Mr Thomas O’Neill had pleaded guilty to the courts in Ennis on four counts of failing to supply animals with any suitable and wholesome food. The department of Agriculture were forced to intervene and remove 46 starving horses from the pensioner’s land at Poulaphuca, Ballynacally and Cahrea Lissycasey. The offences took place on January 8th and 21st of 2016.
Mr O’Neill also admitted to the charge of permitting carcases of animals on his land, where a dog may have access, in direct violation of animal health and welfare regulations.
In November 2016, The pensioner was ordered by Ennis District Court to repay the Department of Agriculture, and it was decided by the courts that a lease arrangement was to be entered into to help assist him in the payment of these charges.
At the court case during the week, Daragh Hassett solicitor for O’Neill, said the proposed lease agreement had fallen through but his client’s intention was to transfer all his lands to a nephew and in turn this his nephew could discharge the outstanding compensation. The court was also heard that the lands have now been de-stocked and O’Neill currently resides with his nephew.
Mr O’Neills solicitor also told the courts that he had “a reluctance to get involved in this case because it involved cruelty to horses”. He went on to tell the courts that these situations had been known to happen that vulnerable farmers such as his client would have other horses secreted into their stock saying “His land became a dumping ground”.
Judge Patrick Durcan, who presided over the case, recalled the evidence given in the previous court case by Aileen Tighe, a veterinary inspector with the Department of Agriculture. The department needed five visits to the farms to remove the affected animals, Judge Durcan said of the case that “This was the most appalling case of cruelty,”.
Ms Tighe told the courts that on her last visit to one of the farms, Caherea, “The ground was bare and the horses had clearly grazed it down to the butt”. She continued “They had started to graze the bushes because there was no grass available. I’ve never seen that before, just to give you an idea of how bad it was for the horses,”.
A visit was also carried out by the department in Ballynacally, where 11 horses were observed on the day. “The ground was bare, there was no grass growth and the land was boggy. There was no sign of extra feed being provided. Again the horses here were wild, they were not used to being handled. The ground was very difficult to travel on it was so wet,” she said.
During the course of the investigation it was found that Mr O’Neill had in total 46 horses, spread over his Caherea and Ballynacally lands. Mr. O’Neill was then served a notice stating that the animals are neglected with their health and welfare being in danger. He was ordered to sell the animals or dispose of them within a one month time period. He was also ordered to supply the animals with sufficient water and feed and to desist from owning horses again.
Ms Tighe then carried out a follow up visit not long after and said the horses had lost weight and their condition has deteriorated. She said “There was no feed available on the land and no supplement was being given. They became wild when we would get near them. I felt the defendant had not complied with the notice and I felt the Department would have to remove the animals. Because we had no feed for them we made an arrangement with a neighbour to provide silage for them from January 30”.
Another visit was completed by Ms Tighe a few weeks later. Upon this visit she found five horse carcasses on Mr. O’Neill’s Caherea farm. Upon the visit she found that all 16 horses residing on Mr. O’Neill’s Ballynacally farm were still alive but one’s condition had deteriorated in the mean-time.
In order to remove the animals Specialised contractors were employed, at the expense of the Department of Agriculture and the taxpayer.
22 horses were removed in total from the farms, with 8 fresh carcasses and another two, plus many remains, were found dispersed on Mr O’Neill’s land. One horse in total was destroyed after its condition had decreased considerably in the space of the few weeks between farm visits.
After the conclusion of the case Judge Durcan said, “I can understand how someone can reach the point he reached, but at the same time I can’t ignore the level of severe cruelty in this”.
He was informed that the Department of Agriculture’s expenses in total over the course of their investigations into Mr. O’Neill totalled €14,419.
Judge Durcan addressed the need for payments to be made to the department and He directed that a folio be attached to O’Neill’s lands which would give the State an interest in the lands. He said that this would facilitate the compensation connected to the case. “It will act as a burden on the lands, like a mortgage and that will ensure this is dealt with. I abhor the level of cruelty that was involved in this case,” he said.
It was agreed that a sum of €2,000 will need to be paid by Mr. O’Neill to an animal welfare charity of the courts choosing. The case was eventually adjourned for five weeks to give both the Department and the defence team to arrange placing the interest on the lands, and also to allow the defendant time to lodge cash to pay the chosen charity.