From the Galway City Tribune – A District Court judge told a man last week it was his own damning phone video footage – of an interaction he had with Gardai when he refused to wear a face mask on a packed bus at the height of Covid restrictions two years ago – that had helped to convict him of public order offences.
46-year-old anti-mask, anti-vaccine campaigner Daragh O’Flaherty, of the Fairgreen Hostel, contested a charge of breaching the peace by engaging in threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace may have been occasioned, contrary to Section 6 of the Public Order Act 1994 at Dublin Road, Galway, on September 6, 2020.
He also denied a charge of failing to comply with the directions of Garda Kevin Molyneaux and leave the bus and the area when directed to do so on the same date.
Garda Molyneaux, who arrested and charged O’Flaherty at the time, gave evidence that he, Garda Damien Walsh and Garda Aiden Cunningham were directed to go to a Bus Éireann bus which was pulled in at the bus stop across the road from GMIT and adjacent to Gardai HQ following a complaint from the bus driver.
The driver told him O’Flaherty got on the bus at Doughiska not wearing a face mask, in breach of Covid-19 regulations in place at the time. The driver decided to carry on the journey as far as the bus stop in Renmore which is beside the Garda station and rang ahead to alert Gardaí that O’Flaherty was refusing to wear a face mask.
He said the driver refused to drive the bus any further while O’Flaherty remained on board and the Garda said he observed passengers were becoming agitated with O’Flaherty for delaying their journey.
While he was speaking to O’Flaherty he said he heard the passengers shouting: “Get him off the bus. He’s not wearing a mask. We want to go, get him off the bus.”
Garda Molyneaux said he believed O’Flaherty’s behaviour was reckless as he had agitated the other passengers and such behaviour could lead to a breach of the peace. He said he also failed to comply with his directions under Section 8 of the Public Order Act – to get off the bus and leave the area.
After several requests to comply, O’Flaherty still refused to leave the bus and passengers began to shout even louder.
Garda Molyneaux said O’Flaherty accused him and his colleagues of breaching his rights and told them he had a right to be on the bus. He told them he didn’t need to wear a mask, before two of the Gardaí escorted him off the bus.
Garda Molyneaux showed CCTV footage to the court, taken from two cameras on the bus, of the entire incident.
O’Flaherty showed his own video footage of his interaction with Gardaí, recorded on his phone. He can he heard on his own video, arguing with the Gardai and telling them he had a medical certificate to prove he was exempt from wearing a face mask, but he refused to show it to them. He could also be heard telling Gardai the incident was being posted on Facebook.
O’Flaherty told Judge John King he had a medical certificate to prove he suffered from concussion and a stress-related condition which exempted him from having to wear a mask.
In reply to the judge, he said he did not have the certificate in court to show him.
After hearing over an hour of O’Flaherty’s repetitive cross-examination of Garda Molyneaux, and then giving evidence himself, Judge King convicted him of both Public Order offences.
“The most interesting thing in this case is your own phone video footage. You say to the Gardaí that you have a medical certificate but you are not going to show it to them.
“You’re argumentative and your own video is a lot more damning than the CCTV shown by Garda Molyneaux.
“You have rights, but so does everyone else and under the health regulations in place at the time, you should have been wearing a mask,” Judge King told him.
He said the court had been shown no proof of any medical condition even though the onus was on O’Flaherty to prove he had a medical condition which would exempt him from wearing a mask.
In a separate prosecution, O’Flaherty denied a charge of failing to appear before Galway District Court on September 1 last year.
A bench warrant was issued by the court at the time which Garda Wesley Kelly, who gave evidence to the court this week, said he executed in Dublin on September 29 last year.
He said he released O’Flaherty on bail at the time to appear back before the court in Galway.
Garda Long confirmed O’Flaherty had 25 previous convictions, which were mostly Public Order offences.
He said he had received a four-month sentence at Galway District Court on July 20, 2020, for obstructing Gardaí, which had been suspended for one year, on condition he be of good behaviour and not reoffend.
The judge noted that as this offence occurred just over a month after that sentence was imposed and during the suspended period of the sentence, the matter would have to go back to Judge Mary Fahy to see if she wanted to activate that sentence now.
Judge King fined O’Flaherty €300 for breaching the peace and sentenced him to two months in prison for failing to comply with Garda directions to leave the bus and the area. He suspended the sentence for two years on condition O’Flaherty be of good behaviour and not reoffend.
He warned O’Flaherty that while that sentence was now suspended, it didn’t mean the other suspended sentence imposed by Judge Mary Fahy in July 2020, might not be activated.
The judge referred that suspended sentence back for Judge Fahy’s consideration. The judge said he would have to adjourn other charges O’Flaherty was facing because the prosecuting Gardaí in those cases were not present in court.