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Claims of assaults, parental abuse and attempted fraud – a day in one of Ireland’s busiest District Courts

Naas District Court judge ‘exhausted’ after hearing cases, including man who allegedly punched and kicked elderly father and pulled his mother out of wheelchair

The cases coming before the judge on a single day varied dramatically.

There was the man who allegedly punched and kicked his elderly father and pulled his mother out of her wheelchair. There were two sisters living in fear of their father.

There was a pensioner who attempted to defraud an insurance company to fulfil his elderly mother’s wish to live out her last days in her own home.

In all, there were about 200 matters listed before Judge Desmond Zaidan at Naas District Court on Wednesday, reflecting the high volume of cases before the court.

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The District Courts are the lowest jurisdiction in the judicial system but among the busiest in the country.

There were almost 130,000 civil cases coming before the courts in 2022, a 39 per cent increase on the previous year and five times as many as the next busiest court: the Circuit Court, the next level up.

[The judge] described the courtroom as ‘Baltic cold’ but did not take up a warmly clad woman defendant’s offer of her hat and scarf

Early this year, the Government made a commitment to increase the number of District Court judges from 64 to 78, an official response to just how busy these courts have become.

On Wednesday, Judge Zaidan, having sat from 10.30am to just after 4pm, adjourned more than 100 cases to later dates, including in April and May next, after telling the court he was “exhausted”.

Earlier, he described the courtroom as “Baltic cold” but did not take up a warmly clad woman defendant’s offer of her hat and scarf.

Much of the day was taken up with cases involving people in custody on a range of charges.

One man was before the court on foot of allegations of assault of his father, in his 70s, and of his mother, in her 60s, and criminal damage to their kitchen.

It is alleged the man punched and kicked his father and hit him with his walking stick, causing nine facial fractures and other injuries. The man is also alleged to have pulled his mother out of her wheelchair.

Judge Zaidan described the allegations as “very serious” and granted an application by the man’s solicitor, David Powderly, to direct a psychiatric report. The man had told the judge that a psychologist “refused to see me”. The defendant was remanded in custody.

The judge said the man should be psychiatrically assessed and afforded treatment that could only be provided if he consented.

Another case involved a 76-year-old man charged with attempting to defraud an insurance company with the objective of getting funds to repair his elderly mother’s fire-damaged home.

The court heard that the man’s brother had capacity issues and that when home alone after their mother, the brother’s main carer, went to a nursing home, the brother accidentally set fire to the house

Det Garda Wayne Kelly said that when arrested on appointment, the man had said all the money was returned and that he had not received any money from the insurer. The man “fully put his hands up”, is of limited means and a custodial sentence “would not serve anyone”, he said.

The court heard that the man’s brother had capacity issues and that when home alone after their mother, the brother’s main carer, went to a nursing home, the brother accidentally set fire to the house.

His mother had paid a home insurance policy over decades but it expired after she went into the nursing home.

After the mother said she did not want to be in the nursing home and wanted to go home, the defendant found it difficult to tell her it had been damaged by fire and attempted to secure insurance.

The insurer issued a cheque but, after some members of the man’s extended family alerted the insurer, the man admitted what he had done and the insurer took the cheque back.

Solicitor Tim Kennelly, for the man, said that as matters turned out, his mother did not get to return home and she, in her 90s, and his brother, died in the nursing home within six months of each other. This case arose because the man had made a “foolish” decision because he felt sorry for his mother, Mr Kennelly said.

Judge Zaidan noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions had directed the case could be disposed of now, on foot of the guilty plea, if the District Court accepted jurisdiction. This was a “tragic” case “peppered with exceptional circumstances” and he accepted jurisdiction, he said.

Det Kelly, the judge said, had outlined the evidence in a “very humane, fair and balanced” manner. The mother, he observed, had probably paid more than €100,000 under the insurance policy over the years, more than the cheque that the insurer had issued before reclaiming it.

Having considered the evidence and decided that sending the man to prison would not serve the interests of society or the common good, the judge applied the Probation Act and bound the man to the peace for two years on his own bond of €2,000.

The judge also dealt with several defendants over non-payment of fines, including for driving offences. Bench warrants were issued in some cases after defendants failed to appear, including for a man charged with assaulting his wife at an hotel in Naas and a woman charged with theft of €36 worth of make-up from Penneys.

Several defendants faced drug charges, including a man charged in connection with the seizure in Co Kildare last July of some €2 million worth of cocaine. He was sent forward for trial to Naas Circuit Criminal Court.

Other defendants appeared in connection with burglary charges, including a man charged with an alleged burglary at a family home in Naas involving some €20,000 worth of property.

Sgt David Hanrahan, who presented cases to the court, said this represented “the real world we live in”.

Judge Zaidan said the man, aged 42 and a father of two, had come to Ireland from Poland 16 years ago and had lost his family, his home and his job due to his alcohol addiction

Another defendant admitted multiple counts of theft on different dates from stores in Naas including Tesco, Boots and Woodie’s. The goods taken, none valued at more than €100, included a power drill, bottles of vodka, food, make-up and a child’s schoolbag.

Mr Kennelly, representing the man, said no violence was involved in the thefts. He said his client had a severe alcohol problem, lived in a homeless shelter and stole to either get alcohol or money for alcohol. The man had been off drink for six days and was prepared to address his addiction, the solicitor said.

Judge Zaidan said the man, aged 42 and a father of two, had come to Ireland from Poland 16 years ago and had lost his family, his home and his job due to his alcohol addiction.

Noting that he had jailed the man before to no effect, the judge said he would give him a final chance and refer him to the probation services on condition he completed an alcohol-treatment programme. If the man appeared before him again, he would be jailed, the judge warned.

He adjourned a separate case of a woman charged with presenting fake prescriptions on five occasions for the strong painkiller drug Tramadol, an opiate. The woman, the court heard, was prescribed Tramadol after a miscarriage and she became addicted to it.

In another case, the judge told two sisters, in their 20s, that he was “reluctantly” granting them interim protection orders after they alleged their father had threatened them with emotional and physical abuse. Both sisters live at home with their parents and their mother, the judge heard, was not supporting their ex parte applications.

The older sister said their father “used to hit us as kids, it was fairly standard”.

The judge told them a parent had no duty of care to children after they turn 18 and he had not heard their father’s side of the story.

He encouraged the younger sister – who told him she was on medication for mental health issues, had not sat her Leaving Cert and was not working – to take up a course or apprenticeship.

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