A man who pleaded guilty to defacing a string of Covid-19 signs, including at a primary school, with words such as 'lies' and 'junk science', is facing community service.
Lionel Thomas, a 52-year-old Frenchman who lives at Elm Cottage, Goggin's Hill in Ballinhassig near Cork City, pleaded guilty to five counts of criminal damage and to three counts of trespass after spray painting the signs in Kinsale and Ballinspittle last October and November.
At Bandon District Court, Judge James McNulty was told that Mr Thomas, who had planned to move to Switzerland, simply did not agree with the response to the pandemic but had since "rationalised it" and accepted he had been in the wrong.
Inspector David Callaghan told the judge that on October 21 last, gardaí were alerted to a criminal damage incident that had happened overnight at Smyth's SuperValu in Kinsale where the words 'No lockdown, don't comply' were sprayed in black over Covid-19 signage.
On October 28, gardaí became aware of another criminal damage incident, this time at a branch of Bandon Co-Op in Kinsale dating from October 22, in which five Covid-19 public health signs had been defaced - three outside the main shop door and two others outside the yard gate. The words 'bull', 'scam', junk', 'junk science' and 'bull' were used.
On November 4 last, criminal damage at Ballinspittle National School was reported, with three signs erected by the school and in the schoolyard being defaced with the words 'junk' and 'don't comply with bs'.
Also on November 4, signs erected at the plaza on the main street in Ballinspittle by Cork County Council were defaced with the words 'junk' and 'lies', and a branch of Barryroe Co-Op also had the words 'junk science' and 'lies' sprayed over signage, within the confines of the store.
The court heard that CCTV footage was taken from numerous locations, showing a person and a vehicle with distinctive markings.
The investigation led to a suspicion that Mr Thomas had used his own vehicle and it was searched, along with his house, on November 24 last. In the vehicle cans of black spray paint were recovered.
The cost of repairing the damage at SuperValu was estimated at €1,000, with the damage at Bandon Co-Op estimated at €200, that at the national school estimated at €250, the repairs to the plaza estimated at €260, and the cost to fix the damage at Barryroe Co-Op put at €50.
Mr Thomas's solicitor, Plunkett Taaffe, said his client - who had no previous convictions - had brought the total of €1,760 to court for reparation.
Mr Taaffe said his client had been surviving on a pension he had cashed in two years ago and had been planning to move to Switzerland, having found his chances of a job in IT here slim.
He said his client had been facing into another lockdown at the time and felt the response was "totalitarian" and believed there was a lack of both debate "and a medium to vent his frustration".
"He accepts what he did was wrong," Mr Taaffe said.
Judge McNulty said the court would be respectful of a man's right to dissent but said it was not an isolated event and that he appeared to only realise he was wrong after he had been apprehended. He described what happened as "repeated, determined offending".
The judge directed that all the compensation be paid to the primary school as the other parties "would not collapse" without it. "You can make the cheque out to the principal or the board of management of Ballinspittle National School," Judge McNulty said.
The judge ordered Mr Thomas to return to court on July 2 next for introduction to the Probation Service so he can undergo an assessment as to his suitability for community service. Mr Thomas's bail conditions, which had included a curfew, were also lifted.