A man who appealed to Longford District Court to have the revocation of his firearms licence reversed has been denied the return of his licence and two guns, which are in the possession of the gardaí.
George McDermott, Ballymahon Road, Killashee, Longford, had his gun licence revoked when gardaí raised concerns about the safety of the public after Mr McDermott’s son, Thomas, had threatened to kill a number of fishermen along the canal.
Giving his evidence to the court, Gda Thomas Killion of Lanesboro Garda Station explained that issues first arose in September 2019 with allegations of a Public Order incident.
“On September 25, 2019, gardaí received two written complaints about an incident along the canal at Killashee where the applicant’s son allegedly threatened to harm and kill two gentlemen who were fishing on the canal,” he explained.
“Following that, two more witnesses came forward and made a complaint about an incident dating back to February 16, 2019 at the same location where they were fishing. The applicant’s son, Thomas, had come along and made threats to kill and shoot them.”
Because there were firearms involved, the armed support unit had to be deployed to assist in the arrest of Thomas McDermott who, when gardaí arrived, was not at his own address in Killashee.
Gardaí and armed support then went to the home of George McDermott where they found Thomas McDermott and arrested him.
On the property were two guns - a bolt action rifle and a shotgun.
“My son doesn’t have access to my house,” said George McDermott, who was representing himself at last week’s sitting of Longford District Court.
“If we’re on holiday, him, my other son or one of my two daughters looks after the animals. We were away for our 50th wedding anniversary. Gda Killion knows where my son lives. They (the armed support) broke down the doors of my son’s house.”
“But your son threatened to kill people,” said Judge Hughes.
“Am I responsible for what a 50-year-old man does? My son has no access to my home,” Mr McDermott insisted.
“Do you have a gun safe?” Judge Hughes asked, to which Mr McDermott responded yes.
When Judge Hughes asked him where he keeps the key, Mr McDermott said it was stored behind a picture.
“Sure your whole family would know that,” said Judge Hughes.
Taking to the witness box, Detective Inspector John Costello gave evidence of the day Thomas McDermott was arrested on his father’s property.
“I was informed that he had threatened to - excuse the crude language in court - cut people’s balls off,” Detective Inspector Costello told the court.
“We organised the armed support unit because there were firearms involved. We did a forced intervention at the home and searched it.
“He had a dagger-like knife beside the bed and a hammer, which strengthened the information I received that he was volatile.
“We went to George McDermott’s home and found Thomas there. The armed forces went ahead of the uniformed gardaí.
Thomas McDermott was extremely abusive to gardaí. He had to be cuffed.”
In fact, he added, so volatile was Thomas McDermott that Det Insp Costello left his own car on site and travelled in the back of a garda car with Mr McDermott.
Garda concerns resulted in a file being prepared for Superintendent Jim Delaney who made the decision to revoke George McDermott’s firearm licence.
“I agree 100% with that decision,” said Detective Inspector Costello.
“If a firearms licence is issued, it’s a contract of trust between the person and the superintendent. But he was in Lanzarote. He couldn’t have had control over his firearms.”
“Why should this man be held responsible for the actions of his son? Has that man broken the contract?” asked Judge Hughes, referring to George McDermott.
“He let a volatile person have custody of his property where firearms are kept. I think it was the right decision to revoke the licence for his own safety and the safety of the public. The person I witnessed on the day… 100% he’s a very volatile person,” Det Insp Costello replied.
In response, George McDermott explained that his guns were fully licenced and that his only hobby is clay pigeon shooting, for which he needs his firearms.
“I have multiple tools in the garage that are dangerous. How come they aren’t a concern?” he asked.
“This case is all about the volatility of your son. You must be aware that he has problems,” Judge Hughes replied.
“There’s a bit more to this than is being said,” Mr McDermott suggested, “Gda Killion knows a lot more than he is letting on.”
“Even if the garda had improper motives, Detective Inspector Costello said that when he came to your house, your son was extremely volatile and had to be cuffed. You don’t act like that in front of armed defence,” Judge Hughes shot back.
