a JUDGE has spoken out in defence of gardai after a man who opened fire on them with a shotgun was sentenced yesterday to seven-and-a-half years.
Michael O'Connor (31), of Nolmar, Strandhill Road, Sligo, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, reckless discharge of the gun and damage to a garda car at his parents' home at Nolmar during a 13-hour siege last December 28.
Judge Keenan Johnson noted that 110 gardai were involved in dealing with the incident.
He also said O'Connor had shown a considerable degree of planning by reloading and firing his father's shotgun on 23 occasions, pausing to make himself a cup of tea while ignoring repeated garda pleas for him to surrender.
Fifteen neighbouring homes had to be evacuated, with shots striking an unmarked garda car as officers took cover.
Judge Johnson told Sligo Circuit Court during the sentencing hearing: "It is fair to say that the primary victims of the accused's activities were Gda Kevin Donegan, Gda PJ Gallagher and Det Gda Joe Scanlon."
Noting the "traumatic" effect on the officers, the judge told the court: "It is all too common nowadays to be critical of the gardai.
"However, it is important to appreciate the very difficult and important job they undertake.
"Gardai put their lives on the line every day in order to protect law-abiding citizens."
Judge Johnson praised all gardai involved in bringing the siege to a safe conclusion.
With the gardai standing at the back of the court alongside senior investigating officer Det Insp Jim Delaney, the judge continued: "The outcome achieved, in what was clearly a very dangerous situation, was the best that could be hoped for and sets the standard as to how siege situations should be approached and dealt with."
He jailed O'Connor for seven-and-a-half years for possession of a firearm with intent to cause death or serious injury.
The judge suspended the last 18 months for a period of five years on conditi on that O'Connor engage with the probation services on his release and stay away from drink and drugs.
The court heard O'Connor had downed nine half-litre bottles of Speckled Hen ale before grabbing his father's shotgun and opening fire in their home. His parents were away at the time.
O'Connor was also given consecutive prison sentences of three and two years for the reckless discharge of a firearm and causing criminal damage.
The court was told that gardai were called to the house by a neighbour who was concerned and frightened after hearing loud banging noises from the home of the O'Connors who were away in Dublin that night.
Two gardai arrived and found the front door ajar. One called out "Gardai" and banged on the door and then the other garda saw a man in the front room where there was a Christmas tree - he was holding a shotgun which was aimed at the door.
The gardai retreated and called for armed support and then heard what sounded like a shotgun being fired.
There was evidence that gardai continuously warned O'Connor they were armed and tried to communicate with him but he never responded.
O'Connor came out and shot at the unmarked garda car causing €1,700 worth of damage.
At one point there was an exchange of fire with the armed support unit firing one live round and then two beanbag rounds.
Det Sgt Con Lee said 110 gardai were involved in the siege, which lasted 13 hours. There was air support and the dog unit and emergency services were at the scene.