herald

Monday 16 December 2019

Priest on US drug charges can appear in Irish court

Fr Michael O'Leary
Fr Michael O'Leary

A catholic priest facing drug charges in the US is not prevented from travelling to Ireland to give evidence in a dispute involving him and his siblings over their late mother's will.

Despite being on bail, New York-based Fr Michael O'Leary is not prohibited from coming to Ireland to give evidence in the will dispute, the High Court heard yesterday.

The case came before the court earlier this month when Fr O'Leary's lawyers sought an adjournment because of difficulties concerning his availability to give evidence following his arrest.

His lawyers also claimed that as he had gone into a rehabilitation programme they had difficulties in obtaining any instructions from him.

Fr O'Leary intends to give evidence in the will dispute, which was due to be heard earlier this year but could not proceed due to the lack of a judge to hear the case.

His lawyers said yesterday that he had contacted them over the weekend and told them he had completed his rehabilitation programme.

Fr O'Leary's American lawyer had also made contact and had advised that the criminal charges stand adjourned until early July and are unlikely to be disposed of until October.

Michael Hourican BL, for Fr O'Leary, said that "surprisingly" the bail terms do not prevent his client from travelling to Ireland.

His US lawyer also said it was possible he could receive a custodial sentence if he is convicted by the New York court when the criminal case is finally disposed of.

In that scenario, Fr O'Leary would be unable to travel until the sentence has been served.

Counsel said Fr O'Leary has not entered a plea in respect of the criminal charges.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had earlier expressed their concern about Fr O'Leary's availability to give evidence.

They wanted to know when he would be able to give evidence and if he could give his testimony via video link.

Adjourning the matter, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds said she would enquire to see if a judge could be made available to hear the case some time in July, before the court's summer vacation.

Arrested

Previously, the court heard Fr O'Leary (50) was arrested by New York police in the early hours of last St Patrick's Day after they found him and another man in a vehicle.

Officers claim they recovered half an ounce of methamphetamine, two scales and other materials for packaging narcotics.

In proceedings pending before the High Court, four of his siblings, Nora Harpur, Barry O'Leary, Tadgh O'Leary and Marie O'Leary, have brought an action against both Fr Michael and their brother John O'Leary.

The action is aimed at setting aside the will of their late mother, Elizabeth O'Leary, who died in September 2014.

The four siblings seek an order condemning a will made by the late Ms O'Leary, of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin, in 2009, on grounds including she was not of sound mind when it was executed.

It is claimed the family home was left to the defendants, while the residue of the estate was left to the other siblings.

It is also alleged that undue influence was exerted over the late Ms O'Leary by the defendants when she was preparing and executing the 2009 will.

The claims are denied.

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