Two men jailed for trying to collect dead man’s pension in Carlow

Court told episode involving Declan Haugney, Gareth Coakley and the late Peadar Doyle mocked in media around the world

Two men have been jailed for trying to collect a dead man’s pension from a post office in Carlow.

The court heard that both accused were long term heroin addicts and that one of them, a nephew of the deceased, continued to receive the love and support of his extended family.

Declan Haughney (41), of Pollerton Road, Carlow, and Gareth Coakley (38), of John Sweeney Park, Carlow, pleaded guilty to attempted deception in relation to the €246 weekly State pension of the late Peadar Doyle, contrary to common law on January 21st, 2022.

Mr Doyle died on the day of the offence, the judge said. There was no foul play and death was estimated to have happened some time on the morning in question.


Haughney was sentenced to 2½ years with the last six months suspended. Coakley was sentenced to two years, with the final six months suspended. The suspensions came with specified conditions.

Haughney is the nephew of Mr Doyle and lived with him at Pollerton Road, some 400 metres from Hosey’s Post Office on Staplestown Road where the offence occurred.

Video footage was shown at the Circuit Criminal Court hearing in Carlow before Judge Eugene O’Kelly of the two men carrying Mr Doyle towards and then into the post office, with Mr Doyle’s legs dragging behind. Members of the family who were in court for the sentencing left while the video footage was being shown.

The footage included Haughney calling to the post office earlier on the morning, apparently while Coakley waited outside, and trying unsuccessfully to withdraw the pension. Only a few minutes elapsed between Haughney first being refused the payment and his returning with Coakley and Mr Doyle.

Judge O’Kelly said it was not the State’s case that Mr Doyle was dead before he was taken from his home, nor was it the State’s case that he was not dead. “They don’t know where he died,” he said, adding that the defendants had said Mr Doyle was alive when they took him from his home.

What the two men had done had caused great harm and affected people, including staff in the post office at the time, he said.

‘Tasteless parodies’

“No person should have to die” in the circumstances in which Mr Doyle did, the judge said. His family had to suffer the loss of a loved one but also the national and international commentary on the circumstances of his death, including “tasteless” parodies in locations around the country on St Patrick’s Day.

Mr Doyle’s sister, Noeleen Dowling said in a statement read out in court that media reports about the attempted fraud had been published around the world, including some suggesting falsely that Mr Doyle was dead for hours before being brought to the post office.

The family suffered public humiliation, shame and ridicule, she said, with the episode being referred to by comedians. They also received hate mail and the episode had caused them to withdraw socially and damaged their mental health, she said.

Her late brother, she said, was caring and loving, made a lasting impact, and was “adored” by his nieces and nephews. She thanked the court for being allowed make the statement.

Garda Joe O’Keeffe told prosecuting counsel Niall Storan that on the morning in question, he got a call at 11.15am stating that a man was seen being dragged along Bridge Street by two others. He then received a second call saying it appeared a man had suffered a heart attack.

Appeared lifeless

When he arrived at the post office he saw a woman applying CPR to Mr Doyle, who was lying on the floor, and he took over from her. Mr Doyle, he said, appeared lifeless. He could not detect any pulse or any evidence of breathing.

Haughney, he said, told him that the man was his uncle and that he had brought him to the post office to collect his pension.

Garda O’Keeffe said that Clare Knight told gardaí she was driving on Pollerton Road when she saw two men dragging a third man between them, with the third man’s legs dragging along the ground. She later stopped her car and spoke to the men. Haughney told them Mr Doyle was “grand” while Coakley said they had called an ambulance, which was not true.

Ms Knight later noticed that Mr Doyle’s face was grey and his eyes were fixed. The witness said Ms Knight followed the men to the post office, parked her car, and went in. She had called 999 and asked for an ambulance and, inside the post office, when Mr Doyle was let fall to the ground, began to tend to him while on the phone to the emergency services.

Garda O’Keeffe said Aisling Lawlor, who was working in the post office, went upstairs to get a chair when she saw two men enter dragging a third man. When she arrived down with the chair, the man was lying on the ground up by the post office counter. She knew Haughney and Coakley.

He said Margaret O’Toole, a teller in the post office, told gardaí that when she had refused to give Mr Doyle’s pension to Haughney earlier that morning, he became aggressive and said his uncle was unwell.

Fell to the floor

Garda O’Keeffe said that Ms O’Toole told gardaí that when Haughney returned to the post office with Mr Doyle, he said: “He’s here now, to collect his pension.”

When Mr Doyle fell to the floor, he started shouting: “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

He also shouted that it was Ms O’Toole’s fault for not giving him the payment earlier.

The witness said that when Haughney was arrested two days later, he told gardaí that when he returned to Pollerton Road after his first visit to the post office, Mr Doyle said to “bring me down to the post office”.

The court heard that Haughney was on bail at the time of the offence and had 55 previous convictions for offences including public order offences, drugs, burglary, robbery and handling stolen property. Coakley was also on bail at the time and had 49 previous convictions for offences including public order, drugs, assault and theft.

Both men had been told by the Director of Public Prosecutions that the two charges would be dealt with at District Court level if they pleaded guilty, but they did not do so. When the matter then came before the Circuit Criminal Court this week, they pleaded guilty to the first count, with the second to be taken into account.

The court heard that Haughney’s mother died when he was young, and that he was not in contact with his father. He was living with his uncle, Mr Doyle. It also heard that Coakley had been a drug addict for many years and has two children who do not reside with him.

‘Not in his right mind’

Barrister Richard Downey, for Coakley, said his client lived with his parents and was “not in his right mind on the day in question”. He also said that bringing a “deceased or incapacitated person into a post office was not in itself an illegal act” though it might be distasteful or “macabre”.

Barrisiter David Roberts, for Haughney, said his client was deeply remorseful and deeply sorry he had not “raised the alarm” earlier on the day in question. His client had lived in Carlow all his life and been a heroin addict for 15 or 16 years.

Haughney’s aunt, Ms Dowling, was in court and his client was “a loved member of the family and is a supported member of the family,” he said. He had written letters apologising for the pain he had caused and seeking to make amends.

He said his client would have to live the rest of his life being linked to a story that had been reported around the world. He had been “mocked” in a number of St Patrick’s Day parades.

Mr Roberts quoted criminal law expert Tom O’Malley, who said that “sometimes the process is the punishment” and that the publicity that particular cases attract can sometimes be a mitigating factor when it came to sentencing.

“Rather than seeking assistance for his uncle, Mr Haughney had accused the post office staff for his death,” Judge O’Kelly said when delivering the sentence.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent