Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Taxpayers foot the bill for 'farcical' lilies case

Taxpayers will have to foot a bill that could run into thousands of pounds for the failed prosecution of a Sinn Fein MLA charged with illegally distributing Easter lilies.

District Judge Bernie Kelly this week dismissed the case against Declan McAleer who was charged with breaking an antiquated law dating back to 1916 – the year of the Easter Rising itself.

Mr McAleer appeared alongside party activist Kevin McColgan who was given a conditional discharge for one year.

There was laughter in court when it emerged that the pair could face a maximum fine of 40 shillings – or £2 in today's money.

It is thought the current maximum fine is £200, which has led to questions about how the case was allowed to reach the courts.

The West Tyrone Assembly member and Mr McColgan were stopped by two police officers outside Healy Park GAA ground in Omagh last Easter Sunday where they were distributing lilies, a symbol of remembrance used to commemorate the Easter Rising.

The pair were charged with making a street collection without a permit. They appeared in Omagh Magistrates Court on two separate occasions before the case against Mr McAleer was dis missed on February 12. Ms Kelly granted both legal teams leave to further investigate the case both locally and in Dublin.

Prosecutors told the court that a letter written by King George V in 1924 to the Governor of Northern Ireland transferred powers which authorised him to delegate powers of prosecution to the Lord Chief Justice, permitting a maximum fine of 40 shillings.

Mr McAleer described the proceedings against Mr McColgan and himself as "farcical".

He added: "This was a ludicrous charge that should never have been brought before the court in the first place.

"I completely fail to see how the public interest has been served in this case. The court costs along with the PSNI bill will run into thousands of pounds, all at the taxpayers' expense."

Mr McAleer and Mr McColgan were made an offer to have the case dealt with quickly if they accepted a caution, but neither man was interested as this would mean pleading guilty.

With Easter Sunday just weeks away, Mr McAleer said he will be distributing Easter lilies again but added: "I will get a permit."

A PPS spokeswoman defended bringing the case.

Quotes

"People are very angry about this case and many are contrasting our treatment with the kid-glove approach taken towards flag protesters who have been disrupting our town and other parts of the six counties since before Christmas." - Declan McAleer MLA

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