A priest who has been cycling around his rural parish “at day and night trying to take care of his flock” following a conviction for careless driving, has had his road ban reduced by the Court of Appeal.
Father Ned Hassett (53) caused life-changing injuries to his parishioner Bobby Bohill in April 2021 when the priest turned into oncoming traffic having failed to see Mr Bohill driving his motorcycle with other motorcyclists taking part in a charity fundraising event.
Fr Hassett’s lawyer on Thursday told the three-judge appeal court that his client has already served 15 months of a “very lengthy ban” that has left him “cycling around a rural parish at day and night trying to take care of his flock.”
Mr Justice George Birmingham agreed to reduce the two-year ban imposed by the circuit court to 18 months.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions pointed out that Mr Bohill suffered a broken femur and a traumatic brain injury from which he has since made a good recovery. The injuries were “life-changing”, counsel said.
Fr Hassett, parish priest for Abbeyside, Dungarvan in Waterford, was in court for Thursday’s hearing, dressed in his clerical clothing with white collar.
Mr Justice Birmingham explained that there had been a belief that certain types of careless driving cases carried a mandatory minimum period of disqualification.
In a recent ruling, the Court of Appeal found that the period of disqualification is a matter for the discretion of the sentencing judge. As a result, a number of people have come before the appeal court asking for their disqualifications to be reduced.
Fr Hassett pleaded guilty in November 2021 to careless driving causing serious harm following a crash on the N25 between Waterford and Dungarvan on April 30th, 2021.
He was disqualified from driving for two years and fined €250 by a judge at the Circuit Criminal Court in Waterford.
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Mr Justice Birmingham said that the priest was driving along the N25 when he entered a filter lane to turn right. Coming in the opposite direction were Mr Bohill and three other charity fundraisers on their motorbikes. Mr Justice Birmingham said Fr Hassett failed to see Mr Bohill’s bike despite the fact Mr Bohill was wearing a high-vis jacket.
The judge noted that Fr Hassett had said the sun was in his eyes and the junction in question is known as an accident black spot. Those facts “cut both ways” the judge said, as the priest should have regarded the junction as a “black spot calling for particular care”.
He said the offence of careless driving causing harm, to which the priest pleaded guilty, is “of considerable seriousness and significance and has very grave consequences” for the victim, the victim’s family and the wider community.
He also noted that Fr Hassett was of “impeccable previous character” and had a long history of incident-free driving. The judge said that the offence required a “significant” disqualification but agreed to reduce the period from two years to 18 months.