A 61-year-old ‘environmental protector’ was given a one-year suspended jail term and had her chainsaw confiscated today for stealing wood from a Coillte forest near her home in West Cork.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin asked if Sionad Jones had behaved herself since she was convicted in February.
Defence barrister Peter O’Flynn said she had done so and that she was now liaising with local Coillte management who had agreed to plant broadleaf trees in the area.
The judge said Coillte were not the defendant in the case and that Sionad Jones was.
Noting that she had behaved since the conviction the judge imposed the suspended sentence and confiscated her chainsaw.
Judge Ó Donnabháin previously commented, “We heard about mother earth. We heard about the bees and bunnies. This lady goes out with a chainsaw in one hand and a burning log in the other. Where is the mother earth in that? How does that save the world?”
The jury found Sionad Jones, 61, of Maughnaclea, Kealkil, Bantry, Cork, guilty of the charge of stealing wood.
The judge then adjourned sentencing until today to see how her undertaking to stop stealing Coillte wood would go in the meantime.
“She put her beliefs to the jury and they were rejected. If she does not give it over (stealing wood) she will end up in jail. I am not a platform for idle political engagement,” he said.
Asked if she understood the undertaking in February, Ms Jones said, “I am not to do that again without the permission of Coillte. I understand. I take that seriously.”
The judge noted from Garda Fintan Coffey that she had previous convictions related to cannabis including a two-year suspended sentence in 2012 for cultivating it – at the same site where she cut down Coillte trees – and having it for sale or supply.
Peter O’Flynn, defence barrister, said, “Sionad Jones has been described as eccentric, colourful, passionate but I really don’t think dishonesty is a word you could apply to Sionad Jones. She believed she was leaving the forest in a better condition, replacing the trees with better trees. Coillte were aware of her activities. She had been seen earlier doing what she was doing and there was never an attempt by Coillte to stop that. She was not doing it furtively. She was doing it openly. She admitted to the guards she was doing it for 30 years. She believed the law entitled her to do it.”
Judge Ó Donnabháin said to the jury before they deliberated, “She claims an ancient law of foraging. As a matter of law, there is no ancient law which allows her to do what she did. There is no entitlement for a person living in the valley to take the wood without permission of the owner.”
The 61-year-old woman from Wales had been living in West Cork for 32 year. She said that when she arrived in Maughnaclea it was a beautiful valley where she foraged with her child for nuts, berries, firewood, turf, mushrooms and so forth. She described a richly biodiverse landscape that included orchids, bilberries, insects, birds, lizards and frogs.
She became distressed when Coillte planted what she described as a hundred acres of an American tree, Sitka Spruce, which she said grew to create a dark forest floor which killed off the biodiverse environment.
“I was shocked, I was outraged, I was appalled. I started cutting a few spruce trees to let light into the bilberry bushes. First I was cutting to keep biodiversity alive. As the clearing got bigger we needed broadleaf trees. I was inspired to plant trees. The valley in which I live was denuded,” Sionad Jones testified.
“It is not just for me. I am concerned about the environment we are leaving for future generations, for the tress, for the insects, for the birds, for the flowers. I am a conscientious protector. I am not a criminal. I am acting to protect the ecology and for the broadleaf trees of Ireland to have a place to live,” she said.