A Donegal man charged with the “vicious” assault of a publican and his brother has been handed a suspended sentence.
However, Gavin Gallagher was told he will go to prison if he is found to be intoxicated in public or drinking in public for the next three years.
Gallagher (29), of Greenhill, Dunfanaghy previously escaped a prison sentence for a similar assault, carried out on a woman just months later in Letterkenny.
He appeared before Judge Kenneth Connolly at Longford Circuit Court, where he faced two charges of section three assault, which left a Ballymahon publican and his brother with substantial injuries.
Garda Eamon Fitzpatrick told the court how, in the early hours of April 15, 2018, he was alerted to an altercation outside Skelly’s pub in Ballymahon, Co Longford.
“On arrival, I met with the injured party, Pat Byrne at Skelly’s. He had sustained facial injuries and Paul Byrne had also been injured with a possible dislocated shoulder,” he said.
He told the court that, shortly after 1am, Mr Pat Byrne was proceeding to eject Mr Gallagher from the premises following an altercation inside where the accused had called another man an “English bastard”.
Pat Byrne had decided to remove him from the pub and was assaulted outside the premises.
His brother, Paul, intervened and was also assaulted. CCTV footage shown in court confirmed this evidence.
In a victim impact statement, Mr Paul Byrne explained that his work as a stone mason has been affected due to restricted movement and a lack of power in his arm.
He said he was also informed he will likely develop arthritis in later years.
He said that seeing his brother in “a scuffle on the pavement” was “unpleasant and unnecessary” and that he hopes Mr Gallagher “realises his actions have consequences for all involved”, particularly for him in his capacity as a stone mason.
Mr Pat Byrne also delivered a short victim impact statement in which he said he feels bad that his brother, who came to his aid on the night, “came out worse than myself”.
He said he received facial injuries, which affected his ability to work in the pub, but stated he is “glad it’s coming to an end” after five years before the courts.
As a barman, he said he has met all manner of people in his pub but said “Gavin Gallagher is a danger to people if he consumes alcohol”.
The court heard that Mr Gallagher was intoxicated on the night and had attempted to order a pint of vodka but was refused. Mr Gallagher had told Gardaí that he felt he was being manhandled and was acting in “self defence”.
In terms of previous convictions, the court heard that Mr Gallagher had received a two-year prison sentence for a similar assault on a woman in Donegal on June 25, 2018.
The sentence was suspended for 12 months on the condition he pay the sum of €10,000 to the victim.
Garda Fitzpatrick also told the court that Mr Gallagher had eight previous convictions in London and Essex, all of which were of a relevant nature, including public order, threatening behaviour, a battery charge for which he spent 14 days in prison, criminal damage and racial harassment among others.
The racial abuse conviction was particularly relevant in the eyes of Judge Connolly, because “this incident arose on reason of racial abuse, where he called someone an English bastard”.
Judge Connolly noted the offence occurred in circumstances where the accused was intoxicated but said that such circumstances were no excuse: “If you can’t handle alcohol, don’t have any”.
“Although it provides context, it doesn’t provide mitigation,” he said.
For the purpose of sentencing, Judge Connolly listed the nature and extent of the assault as an aggravating factor, calling it a “vicious and sustained assault of some duration”, which resulted in “extensive injuries – horrible injuries”.
Addressing the list of previous relevant convictions, Judge Connolly remarked that Mr Gallagher “does not seem to be learning his lesson” and stated that a minimum sentence of two years and six months would be “very appropriate, given the severe nature of the offending”.
Mitigating factors taken into account included a plea of guilt – albeit a late one – cooperation with Gardaí, and a sum of €5,000 as a token of remorse for the victims.
Judge Connolly, addressing Mr Gallagher, said “you should absolutely, definitely, categorically be going to prison”, but he had an obligation to consider mitigation when passing judgement and reduced the sentence to 18 months.
He then suspended the sentence in full for a lengthy three years under “stringent conditions” to be of good behaviour and keep the peace “in every regard”.
“Any blip whatsoever and you will end up in prison,” he said.
Mr Gallagher was also ordered to pay the sum of €10,000 in relation to count one on the indictment – the assault of Pat Byrne – within 12 months.
“You are also to abstain from all public consumption of alcohol, absolutely. No drinking in public and you must not be in public while intoxicated,” said Judge Connolly.
“If any of those conditions are breached, the matter is to come before the court, hopefully myself, and you will go to prison. I feel the system may be letting Messrs Byrne down, but I have to consider all factors and you are very lucky not to be going to prison.”
The sentence was handed down in respect of one charge of section three assault. The second charge was taken into consideration.