By Stephen Maguire
A solicitor has told a court that to be called a "sheep stealer" is the worst thing a farmer can be called in rural Ireland.
Solicitor Patsy Gallagher was speaking at Falcarragh District in Co Donegal after his client had been charged with handling 35 stolen lambs.
John McBride (47) of 11 Firmount pleaded guilty to a total of 35 sample charges.
Solicitor Patsy Gallagher told the court there was a “stigma” attached to the offence saying: "To be called a sheep stealer in rural Donegal is the worst.”
Garda Enda Jennings said that in April, 2017, he had been approached by a local farmer Michael Cullen, who informed him that 76 of his lambs had been stolen.
He had carried out an investigation and lambs had been traced to a location at Carrownagannonagh, in Milford. After getting a warrant, they seized 37 lambs.
McBride claimed the sheep and lambs were his and told gardaí that he had bought the lambs from a man who he had failed to identify.
He said he bought the lambs for €20 each although the court was told that lambs cost €50 each and the accused should have known the real value.
Defending solicitor Patsy Gallagher said his client, who was on Social Welfare, had paid the money for the lambs but there had been no suspicion that he had been involved in the theft of them. He had bought them with the intention of selling them on.
Pointing out that McBride was “deeply remorseful” for his actions, Mr Gallagher repeated that he had had “no hand or part” in the theft of the livestock.
Referring to the “stigma” to such incidents within the farming community, the solicitor claimed: “To be called a sheep stealer in rural Donegal is the worst.”
Judge Paul Kelly said there might have been more sympathy for the defendant if he had assisted the Gardai with their investigation initially. “He is dealing with the consequences of failing to cooperate,” he said.
Taking to the witness stand, Mr Cullen told the court he had 76 lambs stolen in total.
He went on to claim that Mr McBride had been working at the mart in Milford and was not unemployed.
On the 35 sample charges before the court, Judge Kelly sentenced the defendant to three months imprisonment suspended for two years on his own bond of €250.
He also ordered the defendant to meet the costs incurred by the Gardaí in transporting the lambs, totalling €3,300, and also the costs of €6,423 to the Department of Agriculture in the case.