A former Sinn Féin general election candidate has been sentenced to three years in prison for the possession of drugs worth over €15,000.
Martin Kelly, who contested the 2011 election as Sinn Féin’s candidate in the Kildare North constituency, had pleaded guilty to 16 separate charges relating to the possession of €15,200 worth of drugs at Swan Kelly’s pub on Newbridge Road, Naas, Co Kildare on September 3, 2019.
Seven of the charges related to the sale and supply of drugs.
Naas Circuit Criminal Court heard Kelly, aged 46, a separated father from Hazelmere, Naas, Co Kildare, had been caught with cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy during a search by gardaí of the pub he ran in Naas, Co Kildare, and its adjoining car park.
Judge Mary O’Malley Costello described Kelly as “a small cog in a big wheel but an essential cog without which this industry could not succeed.” Evidence was heard that gardaí had seen Kelly behaving suspiciously when getting into a car in the pub’s car park with a red bag.
Garda witnesses described how Kelly had become agitated and nervous when he was approached by detectives.
A search of the bag revealed a metal tin which contained four bags of cocaine and some ecstasy as well as €900 in cash.
Kelly told gardaí that the drugs were for his own personal use.
Further quantities of cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy as well as drug paraphernalia and “tick lists” of people supplied with drugs were discovered in a follow-up search of the pub.
A subsequent search of Kelly’s home uncovered a further quantity of cannabis and an imitation firearm.
The court heard Kelly denied being involved in drug dealing but told gardaí he was given cocaine in return for holding the drugs and giving them out to others.
Kelly denied having a drug habit but admitted taking drugs.
While Kelly co-operated with gardaí, he declined to provide the names of the people who had given him the drugs out of fear for the safety of his family.
Judge O’Malley Costello said the accused was fuelling what was a very difficult problem for society and had put customers and staff in his pub at risk but was caught “red-handed.” The judge said Kelly’s use of the pub for supplying drugs was a breach of trust as the person in charge of a licensed premises.
“Drugs are a scourge on society and one would not expect a licensed premises would be used and misused in this way,” she added.
The judge accepted Kelly became involved in drugs because of his personal need for cocaine and that he had been placed under pressure to hold them.
The court heard Kelly had become the primary carer for his sister who had special needs following the death of his mother in September 2020.
Sentencing in the case had been adjourned since February 2021 to allow time for Kelly to arrange alternative care for his sister.
Detective Garda Louise Fleming told the court that the HSE had stated that accommodation would be found for Kelly’s sister if an emergency arose as she indicated she did not wish to be placed in a residential care facility.
Judge O’Malley Costello said she thought Kelly’s former role as a community activist would have helped him to see that getting involved in drugs was “not a route to do down”.
The court heard Swan Dowling’s pub had closed in early 2020 and Kelly had lost his licence and lease on the premises.
A probation report found the accused had a low risk of re-offending.
Sentencing Kelly to five years in prison, Judge O’Malley Costello suspended the final two years of the sentence for a period of four years.
“I am aware this is difficult for his family but I have no option,” the judge remarked.
Part of Kelly’s election manifesto when he was running for a seat in the Dáil in 2011 was his opposition to head shops.
Kelly finished 7th out of 12 candidates in the election in Kildare North, receiving 2,896 first preference votes – 5.65% of the total valid poll.
Sinn Féin stated last year that Kelly was no longer a member of the party and “has not been for a considerable period of time”.