Judge warns blockading farmers of jailing


Blockading farmers have been warned by a High Court judge that he will not hesitate today, if he considers it appropriate, to imprison them or forfeit their property in relation to the milk protest at Convoy in Co Donegal.

Mr Justice Smyth deferred until today a decision on an application by Natural Dairies Ltd to have 36 IFA members punished for allegedly having breached a High Court order restraining picketing at the Convoy dairy. He said during a special sitting of the court on Saturday he would accept an offer by the IFA president, Mr Tom Parlon, to travel immediately to the dairy to see what influence he could bring to bear on ending the blockade.

"It would be singularly inappropriate for me to seek to bring the heavy hand of the law to bear down on one side or the other if there was a possibility of a resolution being brought about," he said. Mr Justice Smyth said this was not a question of fudging the issue.

An order of the court had been made but he did not think it was in the interests of justice or of the parties that an order for attachment or committal should be made at that stage. He felt it proper to adjourn the determination of the motion until today to take its place alongside other motions which had been brought by the Competition Authority.

Judge Smyth said the blockade was not being mounted in a wholly unconcerted way and, while he was not saying at this stage who was behind it, he would have no hesitation in doing what was necessary in dealing with whoever was responsible. When he determined the issue today he would take a view as to whether attachment or committal to prison would be appropriate Mr Michael Cush SC, counsel for Natural Dairies Ltd, told the court that Mr John Molloy, director of the dairy, held the IFA responsible for the damage and losses being incurred by the company. He said Mr Michael McHugh, Cranford, Letterkenny, the IFA's development officer for Donegal, had bought lunches for the picketers and paid the £70 bill with an IFA cheque.

Mr Cush said his instructing solicitor, Ms Christian Carroll, had had a telephone conversation with Mr McHugh following the making of the High Court order restraining picketing and Mr McHugh had said words to the effect that he looked forward to being arrested. He said he had been served with three affidavits on behalf of the IFA just prior to the court hearing and the thrust of these was to say there was no IFA involvement in the blockade.

In an affidavit Mr McHugh said he had acted on his own volition and would have to reimburse the IFA for the cheque used in purchasing the lunches. Mr Eoghan Fitzsimons SC, counsel for the IFA, said his clients denied any involvement in the blockade and did not consider themselves to have breached the order made on Friday. He said Mr McHugh, who made a silly comment to Ms Carroll on the phone, had not been and would not be on the picket line. There was no question of his clients breaching the order.