West Cork grandmother's 'absurd selfishness' for refusing to wear mask lands her in jail

After refusing to wear a mask, Margaret Buttimer refused to leave the restaurant despite being asked to do so 15 times
West Cork grandmother's 'absurd selfishness' for refusing to wear mask lands her in jail

At Bandon Court- Margaret Buttimer was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to the earlier offence, and had another six-month sentence imposed, this time suspended. Photo: Larry Cummins

A grandmother is facing Christmas in prison after receiving a six month jail sentence and another similar suspended sentence after her latest convictions for refusing to wear a mask on entering retail or food premises.

Margaret Buttimer, 66, of The Cottage, St Fintan's Road, Bandon, Co. Cork, had pleaded not guilty to failing to wear a mask when she attended Jakes Restaurant in Bandon on the morning of November 17 last, with Judge James McNulty also told she refused to leave the premises despite being asked to do so 15 times by a senior staff member. 

Instead she stood waiting at the counter until gardaí arrived, refusing more requests to leave or to wear a mask.

'Wilful disregard for others'

Judge McNulty said it was a “sad and perplexing case” given the grandmother’s persistent offending. Since first being convicted of breaching public health guidelines for the first time last May, she has now recorded six convictions for similar offences.

No defence evidence was entered and Judge McNulty referred to Ms Buttimer’s “absurd selfishness” and her “wilful disregard for others”.

He noted the frequency and persistence of the offending, despite all requests to desist.

The judge said she was entitled to say she did not want to wear a mask and to say she did not want to be vaccinated, but she was not entitled to mix with others in such a manner, at a time when some individual freedoms had to yield to the greater good, such as during a global pandemic.

Head chef at the restaurant, David Long, said he was the sole senior staff member on duty that morning. On entering, Ms Buttimer had refused to wear a mask or to show a Covid cert and then refused to leave. Mr Long told the judge he asked her to do so “15 times” before contacting his manager, who advised contacting gardaí.

The court heard food was on display near where Ms Buttimer remained standing. Mr Long said: “What I was afraid of was if other people came in and saw this person, what were the consequences.” Ms Buttimer’s solicitor, Plunkett Taaffe, provided a report from a geriatric consultant psychiatrist detailing an MRI scan which showed no anomalies.

He said family members had perceived a change in his client, that she was forgetting things, and he said a psychologist report also indicated some possible issues.

At an earlier hearing Ms Buttimer was found guilty of a similar offence at a retail outlet in Clonakilty on October 21 last. Penalty had been deferred in that case and the judge heard Ms Buttimer had driven to Clonakilty with her partner, although Mr Taaffe said while her partner was there, he was not present at the time of the offence.

Judge McNulty notes she had already received a suspended sentence on a separate matter and that it would be contradictory to allow her do community service when she was engaged in “persistent community disservice”.

He sentenced her to six months in prison in relation to the earlier offence, and imposed another six month sentence, this time suspended, for the offence in Bandon, on conditions including that she does not enter any retail or places of public resort without a mask. A sum of €500 previously posted for bail was forfeited.

Recognisance for appeal was set on her own bond of €1,000, no cash required, as well as an independent surety of €3,000, one-third in cash. The judge said Ms Buttimer’s partner would not be considered as a surety, adding: “He has let the court down.”

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