The threat of a lengthy prison sentence hangs over a young man who set fire to a barn containing 300 bales of hay, at the height of a national fodder crisis, in an effort to impress a girl.
Matthew Morrin, 23, was aged 18 when he set fire to a barn at Castlecreevy, Corrandulla, Co Galway, on 16 August 2018 after entering into a pact with the then 16-year-old girl and a gang of other youths to take the blame for the blaze, the court heard.
The youths regularly used the barn as a place to hang out, take alcohol and drugs and listen to music.
Mr Morrin pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court to the offence of arson, while the girl, who was underage at the time and who also admitted setting the fire, was dealt with under the Garda Juvenile Liaison Officer Scheme.
Garda Patricia Sloyan gave evidence that the barn, 300 bales of hay and an old tractor were completely destroyed in the blaze.
Several youths were seen running from the scene.
Mr Morrin and the girl later admitted starting the fire together.
Mr Morrin told Garda Sloyan at the time he didn’t know why he did it but she believed the youths were regularly taking substances in the barn and he had entered into a pact to take the blame for the fire to impress the girl.
Fahy said he had fond memories of helping his father build the barn
She said Mr Morrin’s family moved to Mayo before this incident to get him away from the youths he had been associating with but he kept getting the bus back to Corrandulla to see them and it was on one of those trips the arson attack took place.
She agreed with prosecuting barrister, Geri Silke, that Mr Morrin was easily led and had a mild learning disability. She described the girl and Mr Morrin as being “a bad mix” when they got together with the others.
Victim impact statement
The owner of the barn, Declan Fahy, who lives in Dubai, said in his victim impact statement to the court that he inherited the farm from his father in 2015 and rented the land and the barn to a local farmer.
Fahy said he had fond memories of helping his father build the barn in the mid-1980s, when times were tough and money tight. Everything he and his father proudly achieved went up in smoke in 30 minutes, he said.
He estimated the cost of building a new barn at €20,000 and said he suffered financial loss since 2018 as there was no barn to rent out anymore.
No compensation was ever paid and the farmer who had rented the barn was at the loss of the 300 bales of hay which would have been costly to replace at the time, Garda Sloyan said.
She confirmed Mr Morrin had four convictions since this offence for breaching COVID-19 movement regulations, being drunk in public, breaching the peace and obstructing a garda.
Referring to the various reports before the court, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said any mental difficulties Mr Morrin had could not excuse him because he knew what he was doing was wrong.
He described the arson as “daft” before adding: “These young people decided to set fire to this place which had been a place of joy and comfort to them up to then.”
He set the headline sentence at five years before granting a 50% reduction, explaining that he was treating Mr Morrin as having come before his court on a signed plea of guilty from the District Court.
The judge said that having viewed the reports which outlined the positive steps Mr Morrin was now taking with the support of his family and services, he decided to suspend the remaining two-and-a-half year sentence in its entirety on condition Mr Morrin enter into a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for three years, remain under the supervision of the probation service for two years, abstain from alcohol and illicit drugs, and continue under the care of the intellectual disability and mental health services.
He warned Mr Morrin he would serve the sentence if he breached any terms of its suspension over the next three years.