A Hungarian national sentenced to one month in prison for his part in an incident in which a garda was assaulted has had the sentence overturned at Portlaoise Circuit Court.
Mark Gonda (20), 44 The Haven, Roscrea, was charged with assault, and threatening or abusive behaviour. After contesting the matter in the district court, he was sentenced to one month in jail.
At the recent appeal against the severity of this sentence, Sgt Dara Diffily gave evidence that at approximately 1.50am on January 17 this year, the gardaí became aware of a disturbance at Market Square, Portlaoise, outside a local nightclub.
A number of people were arrested, including the appellant. Sgt Diffily said that a plainclothes garda was assaulted during the incident.
In a statement to gardaí, Mark Gonda said he had been in the nightclub with friends and left at around 1.30am.
He said he went to his sister’s car, which was parked outside the nearby bookmakers, and “started messing there” by lying down on his sister’s car.
He said he saw someone approaching his friend and thought the man was looking for trouble, so he put his arm between them.
“I said, ‘What do you want?’ and he said, ‘Why, what are you going to?’,” the appellant told gardaí, going on to say that he was then pepper-sprayed and was barely able to see.
“I walked away and then another garda came over and put the clamps on me,” he said.
The appellant claimed that the plainclothes officer did not identify himself as a garda on the night.
He also said he did not see the garda receive a number of blows to the head. “When I was sprayed I just walked away,” he said.
State solicitor, Mr Donal Dunne said that the gardaí had been at the scene investigating a separate incident of assault, when the garda’s attention was drawn across the road to where the appellant was lying across the bonnet of the car.
Sgt Diffily said that the section 2 assault with which the appellant had been charged related to Gonda gritting his teeth and lunging at the garda.
This led the garda to believe he would be assaulted, said Sgt Diffily. After the appellant was removed from the scene, the disturbance involving other men continued for another minute.
The appellant had no previous convictions.
Defence, barrister Ms Louise Troy said her client did not make contact with the garda, and had not come to adverse garda attention before or since the incident.
She said her client, a Hungarian national living in Ireland seven years, had made a massive misjudgement on the night and his actions had been out of character.
Ms Troy also read out a letter of apology from her client, in which he said he was more than sorry for what happened. She also said he had €200 compensation .
In ruling, Judge Keenan Johnson said the appellant had too much to drink and was probably high-spirited.
He noted that the appellant had a very peripheral involvement in the incident and had not applied any blows to the garda.
Saying that a custodial sentence would serve no purpose, Judge Johnson ordered that the appellant donate €200 to St Vincent de Paul and applied the probation act, section 1.2.