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Savage who brutally beat priest with iron bar during robbery jailed

Father Diarmuid Byrne
Father Diarmuid Byrne

A father of two who left an elderly priest with a fractured skull and multiple facial cuts after he attacked him with an iron bar during a house burglary has been sentenced to five years.

Gardaí discovered Father Diarmuid Byrne (70) in his home covered in blood, dazed and confused. There was blood splattered on the walls and floors. He was later treated for a fractured skull and received 26 stitches to numerous facial wounds.

A blood stained iron bar was discovered near the priest’s Rialto home after his neighbours alerted the gardaí to a disturbance.

Shane Cooney (24) was nominated as a suspect after gardaí stopped him in the local area in a drunken state.

He was arrested because there were concerns for his own safety and there was blood splattered all over his clothing and runners.

Cooney of Lismore Road, Crumlin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to burglary and assaulting Fr Byrne causing him harm on St Anthony’s Road, Rialto on October 16, 2013.

He has 74 previous convictions for robbery, attempted robbery, hi-jack, firearms, assault, public order, road traffic, criminal damage and possession of drugs.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring imposed a five year sentence with the final 18 month suspended. She noted the age of the victim and the affect the attack had on him.

Sgt Hoey told Paul Carroll BL, prosecuting, that Fr Byrne, then 69 years old, lived on his own in the Rialto area where he also worked.

He woke up that night to hear something being dragged across the living room and on investigating it discovered two men in his back garden heading into his home.

The men then came up the stairs and the priest recalled throwing some stones at them from a bucket that was near him.

Sgt Hoey said Fr Byrne’s next recollection was being on the ground beside his bedroom but he didn’t remember receiving a blow.

Gardaí arrived at his home at 1.30am having been contacted by Fr Byrne’s neighbours. They got into the house from the back garden and discovered the priest standing on the stairs very confused and covered in blood. Nothing had been taken from the house but it had been ransacked.

Sgt Hoey said the iron bar, woollen hats and gloves found lying outside the back door where taken from the scene.

Cooney was arrested that night and re-arrested following analysis of his clothing. He initially denied the allegations but later entered a guilty plea.

A victim impact report and medical report was handed into court but not read out.

The court heard that Fr Byrne had difficulty sleeping and suffered dizzy spells. He initially remained in his home but has since moved away.

Michael Bowman SC, defending, described it as “a violent and cowardly act” on an elderly priest who was not “a man of means”.

He said Cooney had “ever increasing difficulties” going back to July 2008 and that he started to use heroin first while in prison.

Counsel said his client has since attended drug treatment and is progressing well there.

Mr Bowman previously requested that Cooney be allowed to progress with his treatment so he can have the tools he will need to remain drug free in prison where he said he will have to go for his involvement in the offence.

“That way he would be in a better position to remain in the community drug free upon his ultimate release in prison,” Mr Bowman said.