Arsonist firefighter who set blaze to 1.5 acres of land paid to put out fire he started

Kerry County Council say they cannot comment on whether David Ahern is still working in the service
David Ahern in his firefighting gear

David Ahern in his firefighting gear

Alan Sherry

Kerry County Council say they cannot comment on whether an arsonist firefighter who was convicted of deliberately setting a gorse blaze is still working in the service.

David Ahern (36) was convicted of criminal damage by arson earlier this month after a court found he set fire to gorse land near Killorglin.

Ahern, of St James Gardens, Killorglin, Co Kerry, was then paid €150 in his role as a firefighter to attend the scene and put out the blaze on the Easter bank holiday Monday in 2020.

Around 1.5 acres of State-owned land was burnt as a result of the blaze started by Ahern - with nine firefighters tackling the inferno at a cost of €1,500.

Ahern had denied setting the fire but was spotted acting suspiciously in the area by locals who took his registration plate details.

He had denied the charge of criminal damage but was convicted in Cahersiveen District Court earlier this month and will be sentenced in January.

A spokesman for Kerry County Council said this week that he could not comment on whether Ahern still worked as a firefighter despite his recent conviction.

"I can't make any comment on it at all because the matter is still before the courts.

"He hasn't been sentenced and he's still before the courts. Regardless of the circumstances it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on a staffing matter anyway."

While the council has refused to comment on the matter, the Sunday World understands that Ahern was suspended pending the outcome of the case and that remained the case as of this week.

David Ahern’s family were proud that he followed in his father’s footsteps

David Ahern’s family were proud that he followed in his father’s footsteps

The Sunday World contacted Ahern this week to ask if he still maintained his innocence despite being found guilty.

His solicitor Brendan Ahern subsequently responded to say his client could not comment as he has yet to be sentenced.

"I am instructed that you contacted my client yesterday seeking comment regarding an upcoming piece in the Sunday World. My client will not be making any comment at this time. It would be inappropriate to do so as the case has not yet been finalised in the District Court."

Our pictures show David Ahern while in action as a firefighter.

He joined up with Killorglin Fire and Rescue in September 2018. At the time, his family said they were so proud that he was following in his father's footsteps.

But less than two years later he was out setting the very fires he was hired to put out.

Chief fire officer in Kerry, Andrew Macilwraith, told the District Court that Ahern got paid double time for bank holidays and was paid €151.04 for attending the fire that he started.

He said the total payroll cost of dealing with the fire amounted to €1,500.

Ahern had also been charged with dishonesty, by deception, by inducing the fire service department of Kerry County Council to pay him the sum of €151.04 for attending a fire at Cromane Upper, Killorglin to make a gain for himself contrary to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act, 2001.

However, the deception charge was dismissed after an application by solicitor Brendan Ahern. Judge David Waters said he had a doubt about the deception charge and thought theft or fraud would have been a more suitable charge.

While there was no direct forensic evidence linking Ahern to the fire, a number of witnesses placed him at the scene while CCTV evidence was also submitted in evidence.

Declan Ward had given evidence he was in the Langston family home on the day of the fire and saw smoke billowing from where a black Volkswagen Passat car had stopped.

Mr Ward said he and others present ran out to try and stop the car but it increased speed as it drove past the house.

Amanda Langston, who was also present, took down the reg plate of the car which was later traced back to Ahern's partner. Ahern later admitted he was the driver of the vehicle on the day.

Ms Langston said her mother Eileen had first drawn her attention to the car which was on the brow of a hill. She said it had stopped for two or three minutes before she saw a man get back in and reverse while smoke started to rise.

"I ran outside and he was driving slowly... I was waving and he was coming by our front wall. I was right at the wall, I was signing 'hey, hey' to him... He looked directly at me and put his foot on the accelerator. I saw his face," she said.

Ahern told gardai he was driving the car that day and was on his way to Glenbeigh when he realised he had no phone and cigarettes. He said he stopped by the side of the road to search for them but didn't leave the vehicle when his pager went off and he went to the fire station.

Judge David Waters said despite a lack of forensic evidence, statements by Mr Ahern and his partner had placed the car at the scene driven by him, and there was "ample evidence" there was a case to answer.

He said there were aspects to the fire that made it a very serious offence "not least the risk to lives" and he needed to consider the case.

He adjourned the matter until January 13 for sentencing.

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