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STONE’S THROW Headstone restorer insists illegal tombstone dumping conviction is 'grave' mistake

Declan O'Neill denies dumping pieces of tombstone among Christmas decorations and construction waste at local site but judge fines him €1,500

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Declan O’Neill

Declan O’Neill

Declan O’Neill

A headstone restorer convicted of illegal dumping after pieces of a tombstone were found at a site insists he is the victim of a 'grave' miscarriage of justice.

Declan O'Neill pleaded not guilty to a breach of the Waste Management Act arising from the discovery of construction waste, Christmas decorations and pieces of a tombstone at Dromkeen, Limerick on August 23, 2021.

The final nail in the coffin of his defence came when environmental inspector Neil McMullen told Limerick District Court he'd "found more parts of the same headstone" when he called to the yard where Mr O'Neill was working.

The inspector also gave evidence that after he approached Mr O'Neill about the dumping, the defendant went out to the illegal site and removed the rubbish - even though Mr McMullen said he hadn't told him the location.

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The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

 

But Mr O'Neill, who was fined €1,500 and ordered to pay the council's costs of €949, insisted to the Sunday World this week that he is innocent and hit out at the council for failing to seek out CCTV that could have proved this.

"I actually went in this morning to appeal it," Mr O'Neill told the Sunday World.

"But there were two or three forms to fill out, so I have to go back when I have that done."

Mr O'Neill, who lives in John Carew Park, said he feels the conviction has sullied his name and that some clients have already mentioned it to him.

"I absolutely didn't do this, I had no reason to do it," he said.

"So I have to go to the Circuit Court now.

"I already have a fine of €1,500 and the solicitor's fees are another €900 but I have to appeal it because I have to clear my name."

Mr O'Neill said he has been working in the area of restorations and cleaning for more than a decade.

"I've been working in this business since 2008," he said.

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"I renovate headstones and old buildings and I do a lot of sand-blasting, but my main business is putting up headstones and cleaning them.

"It's actually very upsetting because I have a permit from the council that allows me to go into the graveyards.

"And I said this below in the court. Why would I dump rubbish just off a main road and take a chance on losing that permit?"

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Declan O’Neill talks to our man Patrick O’Connell

Declan O’Neill talks to our man Patrick O’Connell

Declan O’Neill talks to our man Patrick O’Connell

 

Mr O'Neill agreed that he had gone out and cleaned up the illegal dumping site after Mr McMullen had first approached him.

Mr O'Neill said he had known the location once Mr McMullen had mentioned the name of the people on whose property the rubbish was found - even though the inpsector had not specifically identified the site.

"I know every one of that family. I'm hardly going to dump rubbish at their gates," he said.

"But after he told me about it, I did go out there and clean up the rubbish.

"I did it because I had been accused of doing it and I didn't like that."

Yard

Mr O'Neill was also critical of the fact the council hadn't sought CCTV from the community yard where he works, or from the site where the rubbish was dumped.

During the case, environmental inspector Mr McMullen said: "At the moment the council doesn't follow up on CCTV."

Mr O'Neill continued: "The yard I work out of is a community yard. It's not just mine.

"And there are four units in there with cameras facing directly onto [the location] where he found the stone.

"So I found it very strange that he couldn't have gone and got the CCTV."

Asked whether he, himself, has got the CCTV since, Mr O'Neill said he hadn't because he didn't think the matter was going to go so far.

"I was told by the people next door that if it became an issue they could go back as far as that date and there would be no problem giving it to me."

Mr O'Neill also said the spot where the rubbish was dumped is also covered by CCTV.

"There are two CCTV cameras on a house facing on to it," he said.

"And on the gate [where the rubbish was dumped],there is actually a sign from Limerick County Council saying there are cameras there.

"So for me to have done it would have been pure stupidity.

"Why would I go out there in my own lorry and dump rubbish where there are two cameras and a sign belonging to the council?

"I'm extremely angry about this.

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The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

The environmental inspector found pieces of tombstone

 

"I have actually worked as a relief driver for FitzGerald Skip Hire so I would have no issue going to them, even if I didn't have the money, and dumping the rubbish with them and coming back the next week and paying them for it.

"There was never an issue with that.

"So I had no reason to do this.

"But I didn't feel I got a chance to defend myself in the court.

"Every time I tried to answer a question I was interrupted."

Despite Mr O'Neill's trenchant denials, Judge Patricia Harney said she believed Mr O'Neill "did dump the waste himself".

Addressing him, Judge Harney said simply: "I don't believe you."

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