A 70-year-old former Fianna Fáil senator has been jailed for his role in attempting to extort €100,000 from a Department of Agriculture veterinary inspector.
Judge John O’Hagan, who described it as “an abominable scheme”, imposed a three-year sentence on Francis (Francie) O’Brien from Corwillan, Latton, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.
The judge suspended the final year.
O’Brien wept as he was led away at Carrick on Shannon Circuit Court to begin his sentence.
A senator from 1989 to 2011, he had pleaded guilty to a charge of demanding €100,000 from Michael Heelan, with menaces, at Tullyvaragh Lower, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, on April 13 last year.
The judge told him that he, an elected representative to the Seanad for many years, had breached the trust of his community when he actively partic-ipated with blackmailers against a department official.
The former chairman of Lough Egish Coop in Co Monaghan, who had been one of the instigators of a merger to form Lakelands Dairies, was apprehended by gardaí after a sting operation. Officers had followed him when he drove Mr Heelan to a shed to hand over material relating to the department official’s work testing animals for TB and other diseases.
Judge John O’Hagan heard that Mr Heelan had gone to the accused, “a pillar of the community”, looking for advice after being fined €300. The vet had been prosecuted when waste material relating to his work was found incorrectly disposed of, and he was worried about the implications for his job.
The former senator later told Mr Heelan that more material had been found but that the matter could be sorted out for €100,000. O’Brien told the veterinary inspector that he was “only the messenger”.
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