Two men spared jail for breaching Covid-19 rules to attend Four Courts protest

Russ Merne (74) and Colm Larkin (32) ordered to make donations to Pieta House

Russ Merne is pictured leaving Dublin District Court after he was found guilty of  breaching amendments to Health Act 1937 by leaving his residence without an excuse and refusing to give gardaí his name. Photograph: Collins Courts

Russ Merne is pictured leaving Dublin District Court after he was found guilty of breaching amendments to Health Act 1937 by leaving his residence without an excuse and refusing to give gardaí his name. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Two men have been spared jail for breaching stay at home Covid-19 rules to attend an anti-lockdown protest outside the Four Courts in Dublin last year.

The January 20th protest coincided with a Court of Appeal challenge by Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters over the constitutionality of laws introduced in response to the pandemic.

Russ Merne (74), of Killeland Rise, Ashbourne, Co Meath, was found guilty of breaching amendments to Health Act 1937 by leaving his residence without an excuse and refusing to give gardaí his name.

He denied the charges and said he was a digital photo-journalist who wanted to get pictures of the event and had his camera in a backpack. He said gardaí did not caution him that breaching the rule was an offence punishable by a fine of up to €2,500 or a prison sentence of up to six-months.

Garda Chief Supt Ann Markey said 20 gardaí at the scene attempted to explain the regulations to those who gathered to protest. She told Judge Treasa Kelly that Mr Merne refused to give his name and address before his arrest, despite being cautioned about the consequences.

Equipment not used

Chief Supt Markey said the incident happened a day after 200 deaths related to Covid-19 were recorded.The prosecution argued that while Mr Merne may have had photo equipment with him, he did not use it at any stage.

The prosecution said Mr Merne was not required or summoned to the Four Courts but rather went “to have a look”.

“No, I wanted to witness justice being done,” Mr Merne replied.

Mr Merne, who defended himself, said he supplemented his pension by selling stock photography to an agency. He said he came for the court case and was hoping to get photos.

Judge Kelly found him guilty. She noted that he had no previous convictions and said she would apply the Probation of Offenders Act if he donated €100 to Pieta House before March 24th.

Colm Larkin (32) is pictured leaving Dublin District Court after he pleaded guilty to breaching amendments to Health Act 1937 by leaving his residence without an excuse and refusing to give gardaí his name. Photograph: Collins Courts
Colm Larkin (32) is pictured leaving Dublin District Court after he pleaded guilty to breaching amendments to Health Act 1937 by leaving his residence without an excuse and refusing to give gardaí his name. Photograph: Collins Courts

Colm Larkin (32), a landscape gardener of Esker Park, Lucan, pleaded guilty to charges of breaking the stay at home regulations to attend the protest and refusing to give his name to gardaí.

Judge Kelly said Mr Larkin co-operated after arrest and took responsibility for his actions. She gave him the benefit of the Probation of Offenders Act after he donated €200 to Pieta House.