Priest who stole cash off parish avoids jail
A priest who admitted stealing almost £1,800 over a three-year period from diocesan and parish funds after he got into financial difficulties was yesterday sentenced for the offences at the Magistrates Court in Londonderry.
Fr John Irwin, of Garvagh Road in Dungiven, pleaded guilty to the offences six months ago.
However, sentencing was deferred to enable him to repay the monies he'd stolen.
The 73-year-old, who ministered on both sides of the Derry-Donegal border, admitted two charges - that between May 1, 2011 and October 30, 2012, he stole £1,440 of collection money from St Patrick's parochial house in the Pennyburn area of Derry.
He also pleaded guilty to stealing £300 from the Derry Diocesan Society fund between December 1, 2009 and May 30, 2011.
A defence solicitor handed in to district judge Barney McElholm two letters which he said confirmed that Irwin had not only repaid the amount in full, but also additional compensation as an indication of the remorse he felt.
Mr McElholm said: "It appears this defendant got himself into some financial difficulties and he unfortunately stole money from church funds in order to get himself out of that.
"Any breach of trust is a very serious matter but in this case he entered an early plea of guilty and fully co-operated with the police. This is a man who has dedicated his life to helping and ministering to others.
"He has made a mistake.
"I would be no expert in scripture but I do remember 'There but for the grace of God go I'. We are all capable of making mistakes. This man has not only paid back the amount in full, but also he has paid back an element of additional compensation to indicate his remorse."
He was given a conditional discharge for two years.