the Sweeneys home. She questioned if the HSE might take the children away if they called to the house.
At last Wednesday’s court, Cathy McDarby said her client had again failed to appear in court, despite her office making contact on several occasions. She said Sweeney had called the office that morning to say he could not go, saying that there had been ‘an emergency’ and abruptly hanging up.
The case was put back roughly two hours to see if Sweeney could be brought to court. When the case reconvened, Ms McDarby reported that her secretary had called to the Sweeney house and spoken to Ann Sweeney, who had said her husband wasn’t there. Mrs Sweeney said she would ring him and get him to go to court straight away. However, he still failed to show.
‘Waiting for help’
Regina Hopkins, solicitor for Mayo County Council, said that Des Hannick had called to the house the previous day at 2.30pm and found ‘very little material’ in the skip that Sweeney had ordered. He informed Mr Hannick that he was ‘waiting for help’ to fill the skip, but when Mr Hannick called at 8.30am on the morning of the court, there was still no change.
Judge Mary Devins said she would sentence Sweeney in his absence. On the charge of breach of Section 33 of the Waste Management Act – holding waste in a manner that causes or is likely to cause environmental pollution, she sentenced Sweeney to six months in jail and fined him €500.
On the charge of breach of Section 55 of the same act – not complying with local authority instructions, she sentenced him to three months in jail to run consecutively with the six-month sentence, and she fined him €300. Prosecution costs of €1,500 were sought, but Judge Devins directed that €750 in costs be paid.
Tom Sweeney is to appeal the sentence.