Frustration at official inaction led to illegal Ballysax quarry protest, court told

Men 'took law into their own hands'

Email:

editor@leinsterleader.ie

Frustration at official inaction led to illegal Ballysax quarry protest, court told

The case was heard at Naas District Court last Monday.

A group of men accused of public order offences at a Ballysax quarry protest two years ago were found guilty last Monday evening.

At Naas District Court, Judge Brian O’Shea indicated great sympathy for the men’s position, and made the point that the prosecution witness William Brown did not impress him with his “occasionally evasive answers” – although he acknowledged that Mr Brown had given some relevant evidence.

The Judge was of the view that the men had “taken the law into their own hands”, and that there were lawful remedies available to them, such as getting an injunction or going through the planning process.

He said he believed all of the men were decent, that this action was out of character and he did not wish to leave the men with convictions.

He bound them to the peace for between six and 12 months and gave them the benefit of the Probation Act, which means they avoid a conviction.

Earlier in the day, the men told the court they were forced to protest because of the inaction of the planning authorities. The men, with addresses in the Ballysax/Curragh area, held a protest on November 24 2015.

Judge Brian O’Shea heard evidence from Gardai, the men involved, and William Brown, the husband of the owner of the quarry.

A lorry driver, John Doyle, told how he had been blocked from turning into a quarry managed by Mr Brown, but after some hours was able to deliver a crusher machine to the site. Garda were called by Mr Brown and a number of men were arrested, put into a Garda patrol car, and taken to Newbridge Garda Station.

The Court heard evidence from the defence, that the protest was reasonable due to the fact that planning authorities had not acted quickly enough to stop what the men believed was unauthorised use of the quarry. 

Three weeks ago, at a Circuit Court hearing in Naas, a judge ordered that work at the quarry be stopped but a stay was put on the order until February 18 next, yesterday’s sitting heard. This judgement has been appealed to the High Court.

Health problems

The men told Judge O’Shea the development has halved the value of their houses near the Curragh and caused health problems, including asthma and COPD. Since 2014, the site had grown from an area of around 16 acres to 60 acres, with a large increase in lorries coming into the area, said the defendants.

The Court heard that action had been taken by Peter Sweetman and An Taisce against the quarry owners in the past. A number of the men gave evidence that the number of trucks using the quarry had increased massively under previous owners, the Nolan’s, from around 35-40 a day to 160.

Sgt Gearoid McCarty said that David Delaney, Paul Flood, Peter McEvoy and Jonathan Snell declined to stop blocking the road. They were arrested for the obstruction and failure to obey a Garda. Four other men, Anthony Delaney, David Snell, Bernard Snell senior and Bernard Snell junior were also charged in connection with the case.

A key part of the defence for the obstruction charge was “reasonable excuse” and much evidence was heard on this: including the argument that Kildare County Council was very slow to take action against what the men believe is an unauthorised development.

Solicitor, Conal Boyce and barrister, Keith Branagan, BL, representing the defendants, questioned William Brown on the history of the quarry. He said he had been going through legal procedures and had tried to talk to locals, including giving them free material and Christmas gifts. Sgt McCarthy said he believed the men had legal options other than a road protest.

Inspector Mel Smyth said the Courts had acted against unauthorised development. Mr Branagan said that action was very slow.

Sgt McCarthy said the conditions on the dark night of November 24, 2105 were dangerous and he did not think the protest was reasonable in the circumstances. Shaun Hegarty, from Ballysax, giving evidence on behalf of the men, said the development was unauthorised. It was closed in 2009 and then opened by the Browns in 2014, who, he said, had said would run it for two years. This point was not put to Mr Brown who had earlier said that he had been going through Bord Pleanala.

“I showed them nothing but respect. I tried my utmost,” said Mr Browne about how he tried to come to an agreement with the residents.

Mr Hegarty said Kildare County Council told them previously it did not have the money to go to Court over the quarry but Wicklow County Council had acted quickly against a quarry development owned by the Brown’s in its area. “No one would do anything,” said Mr Hegarty, explaining the reasons for their protest.

He said nothing would have happened if they had not protested. He said the Council had served an enforcement notice against the quarry on May 15 2015 but nothing happened by the time of the protest.

Peter McEvoy, a defendant, said their action was “reasonable”. He said they never had any problem when the Nolans ran the quarry.