Three men who defaced street signs in Cork city bearing the name of Queen Victoria in protest over her failure to prevent the deaths of millions during the Famine have been told they will get the benefit of the Probation Act and avoid a criminal conviction if they pay each €250 to charity.
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla (59), Tom O'Connor (59) and Anthony Walsh (55) had denied two counts of criminal damage to street signs at Victoria Road, two counts of criminal damage to street signs at Victoria Cross and one count of criminal damage to a street sign at Victoria Street, Military Hill.
The State alleged Mr Ó Cadhla, from Upper Beaumont Drive, Ballintemple, Mr O'Connor from Mangerton Close, the Glen, and Mr Walsh from Carrigmore Park, Ballinlough, committed criminal damage at all three locations on February 2nd, 2017, contrary to the Criminal Damage Act 1991.
On Monday at Cork District Court, Judge Paul Kelly found the facts proven against all three defendants but said he would apply the Probation Act if they each paid €250 to the St Vincent de Paul by December 16th and he adjourned the case until then to allow them make the donation.
Det Garda Neil Walsh told the court gardaí received a complaint from Cork City Council that a total of five streets signs had been defaced at the three locations when the word, Victoria, in both the English and Irish versions of the street names, had been painted over with black paint.
“From my enquiries this was part of a campaign from a group called Cork Street Names Campaign. These are a group who campaign against street names with connections to the British monarchy, in particular Queen Victoria whom they called the Famine Queen,” said Det Garda Walsh.
“The three suspects more or less identified themselves – in an article in the Irish Examiner on February 3rd, 2017, there was a photo of two of the suspects painting the street signs and on that date, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla conducted a radio interview with PJ Coogan on The Opinion Line on 96FM.”
Cork City Council director of services, Gerry O'Beirne said that the signs, which were partially painted over, had to be removed by council staff, cleaned of the black paint and put back in place and the entire cost came of the work came to €800.
A former member of Cork County Council, Mr Ó Cadhla conducted his own defence in Irish and said they did not believe their actions were criminal and their intention was to stimulate debate about the naming of streets in Cork after Cork City Council had refused to meet them to discuss the issue.
He said that Queen Victoria had effectively overseen the Famine when over two million died and another two million were forced to emigrate and to commemorate Queen Victoria by allowing streets in Cork to be named after her was an insult to all those who died in the Famine
Mr O’Connor also admitted painting over the signs but he denied that he had criminally damaged them. “We didn’t damage anything – the signs were all rusty and falling down – it was justice, justice for the Irish people. I speak for myself and I am proud of what I’ve done.”
Mr Walsh said: "I personally took offence to what City Council did, making MacCurtain Street the Victoria Quarter. It almost killed my soul. That man died so we could have a free country. And they did that to his memory – terrible ... We did not set out to do any damage, we were just making a point."
Mr Ó Cadhla said they were supported in their actions by the majority of the people of Cork. Cross-examined by State Solicitor for Cork City, Frank Nyhan, he accepted the elected members of Cork City Council had opted not to change any street names, but that was to their shame.
Viewing photographs of the street signs daubed in black paint, Judge Kelly said that while he had no doubt about the sincerity of the convictions held by the three defendants, they had set out in a very deliberate and calculated way to deface the signage and that did constitute criminal damage.
“Their motives may have been to make a political point but that does not entitle them to break the law. I accept they did not go out to cause wanton damage – it was very precise damage in furtherance of a particular view but that is not permissible. I have to find the facts proved.”