Sentence hearing told of Army veteran caught with over €70,000 of cocaine
Father-of-seven arrested by gardaí in Cabra in possession of more than 1kg of narcotic
At a sentencing hearing on Thursday, defending counsel submitted that the court might pass what could be viewed as a lenient sentence but justified by the circumstances. File photograph: Getty
A judge has said that if people view engaging with drug dealers out of fear as an answer “then the battle is lost and we might as well all shut up shop”.
Irish Army veteran John McElroy (60) with an address at Oakwood Park, Finglas, Dublin, was caught with a 1.1kg block of cocaine worth more than €70,000 under the driver seat of his car after being pulled over by gardaí in Cabra, Dublin, on January 25th last year.
The father of seven – who was in the army between 1976 and 1991 and carried out two tours of Lebanon – told officers he had accepted the package an hour earlier and was holding it in order to pay €200 off his son’s €50,000 drug debt.
He pleaded guilty to one count of possessing cocaine for sale or supply at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
At a sentencing hearing on Thursday, Dominic McGinn SC, defending, submitted that the court might pass what might be viewed as a lenient sentence but was justified by the current circumstances.
Mr McGinn asked whether it was in the public interest to incarcerate his client at this stage in his life. He said the case could be justified as being exceptional due to his client’s health and the health of his son.
Judge Melanie Greally said that the message that had to be transmitted when dealing with offences such as this was that “engaging with persons involved in the drug distribution network out of fear is not the answer”.
She said that if it was perceived as being the answer “then the battle is lost and we might as well all shut up shop”.
The judge said that in view of McElroy’s impeccable record the best she could do was to put the matter into the new year. She adjourned the case for finalisation on March 19th.
At a previous sentencing hearing, Garda Marguerite Reilly told the court that gardaí pulled over McElroy’s after a tip-off about the cocaine. They discovered an Aldi bag under the driver seat containing the drugs, which had a street value of €70,840.
When questioned, McElroy said he didn’t know what was in the package but he assumed it was something “bad”. He said his son had run up a drug debt and he was trying to help him out.
He has one minor conviction for holding a mobile phone while driving.
Not ‘living off proceeds of drugs’
Garda Reilly told the court that gardaí did not believe McElroy was involved in the drugs scene. “Under no circumstances is it the belief of myself or any garda colleagues that he is living off the proceeds of drugs,” she said. “It was a one-off incident that he was holding these drugs to pay off the drug debt for his son.”
The judge she had one issue with this scenario, noting McElroy was being paid just €200 to pay off a €50,000 debt. “Either the enterprise was not going to be a one-off or else it was going to make virtually no impact on the debt,” she said.
Mr McGinn said this was a measure of how naive McElroy was.
He said this was “one of those wholly exceptional circumstances” in which someone was before the court “because of misplaced loyalty to his family”.
The court heard McElroy was diagnosed with cancer five years ago and is on disability benefit. His seven children are from two marriages.