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Witness says he saw Jackie Healy-Rae punch English tourist in face after chip van row

Councillor Healy-Rae, the son of TD Michael Healy-Rae, has appealed against his conviction for an assault in Kenmare five years ago

Kevin Healy-Rae (left) and Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae at Kenmare District Court. File photo


A witness insisted to an appeal hearing that he saw Kerry County Council member Councillor Jackie Healy-Rae (26) strike an English holidaymaker a punch directly into the face.

Councillor Healy-Rae, the son of independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, has appealed against his conviction for an assault in Kenmare five years ago.

Councillor Jackie Healy-Rae has challenged his conviction for assault causing harm to English holidaymaker Kieran James before Tralee Circuit Appeals Court.

The second day of the appeal hearing before Judge Francis Comerford heard evidence from Neilly O'Sullivan.

Mr O'Sullivan was out with Mr James and his partner, Lauren, and other relatives in Kenmare to celebrate their engagement on December 27, 2017.

Mr Healy-Rae's counsel, John Berry BL, said his client was vehemently challenging the conviction.

Mr Berry noted that two other individuals had withdrawn appeals over the matter.

"I am not suggesting for one moment that you were not the victim of a criminal assault in Kenmare," Mr Berry told Mr James.

But the barrister said it was his client's position that he had only tried to act as a peacemaker and to restrain others that evening.

Kevin Healy-Rae (25), a younger son of Michael Healy-Rae, withdrew his appeal against the assault conviction before Judge Comerford.

Kevin Healy-Rae had his seven-month suspended sentence affirmed by the court.

A friend of the brothers, Malachy Scannell (36), also withdrew his appeal to an assault causing harm conviction.

He had his six-month suspended month sentence also affirmed by Judge Comerford.

Both will now enter bonds in respect of their sentences on Friday.

Cllr Healy-Rae, Kevin Healy-Rae and Malachy Scannell were convicted three years ago of assaulting a British tourist over a queue-jumping incident at a Kenmare chip van on December 28, 2017.

Both had confirmed appeals, via their solicitor Padraig O'Connell, within hours of their convictions.

Kerry Circuit Appeals Court had listed the cases in 2020 but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and disruption to court lists, the cases have been delayed until now.

Mr O'Sullivan said he was punched by Malachy Scannell on Main Street and, as he bent down to pick up his glasses which had been knocked off, he saw Jackie Healy-Rae punch Mr James.

"I saw Jackie land a punch into Kieran's face. It was a very forceful punch. I am sure it was the one that broke his nose," Mr O'Sullivan said.

The witness denied he had seen Cllr Healy-Rae act to restrain any of the other two men at the scene.

Mr O'Sullivan said he tried his best to protect and shield Mr James who was the focus of the attention from the three others.

Mr James, an English national who has an Irish passport, outlined to Judge Comerford yesterday the incidents of December 28, 2017.

The young man had travelled to Kerry in Christmas 2017 to introduce his wife-to-be, Lauren, to his Irish relatives.

After socialising in a Kenmare pub, Mr James said he went with his fiancee and four Kerry cousins to get food at a local chip van.

After queueing, they had placed their food order when a young man, Kevin Healy-Rae, barged through and jumped the queue.

Mr James's partner, Lauren, objected to the man jumping the queue – with Kevin Healy-Rae then turning on Mr James.

"He said: 'this is my town and this is my chip van.' He was very agitated by my wife pointing out that he had just jumped the queue."

He said Kevin Healy-Rae, whom he did not know at the time, left the scene but quickly returned with two other men, his older brother Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae and Malachy Scannell.

Mr James said he was pushed by Kevin Healy-Rae and immediately pushed him back.

Suddenly, he said he was grabbed from behind by Jackie Healy-Rae and placed in a firm headlock.

"Jackie grabbed me around the neck – in a kind of headlock," Mr James said.

"It lasted for 20 or 30 seconds. I was struggling to breathe. It wasn't a light hold."

Mr James said he was finally released from the headlock when his partner shouted that he couldn't breathe.

He said their group was so shocked by the incident they immediately decided to go – leaving the food they had paid for behind them.

Mr James said as they walked up Main Street in Kenmare, he heard aggressive shouting and realised that three men were running up the road to confront them.

He said he was grabbed again by Jackie Healy-Rae who held his arm behind his back while he was repeatedly punched by the other two men.

"He was forcing my arm behind my back and the other two were punching my face in," he said.

"I was not really able to defend myself."

Mr James said his partner – who he married in 2018 – had bravely tried to protect him by screaming at the assailants to stop and then trying to position herself between them.

He said the incident only ended when Lauren suddenly shouted that the gardaí were coming – and the three men left the scene.

Mr James told the court was injured in the incident and had to receive medical attention both in Ireland and in England.

He said he suffered a broken nose which he had to undergo two operations to repair, a damaged shoulder, a broken tooth and a scar over his nose.

"All these injuries were sustained in the second attack up on Main Street," Mr James said.

The witness rejected suggestions by Mr Berry that Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae had only tried to act as a peacemaker that night and was trying to end the confrontation which had commenced at the chip van.

"There is restraining and there is assaulting. I was assaulted by Jackie Healy-Rae."

Lauren James said she feared for her husband's safety that evening.

She said that when she spotted her husband being held in a headlock by the chip van, his face was "bright red."

"Kieran was very still – he was not fighting it. His face was bright red. I was very concerned (for him). There was a vein popping on his head. I said you are going to kill him."

After Mr James was released and her group attempted to leave the scene, she said her husband was then attacked by three men on Main Street.

"Obviously that was very shocking," she said.

"They were all attacking Kieran… they were punching his body. Kieran's face was unrecognisable. There were large patches of swelling and bruising. His nose was pushed to the side. You could see it was broken."

"He looked disfigured."

Mrs James said she stood in front of her husband and desperately tried to protect him because he was so dazed.

"My concern was to try to prevent Kieran from suffering any more physical assaults."

But she said two of the assailants that confronted her were very aggressive .

"It was a totally unprovoked attack on him," she said.

She rejected suggestions that any of those who confronted her husband were acting with restraint either at the chip van or on Main Street.

During the 2019 district court case, it emerged Kevin Healy-Rae had insisted to investigating gardaí that the incident was politically motivated and that there are people all over Ireland who hate his family.

Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae Jnr, Kevin Healy-Rae and Malachy Scannell had vehemently denied a number of assault charges before Kenmare District Court in 2019.

However, they were convicted on all charges by Judge Dave Waters after extensive witness evidence was heard and CCTV security camera footage was viewed from around Kenmare town centre.

Jackie Healy-Rae was handed a suspended eight-month prison sentence and is now appealing against both his conviction and sentence. Kevin Healy-Rae received a suspended seven-month prison sentence. Malachy Scannell, was handed a suspended six-month prison sentence.

Both brothers have an address at Sandymount in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry.

Mr Scannell of Inchinacoosh, Kilgarvan, Co Kerry is a close friend of theirs.

The appeal continues today.

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