A Donegal district court judge has described a case of benefit fraud involving an Inishowen man as ‘by far’ the biggest he has come across in his time on the bench.
Judge Paul Kelly was speaking at a sitting of Carndonagh District Court where Gary O’Brien of Rooskey, Quigley’s Point, was charged with failing to declare he was a self-employed contractor while on Disability Benefit.
He had received an overpayment of just over €165,000, which he had claimed over a number of years.
The State Solicitor acting on behalf of the Department of Social Protection, Mr Ciaran Liddy, told Judge Kelly that O’Brien had failed to declare that he was a plastering contractor working on a number of projects in Derry.
Defending solicitor, Mr Ciaran MacLochlainn, said his client had ‘serious health issues’ but hopes to return to work as a contractor.
He said O’Brien was dealing with the issue and had made repayments to the department, but that he has a ‘substantial mortgage in arrears’.
Judge Kelly described the case as ‘very serious’ and was surprised that O’Brien was not being sent forward for trial to the, higher, Circuit Court.
“I have read a lot about similar cases for less amounts, and they were before the circuit courts,” he said.
“In my experience, this is by far the biggest cause of benefit fraud that I have come across. The defendant was earning a substantial amount of money while working in another business.”
However, Judge Kelly said O’Brien had engaged well with the Probation Services and ordered him to do 180 hours Community Service in lieu of six months in prison.
He also gave him a second six month prison sentence, suspended for two years.