Grandmother jailed for 90 days over refusal to wear face mask

Judge cites failure to take ‘basic care for protection’ of health and safety of citizens

A 66-year-old grandmother has been jailed for 90 days by a judge who said she had shown scant regard for the safety of others when refusing to wear a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus while out shopping.

Margaret Buttimer from The Cottage, St Fintan's Road, Bandon, Co Cork, appeared at Bandon District Court today to contest two counts of refusing to wear a mask at SuperValu, Riverview Shopping Centre in Bandon on June 25th and July 1st.

Insp Emmet Daly said the charges alleged Buttimer contravened a provision under section 31A (1) of the Public Health Act 1947 as amended by 2020 legislation to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19 by refusing to wear a mask in the shop on both dates.

Today, SuperValu manager Alan Owens said that Buttimer refused to wear a mask when asked to do so on each occasion and when offered a mask by staff while Garda Theresa Lyons and Garda Ellen Crowley also testified that she refused to wear a mask when asked to do so.


Buttimer, who didn't wear a mask in court, said she could remember being in SuperValu on both occasions. But she had no recollection of pleading guilty last month to two charges of breaching Covid-19 regulations at Boots Pharmacy in Bandon on May 12th and Aldi, Bandon, on May 14th

Judge James McNulty convicted Buttimer of the SuperValu offences but adjourned sentencing for more than an hour to allow him read a report submitted by Mr Taaffe on his client from Dr Eleanor Mullen who specialises in the psychiatry of old age and a second report from a psychologist.

Sentencing Buttimer, the judge said the case was about “rights and duties” and Buttimer had rights and entitlements, including a right to dissent, and a right to express her dissent, and she also has the right to protest – subject to public health guidelines.

“Margaret Buttimer is entitled not to wear a mask at home or outdoors but like every other citizen she is required by law to wear a mask when she enters a shop, or other public indoor space. Because of the risk of viral spread, our rights and freedoms have all been curtailed to varying degrees.”

He said in a national emergency rights may be restricted and noted Article 43.2.2 of the Constitution, limiting private property rights “with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good”.

The judge also said that Buttimer, like every other Irish citizen, also had duties and obligations including “fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State” while there was an equally important obligation to respect the rights of others.

“Unfortunately and regrettably, Margaret Buttimer has failed in her duty to take basic care for the protection of the health and safety of her fellow citizens . . . she has breached the regulations lawfully made for the preservation of public health of all citizens, and in this regard she has broken the law.”

The judge added that “locally, she has disregarded the rights to health and safety of those who work in frontline retail . . . She has been disrespectful to other compliant shoppers, who may be vulnerable, or may be the carers of vulnerable children or elderly relatives.”

Repeat offending

He noted that the court had previously imposed a suspended sentence and a fine arising from a similar offence in Dunnes Stores in Clonakilty on February 12th but Buttimer's repeat offending disqualified her from the chance of doing community service and he now had to impose a jail term.

He sentenced her to 30 days imprisonment for the breach of Covid regulations in SuperValu in Bandon on June 25th and 60 days consecutive for the second breach in SuperValu on July 1st which happened when she was on bail for the earlier offences from May.

He also sentenced her to 14 days for the offences committed in Boots Pharmacy in Bandon on May 12th and Aldi in Bandon on May 14th but because she has been in custody on remand for the past 12 days over breach of bail terms, he said the court would deem these two sentences served.

He also noted that the June and July offences meant that a three-week suspended sentence imposed on May 24th for the Clonakilty offence on February 12th could be now be activated. However, he would not do so immediately but the court would retain the option of doing so in the future.

The judge also set recognisances in the event of an appeal but Buttimer’s solicitor said that his client would not be appealing the 90-day sentence imposed.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times