A parish priest has been disqualified from driving for two years for careless driving causing harm following a crash with a biker in County Waterford.
The crash happened at a "complex junction" on the N25 main Waterford to Dungarvan road, which the Circuit Criminal Court heard on Tuesday evening is well known locally as being dangerous for motorists and often the site of accidents.
Judge Eugene O'Kelly was told the crash at Carroll's Cross involved "two pillars of the community" and who have held "no animosity" towards each other since the crash.
Fr Ned Hassett, parish priest for Abbeyside, Dungarvan, had been travelling along the road from Waterford city on July 28, 2018, when he attempted to turn right off the N25 into the incorrect lane, but had collided with Bobby Bohill, who had been travelling on his Harley Davidson motorcycle in the opposite direction.
The crash left the 69-year-old Bohill, who had been driving back from a charity fundraiser, with lasting nerve damage to his left hand and shoulder, a collapsed lung and a shattered femur.
Fr Hassett, 52, who was accompanied to the court by several other men of the cloth, said he had struggled for visibility due to the sun and deeply regretted the incident.
Sgt Deirdre O'Neill of Kilmacthomas Garda Station told the court that Fr Hassett's Toyota was in a roadworthy condition and he himself had tested negative following a breathalyser.
An off-duty nurse and a local doctor both arrived on the scene shortly following the crash, and she said responding Garda Damien Ryan had sensitively handled Fr Hassett and Mr Bohill at the scene.
The priest had said in a statement to gardaí that he thought he had a clear road but felt Mr Bohill's bike hit the passenger side of his car, shunting it to the side.
Fr Hassett, who was bringing his mother back from a funeral, was in "total shock" afterwards, while his mother complained of injuries to her ribs.
A forensic collision report by gardaí found there was good dry weather on the day, however there was also no cloud cover to shield the sun.
Character references handed into the court on Fr Hassett's behalf included letters from the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan and the former chairman of NAMA and the Revenue Commissioners, Frank Daly, who is a native of Abbeyside.
'No ill will'
Defending barrister Conor Roberts appealed for leniency, pointing to Mr Bohill saying that he felt "no ill will" towards Fr Hassett and had himself declined to provide a victim impact statement.
"He's on call around the clock," Mr Roberts said, pointing to how a driving ban will affect his parish duties, "he's regarded as a very young member of the priesthood and caters to a large flock."
This includes work in An Rinn Gaeltacht of County Waterford, as Fr Hassett is a fluent Irish speaker.
Judge O'Kelly asked the prosecution what the minimum mandatory penalty was for such an offence and was informed by State prosecutor Conor O'Doherty that the court doesn't have discretion in cases of careless driving causing serious harm to apply anything less than a two-year driving disqualification.
The judge said that Mr Bohill could seek justice in the civil court, adding that Fr Hassett had "clearly not displayed any signs of impatience" when trying to cross the N25, and he accepted that the road has a notoriety among locals.
The judge handed that down alongside a fine of €250 with four months to pay.
Media statement and character references
While he had earlier quipped that a character reference from Revenue might not be as worthwhile as a defendant would hope, Judge O'Kelly said the references showed the parish priest was a man of integrity who fully deserved the backing of the letters.
In a statement to the press following the case, Fr Hassett said he was deeply sorry for the impact the incident had on Mr Bohill's life and for the "horrific injuries" sustained.
"I am keenly aware of the suffering, pain and loss that it has caused Bobby, and to his family," he said.
"I accept full responsibility for the motor accident. I am deeply appreciative of Bobby's acceptance that it was an accident, and greatly admire his magnanimity, his very positive outlook on life in general and, in particular, Bobby's suffering since the accident.
"I thank Bobby and wife Eileen for their support and I remember them in my prayers every day."