Three men who denied causing criminal damage by blackening out the name of British monarch Victoria on Cork street signs were described by the judge who heard their case as people of the utmost sincerity.
However, Judge Paul Kelly said: “That does not entitle them to break the law in furthering their convictions. I accept they did not go out to cause wanton vandalism.
“It was very precise damage in furtherance of a particular view but that is not permissible. I have to find the facts proved.”
Rather than imposing a fine or any other sanction, the judge said the payment of €250 by each man to the Society of St Vincent de Paul as a charitable contribution would finalise the matter at Cork District Court.
The case was dealt with in Irish but several witnesses gave evidence in English. An Irish language interpreter was available to translate some of the evidence.
This followed a successful legal challenge by one of the defendants, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, of Upper Beaumont Drive, Ballintemple, Cork, asserting his right to have the case dealt with through Irish.
Mr Ó Cadhla and two co-accused, Tom O’Connor, from 44, Mangerton Close, the Glen, and Tony Walsh from 25 Carrigmore Park, Ballinlough, denied criminal damage to street signs at three separate locations in Cork City on February 2 2017.
Detective Garda Neil Walsh gave evidence of the background giving rise to the charges.
“On February 2, 2017, street names in the city centre — Victoria Road on both sides of the street, Victoria Cross Road on both sides of the street and Victoria Street on the north side of the city. They were damaged with black paint, in particular on the name ‘Victoria’ in English and in Irish.
“I was tasked with investigating following a complaint from Cork City Council.
“From my enquiries, this was part of a campaign from a group called Cork Street Names Campaign. These are a group who campaign against street names — monarchy names, in particular Queen Victoria, ,the Famine Queen, they called her. Three suspects more or less identified themselves in an article in the Irish Examiner on February 3, 2017, with a photo of two of the suspects painting the street signs.
“Also on that date, Diarmuid ÓCadhla conducted a radio interview with PJ Coogan on 96FM.”
State solicitor Frank Nyhan said there was no dispute about the facts of the case in so far as the application of black paint was concerned but the prosecution allegation that this constituted criminal damage was denied by all three defendants.
Donal Daly, solicitor for Tom O’Connor ,said this defendant had attended Cope Foundation from the age of 13 to 16. When gardaí asked what he knew about it he said: “All I know is I painted the fucking signs as I don’t like Victoria. She chopped off people’s heads and was called The Famine Queen… I am proud of what I done.”
Asked again if he painted the signs he said: “Yeah, I gave it a lash. My grandfather would be proud of me. He went to war. He then came back and was treated like shite.”
Mr Daly said there was no wanton vandalism going on or anything like that. The detective said there was. Judge Kelly commented about surgical vandalism.
Director of services at Cork City Council Gerry O’Byrne said the engineer for the areas estimated the cost of the damage was €800 as the signs would have to be removed, taken to the depot, cleaned, repainted, and brought back to the streets.
Mr Daly suggested the €800 figure was “a magical figure … plucked from the air… for a small bit of paint for a couple of signs”.
Tom O’Connor said: “Tomás MacCurtain stayed in my grandmother’s house in Cork.”
As for the criminal damage charge, he said: “We didn’t damage nothing. They burned Cork City. They starved the people. They don’t care for the houses they burned. This was not criminal damage, it was justice for the Irish people.”
Solicitor Pat Horan called Anthony Walsh to give evidence, who testified: “I personally took offence to what City Council did, making MacCurtain Street the Victoria Quarter. It almost killed my soul. That man died so we could have a free country. And they did that to his memory. Terrible. The graveyard at Carr’s Hill with 30,000 victims. We did not set out to do any damage. We were just making a point.”
Mr O’Cadhla said it was reasonable for people to paint these signs when they had been “refused dialogue” with Cork City Council on the matter.