A grandmother previously jailed for refusing to wear a facemask during the Covid-19 pandemic is back in prison after committing public order offences when she repeatedly demanded a room at a hotel currently accommodating Ukrainian refugees.
Margaret Buttimer, 68 and currently of no fixed abode, told Bandon District Court it was “a disgrace” that she could not be given a room at the Munster Arms Hotel in Bandon, while refusing to give the judge an undertaking that she would refrain from returning there.
It prompted Judge James McNulty, hearing the case at Bandon District Court, to query whether the grandmother has been “exploited or manipulated”, given her blemish-free criminal record until she was in her mid-sixties.
Ms Buttimer, who previously had an address in Bandon in Co Cork and who has also lived recently in Kinsale, pleaded not guilty to six charges arising out of three separate incidents on two different days prior to Christmas.
Judge McNulty heard that she first called to the Munster Arms Hotel on December 19, with Garda Paul Gleeson telling the court he attended at the hotel having received a call about a woman causing a disturbance and demanding a room at the hotel for her and her son. The court heard she was asking “why are all the Ukrainians getting the room and there is no room for me, an Irish citizen?”
She refused to leave, despite attempted persuasion by the Garda and being warned that failing to comply with a direction to leave would be an offence. After some 30 minutes she was arrested for breaches of Section 5 and Section 8 of the Public Order Act, and was charged at Bandon Garda Station and released on station bail.
However, by 8.35pm she had returned to the hotel, with Garda Finbarr Russell outlining to the court his interaction with Ms Buttimer. Garda Russell also tried to persuade her to leave, as she was again demanding a hotel room for her and her son. He also warned her of the risk of not complying with the direction of a garda and after 10 minutes she was arrested and later charged with Section 6 and Section 8 Public Order offences.
The court heard that she was then detained overnight, appeared before Clonakilty District Court and detained again to the following day to Macroom District Court, where Judge McNulty had outlined the conditions of her release on bail, including that she stay away from the hotel.
But she returned to the hotel again, with gardaí alerted at 8.35pm on December 21, when Garda Kieran Hayes said he observed Ms Buttimer in the bar.
She was arrested after failing to comply with garda direction and charged with Section 5 and Section 8 Public Order offences. As a result she stayed in Limerick Prison for Christmas.
Giving evidence, Ms Buttimer confirmed she had turned down an offer of accommodation in Glengarriff, where her son is now staying, and she said she had not contacted her local TD about the Ukrainians staying in the hotel, as opposed to asking the hotel staff.
The court heard she had been at the garda station earlier on December 19 with all her possessions, that she had been told there was no rooms available at the hotel and that gardaí had not wanted to arrest her.
Asked if she was worried that her comments about Ukrainians might be audible to any Ukrainians who may have been in the bar of the hotel at the time, she said: “They probably have no English.”
Judge McNulty found all three Section 8 charges proven but dismissed the first Section 5 charge and the Section 6 charge, both of which were alleged to have taken place on December 19.
But he found her guilty of the Section 5 charge on December 21, stating its was different from her earlier interactions, when she had been asking for a room, and was instead a “persistent” querying of the hotel owner about the accommodation of others.
Ms Buttimer’s first previous conviction was in 2021, she was now of no fixed abode since her previous relationship ended last February, and her elderly mother had died last year.
When the judge asked her would she stay away from the hotel, Ms Buttimer said she wanted an apology from the hotel owner for accommodating the refugees when Irish people were "sleeping on benches".
“This is a sad, perplexing case,” Judge McNulty said, adding that during the previous cases when Ms Buttimer was convicted of breaches of Covid regulations, an extensive psychiatric report had been prepared for court, but had proved inconclusive.
Noting that Ms Buttimer was now homeless, the Judge said he believed she could easily come to harm.
He ordered the Probation Service to prepare a report for when the case next comes before the court on January 19, with penalty deferred until then.
The judge said his first concern was for her safety and the second is that “this woman may have been exploited or that she has been manipulated by others who have an agenda.
“The court has a concern that this woman has been exploited or manipulated by others.”
He said this was to be explored by the Probation Service, which was also directed to enquire as to the ownership of Ms Buttimer’s late mother’s home and whether she could be accommodated there, with similar queries to be lodged with Cork County Council. The court heard another son of Ms Buttimer is currently residing at that address.
In the meantime, he remanded Ms Buttimer back to Limerick Prison, adding that it was the "safest, best and warmest place” for her.