“The evidence so far is that he’s volatile and has made threats and engaged in totally irrational behaviour. The court has to take all of this into consideration.
“I know this sort of man,” Judge Hughes continued, referring to George McDermott.
“He is someone who worked hard on sites all his life. He’s a tough bit of stuff and he doesn’t suffer fools. Some people have children who have issues, but does that mean he has to be blighted if his hobby is clay pigeon shooting?”
Prosecuting solicitor Kieran Madigan explained that there is a potential danger to the area and to the local community if Mr McDermott is permitted to keep his firearms.
“Mr McDermott is a little flippant about it. The analogy of items in his shed is nonsense. Gardaí don’t have the power to seize those items,” he said.
In response, Judge Hughes said that he was keeping an open mind and that Mr McDermott was not the culprit who triggered the investigation.
Before calling the third witness for the prosecution, Mr Madigan rejected allegations that Gda Killion had improper motives when investigating the case and asked that those allegations not be taken into account.
Superintendent Jim Delaney, when giving his evidence, explained that Mr McDermott’s gun licence was formally revoked on February 2, 2020.
“I didn’t feel he was in a position to be in possession of the firearms without causing danger to the public or a breach of peace,” Supt Delaney explained.
“His son made threats to kill people. He made threats to cut their balls off. And these were persons unknown to him - they were just fishing. I have a very real and genuine concern in relation to the safety of the community and the safety of Thomas McDermott himself.”
Addressing the fact that the Armed Support Unit was called to aid with the arrest of Thomas McDermott, Supt Delaney explained that such actions were not common practice for gardaí.
“There would be a risk assessment before the armed support unit would be deployed. But I have seen this exact incident play out in 2015 when I was working as a Detective Inspector in Sligo,” he said.
“The parents left the house and their son accessed a gun. That siege did not finish until every round available in that house was expended. There was a serious risk to life, so I’ve actually seen this play out.
“It was a result of a combination of all those things that I issued a revocation notice. We have to consider the greater good and the safety of the community here.”
Objecting to Supt Delaney’s comparison to the incident in Sligo, George McDermott insisted that there was no shootout in this situation and again stressed that his son only had access to the kitchen of his home.
“I haven’t done anything. I’ve never had a conviction,” he insisted.
“If the decision goes against you, you’ll be entitled to appeal it in the Circuit Court,” Judge Hughes explained.
“If it goes against me, what will happen to the firearms?” Mr McDermott asked.
“They will not be returned to you. The gardaí will hold onto them forever,” Judge Hughes replied.
“And the licence I’ve paid for for three years?” Mr McDermott asked.
“You won’t get a refund,” said Judge Hughes.
“I’m still innocent,” Mr McDermott stressed.
Judge Hughes pointed out that hundreds of people who drive without insurance have their driving licences revoked every year and that a firearms licence is not as big a loss to Mr McDermott as a driving licence.
“But those people have done something wrong. I’ve been punished even though I did nothing wrong,” Mr McDermott objected.
“Legislation provides that a licence can be removed for the greater good,” said Judge Hughes.
“I have to say you sullied your evidence and sullied the water by trying to suggest that Gda Killion had improper motives.
“Your son threatened four fishermen. I don’t know what your son’s motive was, but he’s been described as hot headed and volatile. You had the opportunity to bring your son to court. He would have been the best evidence in your case. But you didn’t.
“Your son was in your house. Gardaí arrested him and had to handcuff him because there was a violent struggle. Detective Inspector Costello abandoned his own car and travelled in the back of the garda car with your son for the safety of his colleague,” Judge Hughes continued.
“I’m sure you’re a person of very good standing in the community. I’m refusing your application. It’s not a big loss to you to have lost this entitlement at your age. You’re not using your guns for any other purpose other than clay pigeon shooting.”
“What do I do with the guns?” Mr McDermott asked.
“Nothing because you don’t have them,” Judge Hughes replied.
“They were my father’s guns. They’re of sentimental value. What will the guards do with them? Sell them?” Mr McDermott shot back.
“One of the guards will explain that to you,” Judge Hughes replied, bringing the hearing to a close.