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Brothers Found Guilty of Demanding Money From Priest

Irish Times, 14 January 2006

Two brothers were found guilty of making unwarranted demands with menaces at Waterford Circuit Court yesterday.

The jury found Rossa O'Donovan (29), King Street, Dungarvan, guilty of making an unreasonable demand for money from Fr Michael Kennedy at Fenor parochial house, Co Waterford, on May 7th, 2003.

James O'Donovan (31), Cathal Brugha Street, Dungarvan, pleaded guilty to the charges under Section 17 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, while his brother claimed to have had no part in the offence.

Fr Kennedy told the jury the brothers had called to his house on the day in question to get €800 from him to pay off a drug debt in Limerick.

Rossa O'Donovan claimed he was not aware that James had made threats to connect the priest to claims of sexual and drug abuse if he did not meet the demand for the money.

The court heard that James O'Donovan had started working as a groundsman for Fr Kennedy in 2002 and, initially, the pair had got on well. However, Mr O'Donovan was made redundant when his work started to deteriorate, due to the recurrence of a drug habit.

The brothers approached Fr Kennedy in Dunhill after Mass on May 7th and asked for the money.

Rossa O'Donovan said Fr Kennedy smiled at him through a car window and instructed the brothers to call to the parochial house to collect the money at 4pm that day. He claimed that, following their arrival at the house, a garda produced a revolver before they were pursued by an unmarked car.

Det Garda Sgt Séamus Kavanagh and Garda Jim Felle denied that a revolver was produced at the house. The gardaí pursued the brothers over a distance of 45km at speeds of 145km/h at Knockane Cross, Annestown. It was not until the men went over a humpbacked bridge and crashed into a wall at Whitestown, Clonea, that the chase ended.

Rossa O'Donovan told Judge Michael O'Shea he believed that Fr Kennedy was a member of the IRA. He said if he had known it was the Garda and not the IRA were pursuing him, he would not have driven away at high speed.

Under questioning from Tom Teehan SC, for the prosecution, Mr O'Donovan denied that during the pursuit he had told Fr Kennedy over the phone that he himself was an IRA member and that the drug squad would not be able to protect him.

Sentencing was adjourned until April 4th.


Brothers in Court Over Threats to Priest

Irish Times, 13 January 2006

A man charged with making unwarranted demands with menaces told the court the victim claimed to be a member of the IRA.

Rossa O'Donovan (30), King Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and his brother James O'Donovan (32), Cathal Brugha Street, also in the town, were charged with the alleged intimidation of Fr Michael Kennedy at Fenor parochial house, Co Waterford, on May 7th, 2003.

James O'Donovan pleaded guilty, while his younger brother claimed to have no part in the offence.

It is alleged that the brothers demanded €800 from the priest to pay drug dealers in Limerick and that if he did not pay, they would claim he sexually abused them.

Rossa O'Donovan told Justice Michael O'Shea that he called to the house with his brother to collect money owed to James, a former groundsman at the house.

Rossa O'Donovan, on the day in question, went into the city and met James, who mentioned that Fr Kennedy owed him money for work he had done.

Rossa O'Donovan said Fr Kennedy had told him to return later as he did not have that kind of money and would have to go to the bank.

When the accused returned with his brother, he was met by a much bigger man.

The defendant said another garda approached him after he had returned to his car.

"He put a revolver through the window and I got a fright because I didn't know he was a guard," he added.

"Fr Kennedy had told me he was in the IRA and to tell my brother not to call around.

"We got a head start and had been chased 10 miles when we saw the flashing light on top of the car," said Rossa O'Donovan.

He "felt relieved that it was the guards and not the IRA".

The trial continues today.