independent

Monday 14 October 2019

Former school principal gets Probation Act

Court told that Davidstown NS must repay over €30,000 to Department of Education

Dominic O'Sullivan
Dominic O'Sullivan

Brendan Keane

A well-known former school Principal has received the benefit of the Probation Act after pleading guilty to submitting false pupil figures to the Department of Education to secure an extra teacher to his school.

Dominic O'Sullivan, Hawthorn, Ballymorris, appeared before Judge Brian O'Shea at Wednesday's sitting of Gorey District Court.

He was charged under Section 10 (1) (c) and (3) of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.

The court heard that in 'census' figures submitted to the department by the defendant in relation to Davidstown National School pupil count for the years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, he inflated the figures.

Sergeant John Cleary told the judge that in the first instance the figures submitted indicated the school had 89 pupils when in fact it had 85, and in the second submission, the following year, the accused told the department the school had 80 pupils when the actual figure was 75.

The defendant was Principal in the school at the time and the submission of 'census' figures was part of his role.

The court was told the defendant did not make the submissions for personal financial gain, as Sgt Cleary pointed out to the judge: 'During this he made no financial gain for himself.'

'So who benefited?' asked the judge.

'The benefit was that the school gained an extra teacher and extra grants for different items,' replied Sgt Cleary.

The court heard the cost to the department for the year 2012-2013, inclusive of the teacher's salary, was €31,410, while the cost for the following year was €1,748.

Sgt Cleary said the overall loss to the state was €33,891 inclusive of the teacher's salary.

'That teacher could have been somewhere else,' commented Judge O'Shea, while hearing Sgt Cleary's evidence.

The sergeant then told the court the defendant was fully cooperative when arrested and when asked by Judge O'Shea what the motivation behind the crime was Sgt Cleary said: 'It was for the benefit of Davidstown National School; he made no financial gain himself.'

The defendant's solicitor told the court that if the teacher in question had not been employed in Davidstown 'they would have been employed somewhere else anyway'.

However, in response to that Sgt Cleary said: 'Davidstown National School will have to repay the money to the department.'

The solicitor told Judge O'Shea that his client had acted with the best of intentions towards the school.

When asked by the judge what the cost was 'net of the teacher's salary', Sgt Cleary said that for 2013 it was €1,410 and for the following year it was €1,748.

The court heard that the school was an eight class facility and the difference between having the teacher or not would have been 'very significant'.

'This was the Principal of the school and would have been held in high regard within the community,' said Judge O'Shea.

The court heard the defendant was interviewed only once in relation to the alleged offences and was fully cooperative - to the point that he arrived at interview with a pre-prepared statement.

Judge O'Shea heard the defendant had no previous convictions and the solicitor presented him with a large body of written references relating to his client's standing within the community.

It was also pointed out that while the accused is still teaching his position is no longer that of Principal and it is in a different school.

The court heard the defendant was Principal of Davidstown National School for 18 years and during that time the school progressed significantly.

When the solicitor pointed out that a number of reports had been written in the media about the case the judge commented that those reports had all been written accurately.

In his summary Judge O'Shea said the defendant was someone who had been of previous good character and had 'give extremely good service to his community'.

Describing his actions as 'ill-advised' the judge noted he made no personal gain from the deception.

'He cooperated 100 per cent and made frank admissions,' said Judge O'Shea.

'He also stands in a courtroom for the first time in his life,' he added.

'He is working away in a full-time position with the Department of Education under a cloud.'

Judge O'Shea said he considered the offences to be within the 'middle range of gravity' and that an aggressive factor in the case was the breach of trust to the Department of Education.

He acknowledged the 'very significant number of references' from a cross section of the community and the judge also commented: 'He [the defendant] could not have done more to mitigate the situation.'

However, he also commented that 'any responsible person' would have had an act of conscience after committing such an offence on the first occasion but the defendant did it two years in-a-row.

'I am satisfied he made a misguided judgement from an over commitment to benefit the school at all costs,' said Judge O'Shea.

'I expect that if he had his time back again it would not have occurred,' he added.

'I am satisfied the deterrent has already been brought about within the community before the case came to court.'

The judge said that the loss of position and responsibility, the stigma, and the reports in the paper would be a deterrent 'for any colleague to follow suit.'

Judge O'Shea also said that nothing good would be served with the defendant going to prison and commented that the case could be dealt with under the Probation Act.

'I have considered it carefully,' said the judge.

Wexford People

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