Judge asks 'who is running the asylum?' after hearing man burned car and garden shed 'to get a buzz'

A pyromaniac caught setting fire to properties in Douglas, Rochestown, and Bishopstown in Cork City has been jailed for six years, writes Liam Heylin of the Irish Examiner.

Labelling Paul O’Donovan a high risk to the community, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin was critical of psychiatric services for not admitting him to a psychiatric ward. “I would have to ask, who is running the asylum?” the judge asked.

O’Donovan of 33 Woodview, Pinecroft, Grange, Cork, admitted arson at Melbourne Court, Bishopstown, Cork, and related offences on July 10, 2016. He carried out similar offences around the same time in Douglas and Rochestown.

The court heard O’Donovan left his girlfriend’s house at midnight and then set fire to a car on Model Farm Rd “to get a buzz”.

Because he did not get enough of a buzz from that he then set fire to a garden shed which was burnt out, also damaging the conservatory of a neighbouring property. His appetite still not sated, O’Donovan broke into a house and tried unsuccessfully to set fire to it.

Asked about the two women who were in the house at the time and the risk to them, O’Donovan said he did not care and that that was someone else’s problem.

Det Garda Bugler said there wasn’t a huge amount of damage in these crimes but added: “It was more the potential, it was all about the potential, of what could have happened rather than what did happen.”

The judge described this evidence as chilling.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said: “I have probation reports, I have psychiatric reports. This man has been under the care of one arm or other of the State for some time. It is not as if his proclivities are not known.

“We are a great country for providing reports but active action — that department seems to be permanently unavailable.

“O’Donovan said he was feeling very distressed, he was setting fires as a way of relieving distress. Two psychiatrists would not admit him to a psychiatric ward as he did not have a psychiatric illness and they returned him home. I would have to ask, who is running the asylum?”

Judge Ó Donnabháin said there was a serious risk to the community.

“Psychiatric services want him dealt with in the community but there is no one to care in the community,” he said. “He has had two forensic assessments — generating reports, wonderful; effective plan, zero.”

Gareth Fleming, defence barrister, said that the accused did not seek out victims, he lit fires without intending to harm anyone in particular and he co-operated with the investigations.

As well as the six years imposed for arson, the suspension of a two-year sentence was revoked. That related to a case where he put a knife to a shopkeeper’s chest and said he intended to use it until the victim produced a toy gun and O’Donovan ran from the scene.

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