Three men from Co Mayo have been convicted of false imprisonment, assault and obstruction following a ‘very serious’ illegal fishing incident, reports Paul Scott.
The offences related to attempts to evade fisheries officers from Inland Fisheries Ireland at Belderrig Pier on the North Mayo coast two years ago.
At a sitting of Ballina District Court on 12 July, Judge Fiona Lydon also convicted the men of possessing illegally caught wild Atlantic salmon and nets, in charges brought by Inland Fisheries Ireland. The charges of false imprisonment were brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Daniel McHale of Belderrig Mor in Ballina was sentenced to six months in prison, which was suspended for two years. Liam McHale of Carnrock in Belmullet and Joachim McNulty of Belderrig Beg in Ballina were both sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for two years. The three men were also ordered to each pay €2,500 to charity.
The court heard evidence from Lonan O’ Farrell, an inspector with Inland Fisheries Ireland, that on the evening of 15 July, 2020, the men were approached by fisheries officers as they recovered their boat at Belderrig Pier on the North Mayo coast.
The officers suspected that the men had illegally caught wild Atlantic salmon and illegal gill-nets onboard, but were obstructed and assaulted when they lawfully attempted to board the vessel. A fisheries officer was knocked overboard by one of the men, but two colleagues managed to board the vessel. The fisheries officer swam safely back to the pier, emergency services were contacted and An Garda Síochána (Irish police) quickly arrived on the scene.
With two fisheries officers still onboard, the three men took their boat out to sea and initially refused to obey orders to return to port. A short time later, they did agree to return to the pier and the officers were able to get ashore safely.
The boat, An Deiseach, was later detained in Porturlin harbour, where forensics and salmon scale samples were taken as evidence for the subsequent criminal prosecution. Fisheries officers and An Garda Síochána seized three vehicles belonging to the men.
The CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland Francis O’ Donnell welcomed the convictions, and said it was one of the most serious incidents that the agency has come across.
“Thanks to the brave actions of our fisheries officers, a major illegal fishing gang has been stopped and brought to justice,” he said.
“However, in the course of doing their job to protect vulnerable fish species, such as wild Atlantic salmon, they were obstructed, assaulted and falsely imprisoned. This is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated in Irish society.
“This very serious case sends out a clear message to those involved in illegal fishing – we will use our full powers under the law to protect people doing their jobs and to prosecute offenders through the courts.”
The fisheries officers nominated three charities – the Charlie Bird Fund, Western Alzheimer’s Association and the RNLI – to receive the three €2,500 donations.
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