John McGahon (31) had been accused of assaulting the pubgoer by punching him about the head, leaving him with facial lacerations and "covered in blood."
A jury delivered a not guilty verdict today following a three-day trial at Dundalk circuit court. Mr McGahon said he was "extremely relieved and delighted" following the verdict.
The Louth senator, of Faughart Gardens, St Mary’s Road, Dundalk had denied assault causing harm to Breen White outside the Rum House pub on Park Street in the town on June 16 2018.
The prosecution had alleged he "rained blows" on Mr White in an "explosion of violence" after a row between the pair escalated.
Mr McGahon did not give evidence but his defence argued it was Mr White who had instigated the violence by pushing him, and the alleged victim sustained his injuries when he lunged at Mr McGahon and fell to the ground.
Judge Dara Hayes thanked the jury for their service after they reached their verdict this afternoon, having deliberated for just under six and a half hours.
“I’m extremely relieved and delighted to have been found not guilty," Mr McGahon said in a statement.
"I maintained my innocence throughout this process, and this has been proven. I thank the jury for reaching this verdict having heard all evidence since Tuesday. I would like to thank them for their careful attention throughout."
He also thanked his legal team.
“Since 2014, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Dundalk and Louth. There are a lot of issues which affect my constituents and that is my sole focus," Mr McGahon added.
Fine Gael said in a statement that "the mater has now concluded" after the not guilty verdict and that the senator had always maintained his innocence.
“Senator John McGahon, as always, will continue his work as a public representative for the people of Louth," a spokesperson said.
During the trial, the jury heard the confrontation happened in the early hours of the morning as the Whites and Mr McGahon left the pub, where they had been socialising separately.
They did not know each other and Mr White said Mr McGahon put his arm around his wife Linda White and allegedly said “you’re coming with me.”
Mr White said he told Mr McGahon to “leave her alone” and Mr McGahon asked “what’s it to you”, to which he replied she was his wife.
He alleged Mr McGahon asked “Do you know who I am?” and “Can she not speak for herself?" before there was a scuffle and Mr White ended up on the ground.
“I remember being face down, getting hit and hearing shouting,” he said.
“I was dazed and getting knocks and bangs around the head. I put my hands to my face and thought there was water running down my face. It was blood.”
When it was put to him in cross-examination that it was he who first pushed Mr McGahon backwards into the street, Mr White said he did not recall that, and the scuffle had happened “in the heat of the moment”.
Linda White alleged Mr McGahon was being aggressive, “shouldering and chesting” her husband as friends tried to push him back.
She said Mr McGahon brought her husband to the ground and was on top of Mr White "thumping and thumping him".
In garda interview, Mr McGahon said “I put my arm around the shoulder of a female” as he left the pub and it was “totally innocent and friendly.”
He said Mr White took issue with this and he offered an apology but Mr White became more confrontational and “lifted his leg towards me.”
“I thought he was going to kick me,” Mr McGahon said, and there was “pushing and shoving” between them before Mr White “lunged” at him in an aggressive manner.
“He missed me with his lunge and he hit the ground,” Mr McGahon said in the interview. “I ended up on the ground with him. I tried to retaliate with open-hand slaps perhaps two to three times.”
Mr White's injuries included lacerations to his forehead and nasal bridge.
Prosecutor Carl Hanahoe BL said in his closing speech yesterday it was the state's case that Mr McGahon initiated the incident, at all times his "blood was up" and he was the aggressive party.
Even if Mr White pushed him out of the way, “what occurred thereafter was an explosion of violence, it wasn’t self defence and it was utterly disproportionate,” he said.
It was an “extraordinary stretch of credulity” to state that Mr White’s multiple injuries were caused by him falling over, Mr Hanahoe argued.
Defence barrister Hugh Hartnett SC had said in closing Mr McGahon might have made a nuisance of himself before the confrontation but he apologised, was not aggressive and did not initiate the violence.
He argued CCTV showed it was Mr White who instigated it by pushing Mr McGahon hard into the centre of the road, ramming his hand into his client’s face and catching him by the throat.
Mr Hartnett said footage showed Mr White coming "out of his corner like a boxer" and "going in there to attack." It also showed that "the first man down is Mr McGahon."
Mr White got "hit in self defence," Mr Hartnett said.
The defence did not dispute that Mr White was injured but said he sustained the injuries when he lunged and fell to the ground.
The evidence against Mr McGahon was "more than dubious," Mr Hartnett argued.
Mr McGahon was elected to the Seanad in 2020 and is the party's Seanad spokesperson on climate, communications, energy and natural resources. He was previously a Fine Gael councillor and contested the 2020 general election but was not elected.