A Cork man with a history of mental health issues set fire to his landlord’s house when threatened with eviction for drug use and now the sentencing judge has questioned the concept of “care in the community.”
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin expressed concern that the 51-year-old accused had come to the attention of psychiatric services since 2003 and it was known that he had made an attempt to take his own life in 2016.
“But they decided to deal with him with care in the community. I don’t know can you get a more spectacular failure of care in the community.
“Mental health professionals judged he was suitable for care in the community. We are now left with this situation,” the judge said.
Mark O’Herlihy, formerly of Nash’s Boreen on the north side of Cork city, was sentenced to six year with the last two years suspended.
Garda Richard O’Donnell outlined the background to the arson charge to which Mark O’Herlihy entered a plea of guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
Two years before the arson, the defendant began renting the house from a friend whom he had known for years.
“However for the 12 months before this occurred the owner noticed an increasing amount of alcohol and drug use in the house. There was a smell of cannabis when he called to the house.
“In June 2020 he gave him notice he was going to be evicted. Mark O’Herlihy informed work colleagues he was going to burn down the house where he was living. They did not believe him and thought it was a joke.
“On July 14 2020 3 Nash’s Borreen – the house where he was living – was completely burned down.
“Ethanol had been taken from the chemical plant where he worked. He admitted burning down his friend’s house.
“He took drums of ethanol home, dowsed everything with it and then threw a burning towel into the hall.
“He said he wanted to burn the whole house,” Garda O’Donnell said.
The insurers paid out €110,000 to the owner. The accused came up with €10,000 in compensation.
Peter O’Flynn defence barrister said Mark O’Herlihy had a long history of mental illness. However, the 51-year-old always managed to stay in full time employment.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said, “A worrying and aggravating factor is that the owner was known to the accused. He was his landlord and there was a relationship between them for years where the accused was provided with accommodation.
“As a result of his excessive use of alcohol or drugs or both, the landlord felt he had to eject him – that was probably a very responsible attitude. But that was met by the accused going into some kind of reverie, getting ethanol from his employer’s factory and burning down his friend’s house.
“Mitigating factors include his efforts to make sure no person was injured in the fire. At all stages he was conscious of the dangers of fire and he took steps to make sure no person might be exposed to fire.
“I agree with Mr O’Flynn that the Mr O’Herlihy’s actions were bizarre and inexplicable but nonetheless highly dangerous.”