By Gordon Deegan
A 37-year old Co Clare man told a parish priest that he would cut his throat in the grounds of a Church last month.
At Ennis District Court today, Judge Patrick Durcan jailed Jamie O’Connor for three months for the assault on the popular Ennis parish priest, Fr Tom Hogan, at the St Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ennis on March 22nd last.
In a statement to Gardai on the assault, Fr Hogan said that "I was fearful for my own safety in a way that I have never been before during my 20 years in Ennis”.
The assault by Mr O’Connor on Fr Hogan was only defused when another local priest, Fr Ger Fitzgerald came on to the scene and helped pull Mr O’Connor away from a shaken Fr Hogan.
In sentencing the homeless chronic alcoholic, Judge Durcan said that the words spoken by Mr O’Connor to Fr Hogan were “particularly vile”.
Along with imposing the three month prison term, Judge Durcan has also banned Mr O’Connor from the St Peter and Paul Cathedral and its environs in Ennis for two years.
He said: “That means you are not authorised to attend any funerals of relatives, masses, weddings, baptisms or go to pray at this Church during this time.”
Judge Durcan said that Mr O’Connor had display‘appalling behaviour’ when assaulting and haranguing Fr Hogan.
Giving an outline of the facts, Insp Kennedy said that around 6.30pm on March 22nd Fr Hogan came into the Church grounds and saw three homeless people at the time including Mr O’Connor.
Insp Kennedy said that Mr O’Connor was eating and drinking ‘Ruby’ wine he had stolen earlier from ALDI.
Insp Kennedy said that Fr Hogan went about his business in the porch area of the Church when minutes later, Mr O’Connor ‘bursts through the door of the church and tackles Fr Hogan hurling abuse at him and threatens to cut his throat”.
Insp Kennedy said that Mr O’Connor was living in a nearby tent in the church grounds for the previous three months.
The inspector said that Fr Hogan had asked Mr O’Connor to remove the tent and seek alternative accommodation as there were works going on by a contractor.
Insp Kennedy said that Fr Hogan and a caretaker had removed the tent and stored Mr O’Connor’s belongings and discarded quite a deal of rubbish in the area from Mr O’Connor’s occupation at the site.
Insp Kennedy said that when Mr O’Connor confronted Fr Hogan over the tent removal, Mr O’Connor prevented Fr Hogan from putting the key in the door of the priests’ house 10 metres distance from the church.
Insp Kennedy said that “Fr Hogan was very afraid and fearful that Mr O’Connor was going to throw a punch at him.
Mr O’Connor placed his hand very forcibly on the upper arm of Fr Hogan and he was very fearful he was going to be punched and harmed. This went on for a number of minutes. Mr O'Connor was very threatening and physical towards Fr Hogan."
Insp Kennedy said that luckily another priest came along, Fr Ger Fitzgerald by placing his arms around him and physically removing him from the area and called the Gardai.
Insp Kennedy said Fr Hogan was asked to come to court yesterday but Fr Hogan didn’t wish to add anything further.
Insp Kennedy said that he knows Mr O’Connor from his time in court and was surprised to hear of Mr O’Connor’s actions.
He said: “It was a very nasty incident.”
Solicitor for Mr O’Connor, Stiofán Fitzpatrick said that Mr O’Connor apologises unreservedly to Fr Hogan.
He said: “Mr O’Connor has been coming to the Cathedral for a number of years and knows Fr Hogan and Fr Fitzgerald and they have always looked after him and they have extended their assistance to him in the various states he was in.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said that all of Mr O’Connor’s belongings were in the tent and he got frustrated when he saw it removed.
Judge Durcan back-dated the prison sentence to March 28th. Judge Durcan told Mr O’Connor to get to grips with his alcoholism, take control of his life and refrain from further criminality.