Minister frees mother jailed for contempt


A MOTHER of seven was released from prison on the authorisation of the Minister for Justice yesterday, 24 hours after she was jailed for contempt of court.

Mrs Mary McCullough (46), of Newpark Close, Kilkenny, whose youngest child is two, spent the previous night in Mountjoy prison, after she disrupted a sitting of the local court.

Mrs McCullough broke down in tears after Judge William Harnett told her she would spend Easter week in prison. But at lunch time yesterday, the Minister for Justice authorised her release on compassionate grounds.

Mrs McCullough, had apologised to Judge Harnett for the incident, in which she shouted and caused a disturbance in court, but the judge replied: "She can, apologise until hell freezes over. I could tolerate that behaviour. If you allow that, you turn the court into a farce".

Following the woman's imprisonment, her solicitor tried without success to contact the South Eastern Health Board's emergency services after office hours. Five of the woman's children, two boys - aged two and 18 and three girls aged five 10 and 13, live with their separated mother. After emergency services could not be contacted, they were cared for at home by their 19 year old brother who lives elsewhere in the city.

Mrs McCullough was in court on Tuesday to accompany her eldest son, aged 21, who was a defendant in a case listed for hearing. After the morning's proceedings were disrupted by shouting in the lobby outside, Judge Harnett demanded that those involved, who included Mrs McCullough, be brought before the court.

When Garda Insp Aidan Roche out lined details about her son's case, Mrs McCullough started shouting. She was arrested for contempt of court and shouted "Leave me alone" as a gardai placed her in handcuffs. She also shouted at the judge. The incident lasted around a minute.

After spending some hours at the Garda station, Mrs McCullough appeared in court at around 4 p.m. A Garda sergeant told the court that she had calmed down once she got to the station and was very apologetic.

However, the district judge commented that he had been unable to conduct the court of the behaviour of a "barridan" who had acted like "an utter and absolute maniac".

Judge Harnett said that "when people disrupt a court, the whole system collapses".

Mrs McCullough pleaded: "Sorry, Judge. I was upset". Judge Harnett declared: "You will have to control yourself, woman", as he committed her to prison for seven days for contempt of court. When she appealed for another chance, the judge emphatically replied: "No".