"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
THE WOMAN jailed over her refusal to allow the ESB and EirGrid on to her lands in Co Offaly to complete construction of a power line was freed by the High Court yesterday after the companies said they wanted her to participate in mediation talks.
Teresa Treacy, Clonmore, Tullamore, spent 22 days in Mountjoy women’s prison after she was sent there for refusing to comply with High Court orders allowing ESB/EirGrid workers access to her land.
She said she had refused access to the workers because she feared her property, which she described as having many beautiful trees, would be destroyed by the works. She said she wanted the power line put underground.
Last month, ESB and EirGrid applied to the High Court to have Ms Treacy committed to prison after she locked gates to her property and stood in front of the locks when workers tried to cut them.
Yesterday, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said Ms Treacy was “free to go home” after Michael Conlon SC, for ESB/EirGrid, applied to the court to have the committal order vacated. Counsel said his clients wished to have Ms Treacy freed so the parties could enter further mediation talks in the hope all matters can be resolved.
Ms Treacy had earlier stated she was not prepared to purge her contempt and comply with the court’s orders.
Ms Justice Laffoy, who welcomed the move to mediation, said “the punitive element” of Ms Treacy’s contempt “had been fulfilled” as a result of her spending 22 days in prison.
Although Ms Treacy has been freed, the order restraining her and her sister Mary from interfering with ESB/EirGrid carrying out works on the sisters’ land is to remain in place.
Mr Conlon said workers had cut down 85 per cent of the trees required in order to complete the works on Ms Treacy’s lands.
He said works were halted last month to facilitate talks with Ms Treacy’s family and the Irish Farmers’ Association, after which they resumed but were suspended again on September 27th when protesters entered the site.
Counsel said ESB/EirGrid welcomed the fact Ms Treacy was to engage solicitors to advise her.
Niall Harnett, who was assisting Ms Treacy with legal issues, said she may appeal the injunction to the Supreme Court. Mr Harnett also raised questions about the legitimacy of the companies’ decision to go on to the Treacys’ lands and carry out the works.
Mr Conlon said those questions were irrelevant in respect of the contempt proceedings, and ESB/EirGrid had complied with all their legal requirements before entering the Treacys’ property.
Last July, ESB/EirGrid secured orders against Teresa and Mary Treacy allowing them to carry out works on the lands. The defendants were ordered to unlock gates and remove any barriers blocking ESB/EirGrid from accessing the sisters’ property.
Workers were initially allowed on to the land but gates were later locked, preventing work from being carried out. Teresa Treacy blocked machinery coming on to the land. In August, ESB/EirGrid secured further orders allowing them to open the locks on the gates and enter the lands.
When workers tried to cut open the locks Teresa Treacy stood in front of the locks and refused to let the workers on to the lands. They were unable to carry out work over concerns Ms Treacy might be injured.
ESB/EirGrid offered to compensate Ms Treacy and offered to plant new trees to replace any that might be damaged by their work.
When the matter was previously before the court, Ms Treacy said she had “no intention” of granting ESB/EirGrid access. She said she would “gladly go to jail” and did not want compensation.
She has previously told the court the property where she and her sister Mary reside is a place of natural beauty and described ESB/EirGrid’s actions as “wrong”.
‘We’ll never let them through . . . I’m getting a lawyer’
THERE HAD been several minutes of barely audible legal argument before Teresa Treacy got into the witness box.
“We want to know,” asked Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, “do you wish to purge your contempt?”
“No, I do not,” replied a very definite Treacy. With that, she immediately got up from the witness box and returned to her seat.
Four words were enough to ensure the continuation of the protracted saga of Treacy’s refusal to allow ESB and EirGrid put pylons through the trees she placed on her land in Co Offaly.
She sat down, not beside a barrister in a wig and gown, but veteran protester Niall Harnett – who wore a bomber jacket with a Shell to Sea badge.
No stranger to being jailed for defying court orders himself, Harnett was given a six-month sentence for civil disobedience in connection with the Rossport protests.
A refusal to purge one’s contempt is guaranteed in most cases to land oneself back in jail, but in Treacy’s case there were extenuating circumstances.
For one, Michael Conlon SC, on behalf of ESB and EirGrid, asked that she be released from jail.
He tempered this positive stance with the revelation that 85 per cent of the trees on her land, the space from which was needed for the pylons, had already been cut down.
Protesters had arrived on the land and halted the cutting down of the remainder.
Having examined the evidence, Ms Justice Laffoy was equally conciliatory. She said the fact Treacy had spent 22 days in jail showed the “punitive element has been fulfilled” and she deserved to be released without purging her contempt.
When the verdict came through, Treacy smiled and shook hands with Conlon sitting in the seat beside her.
Both ESB and EirGrid, which have found this case to be an embarrassing saga, had anticipated the outcome with a pre-prepared press release saying they were “very pleased” Treacy was being set free.
She left court in the company of her family and friends while being pursued by a press pack.
Having become something of a cause célèbre over the last month, she recognised many of her media pursuers as they got out in front of her to film her as she left the Four Courts.
Treacy seemed more interested in speaking to the press than those around her, and kept a brisk pace as she stopped the traffic outside the Four Courts.
“Very relieved. Thanks very much for all the press coverage ye gave me,” she said.
“Only for ye, I wouldn’t be able to keep going.”
“Good on ya, Teresa, well done,” shouted out a well-wisher.
“We’ll never let them through and I’m getting help, I’m getting a lawyer,” she replied as she was bundled into a Mercedes which departed at speed for a triumphant, if bitter-sweet return home.