09 Aug 2022

Judge imposes Facebook ban on feuding people in midlands town

Defendants in "senseless dispute" told to stay off all social media platforms

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Judge Keenan Johnson issued order at Tullamore Circuit Court

Five women and a man were all banned from using social media after Tullamore Circuit Court heard details of what a judge described as “thuggish behaviour” after a video was posted on Facebook.

Judge Keenan Johnson said posting derogatory videos did nothing but stoke the flames of discontent between people.

James Dunican, Leona McCann, Marie Dunican, Martina Dunican, Samantha McDonagh and Leah Wells, all with addresses in Cluain Darach, Tullamore, appeared in court in connection with violent disorder.

Ms McDonagh pleaded guilty to assaulting Leanne Daly, also a resident of Cluain Darach, while Martina Dunican, Marie (also described in court as Tina Marie) Dunican and Leona McCann entered pleas to assaulting Thomas Power.

James Dunican admitted producing a baseball bat and Leah Wells had previously pleaded guilty to violent disorder.

Garda Alan Burke told the court that on May 16 last year at about 5.30pm members of the Dunican family contacted gardai about footage of an incident uploaded to Facebook by their neighbour, Thomas Power.

They said that when Thomas Power and Leanne Daly, also referred to as Leanne Power, returned home it was “all going to kick off”.

Garda Burke said he went to Cluain Darach and spoke to Martina Dunican, the 53-year-old woman he described as the “matriarch” of the family, along with Samantha McDonagh, 24, Tina Marie Dunican, 26, and Leah Wells, 26, and advised them not to engage in any unlawful action.

He said he left but shortly afterwards the gardai received a call to return and while they did not see violence, members of the Dunican family were very agitated and Thomas Power and Leanne Daly said they had been set upon.

They said they had been assaulted outside their house in front of their children, verbal threats were made and a baseball bat was produced. Thomas Power, a father of three, had lacerations to his cheek.

Thomas Power said he was driving into his house and his vehicle was struck and kicked. Leanne Power was afraid to get out of the vehicle because the other group said they were going to “bate” her.

Garda Burke said Ms Wells was the least culpable and while Mr Dunican, aged 28, brought a baseball bat, Martina Dunican took it from him.

In CCTV footage played in court, Samantha McDonagh, Martina Dunican and Tina Marie Dunican could be seen waiting on the path as the Power car approached and Tina Marie was recorded banging on the door.

A toddler with a football could also be seen on the footage as the row went on and James Dunican was captured on CCTV handing a child to a woman and then running along the footpath with the bat.

Garda Burke said Thomas Power alleged that Martina Dunican threatened to burn down his house, adding that the Powers and the Dunicans don't get along.

Judge Johnson described the dispute as absolute nonsense and having watched the footage, said the only “adults there are the children for not getting involved in it”.

The court heard that Martina Dunican always denied threatening to burn down Mr Power's house and she said she had gone down there to get the other girls back.

Shane Geraghty, BL, prosecuting, told the court that allegations about Mr Power were contained in statements made by the accused parties and an alleged incident at a separate location was before the courts.

Judge Johnson heard it was acknowledged that there was a history of a feud between the parties and an attempt at mediation had been made.

Resulting from the assault, Leanne Daly had a bald patch where her hair was pulled and her face was badly scratched.

She and her children were traumatised, her daughter would not sleep in her own bed and her son would not walk past the Dunicans' house.

In a victim impact statement, Ms Daly said they had no life in the estate since the assault happened and they were surrounded by the other family.

She believed the problem would not end, even after the courtcase had finished.

Judge Johnson said all of the defendants had behaved in a reprehensible and unacceptable manner and the thuggish behaviour was an appalling example to set to children.

He did accept however, that the “red mist” had got to the accused parties but he ordered that there be no use of Facebook by them until he disposed of the matter.

He ordered each of the defendants with the exception of Ms Wells to pay €500 to charity. Ms Wells, who was identified as the least culpable, is to pay €250.

Judge Johnson also said he was conscious of the fact that James Dunican would lose his job with the security firm Mercury Security if he got a conviction and he indicated that ultimately it would be his intention to bind all the defendants to the peace for a long period.

He warned them that if there was a repeat of the behaviour they would all go to jail.

He said social media was a complete and utter disaster in situations like this for everybody and he wanted a video posted by Mr Power, which according to the Dunicans caused them to act in the manner they did, to be taken down.

He further said that all involved should engage with the mediator Frank Kavanagh, describing him as excellent in that role.

Judge Johnson was told by representatives for the defence that while they had engaged in mediation, the “other side” had declined to do so.

All the defendants had to enter into a bond to keep the peace and stay off Facebook and all social media platforms, along with taking down any videos they had posted.

He said the type of event which had occurred were far too prevalent and far too rife and he described them as “senseless disputes”. Sentencing will come before the court again at the November sitting.

Judge Johnson also commended Garda Burke for investigating the matter very thoroughly.

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