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Traveller mediators 'trying to avoid feud' as accused claims John Paul McDonagh's killing was self-defence

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Stabbed: John Paul McDonagh

Stabbed: John Paul McDonagh

Stabbed: John Paul McDonagh

Mediators within the Travelling community are taking steps to avoid a feud following the death of a teenager in Enniskillen, a court has heard.

The details emerged as the man accused of murdering 18-year-old John Paul McDonagh appeared in court yesterday.

Joseph Joyce, a bare knuckle boxer and father-of-four, appeared at Strabane Magistrates Court, sitting in Dungannon, via video-link from Maghaberry Prison.

It was heard that, following Mr McDonagh's death, threats had been made on Joyce's life.

The 29-year-old, from Coolcullen Meadow in Enniskillen, has been charged with murdering Mr McDonagh.

He was also charged with possessing an offensive weapon, and of wounding one of Mr McDonagh's brothers with intent to do him grievous bodily harm.

When asked if he understood the charges Joyce replied: "Yes, I understand them."

A solicitor for the accused said Joyce admitted attacking Mr McDonagh with a weed slasher/scythe, but said it was a "classic case of self-defence" after three McDonagh brothers approached him outside his house armed with various weapons.

Mr McDonagh was found with serious leg wounds in Coolcullen Meadows following the altercation with Joyce. He was rushed to hospital and despite medical intervention he was pronounced dead on Monday morning.

Mr McDonagh suffered three cardiac arrests and had blood transfusions. Doctors amputated his leg above the knee in an attempt to save his life, and he also suffered multiple organ failure.

A detective constable told the court he believed he could connect Joyce to the three charges.

Asked by solicitor Joe Hackett if Joyce handed himself into police on Tuesday and provided them with a statement, the officer confirmed that this was the case.

The officer revealed that in his statement Joyce admitted causing injuries to both the deceased and his brother Gerard.

Joyce also claimed that he never intended to kill or seriously harm anyone, that he acted in self-defence after he was attacked by the three armed brothers, and that he was "sincerely sorry for Mr McDonagh's death and for the loss his family have suffered".

Mr Hackett then made an application for bail, which police objected to on grounds including concerns over Joyce's safety due to the threats made against his life.

Mr Hackett revealed that mediators within the Travelling community, funded by the Irish Government and who work to try and avoid feuds, are "trying to nip this in the bud" and that "steps are being taken to try and minimise" any further violence.

District Judge Eamonn King asked police to outline the background to the charges.

The detective constable said police were called to the scene at 8.41pm last Saturday.

It was confirmed there had been a violent altercation between the three McDonagh brothers and Joyce, and that while McDonagh was rushed to hospital, Joyce left the scene.

Joyce flagged down a motorist and asked him to take him to Cavan Hospital, but was dropped off at another location in Co Cavan and was picked up in a people-carrier. He later handed himself into police.

Opposing bail, the officer raised concerns about Joyce's safety. He said "tensions are running high in the area... and a number of threats have been made on his life".

Joyce's "propensity for violence" was also raised by the officer.

He said there were several videos on social media where Joyce "calls out members of the Travelling community for fights".

He also expressed fears that Joyce could flee, given the potential for a lengthy prison sentence, coupled with concerns over reoffending and interfering with witnesses.

The detective constable said the events which led to Mr McDonagh's death were recorded on CCTV and a mobile phone, and that witnesses were "fearful of repercussions".

The officer also told the court that on the day of the incident, the McDonaghs - who lived close to Joyce - had been drinking all day.

There were verbal altercations between the two parties over a garden fence, before the McDonaghs confronted Joyce outside his house.

At one point Mrs McDonagh tried to intervene and placed herself between her sons and Joyce, but a fight broke out and Joyce - who armed himself with a weed slasher he retrieved from his shed - struck John Paul McDonagh on the back of the leg.

The officer said that Joyce appeared to goad the others by raising his arms and shouting: "I am the boss. It's over."

Mr Hackett said his client acted in self-defence after he was attacked by three brothers armed with a knife, garden spade and garden hoe.

Mr Hackett said Joyce was sober and trying to protect himself and his family from the McDonaghs, who had been drinking all day and shouting insults at him.

The solicitor said that when he knew the McDonaghs were coming to his house he was "terrified for his life and the lives of his wife and children", and that he armed himself with the weed slasher and acted in a "classic case of self-defence".

Saying Joyce was "deeply remorseful" for what occurred, Mr Hackett asked that he be released on bail.

The solicitor said that Joyce would abide by any conditions imposed.

District Judge King branded what occurred at the weekend as both "unsavoury" and "tragic."

He said: "Unfortunately the word 'feud' has been mentioned and I am all too familiar with the implications of that word on members of the Travelling community.

"It is a stain on the Travelling community."

Mr King noted Joyce's criminal record, his propensity for violence and a risk of further offending.

He concluded: "I am therefore not satisfied there any conditions that would be attached that would satisfy the court that this defendant is a suitable candidate for bail and consequently bail is refused."

Joyce was remanded back into custody.

He will appear again at Enniskillen Magistrates Court via video-link on May 11.

Belfast Telegraph