Pig farmer trial: €22m financial debt cited by defence

A financial hole of debt of over €22m, out of which one of the biggest pig farmers in the country would never escape, was presented by the defence as a background factor to the case which saw him jailed yesterday for 18 months for animal cruelty.

The prosecution said the unnecessary suffering endured by pigs among the 20,000 animals at Rory O’Brien’s farm at Killicane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, was a basic management issue and not a financial one.

The key witness for the prosecution at yesterday’s sentencing hearing at Cork Circuit Criminal Court was Department of Agriculture inspector John McConville.

But he credited the investigative work of veterinary inspector Mary Cullinane with uncovering the nature and extent of the animal welfare and cruelty issues at the farm back in May 2011.

By way of understanding the basic requirements of rearing pigs, he said every animal over the age of two weeks needs free access to water. They become aggressive when hungry or distressed and attack each other and need to be segregated if this occurs.

“Sick pigs should be euthanised (when beyond treatment), sick pigs should be segregated from healthy animals. Victims of aggression should be separated from aggressive pigs; it is just basic management,” Mr McConville said.

On this farm, they found pigs with ears bitten, flanks bitten, and tails bitten, vulnerable pigs in extremely contaminated pens, and pigs exposed to horrific cannibalism. Pigs suffering from these types of attacks were not separated from the aggressive animals.

“This was not something that happened overnight,” he said.

“On the weekend of June 3, 2011, temperatures were 22 to 23 degrees and pigs had no water. These were stressed pigs. The fact of no water was increasing the stress.

“Mary Cullinane (veterinary inspector) found a hedge being watered (by a number of staff) and pigs had no water. This upset the inspector, the fact that shrubs were being watered by staff,” he said.

Mr McConville also reported that no vet had been on the premises in over 12 months. On one animal he saw an abscess the size of a football which he said should have been euthanised.

“The intended destination was to get them in the food chain. They should have been euthanised. (On one visit) he had to force management to euthanise three pigs,” he said.

Euthanised pigs have to be removed and destroyed.

Kenneth Fogarty, defending, said O’Brien instructed him to apologise to Ms Cullinane for the way she was treated at the farm, in particular the occasion where she was in such fear that she had to call the gardaí.

Caoimhin Nolan of the Environment Protection Agency described finding skips of carcasses during an inspection.

For the defence, accountant Edmond Cahill said the overall financial situation for the defendant was disastrous with loans running to over €22m.

Vet Dermot Sparrow said wet food was another way of supplying water to animals but the prosecution said an independent supply of water was also necessary, particularly in hot weather.

Mr Fogarty said the accused had employed 40 people at one time and still employed seven or eight people. He said that in 32 years building up this business, he had taken holidays on only four occasions.

“He was one of the biggest suppliers of pig meat in the country. He was Bord Bia approved,” Mr Fogarty said, adding that the father of five was also active in charitable fund-raising.

“It has been extremely stressful, it is of his own making, he is taking it on the chin. The chance of the court ever coming across this man in any way, shape or form again is remote,” Mr Fogarty said.

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