The threat of a long prison sentence looms 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 18 when he set fire to his neighbor’s barn in Castlecreevy, Corrandulla, on August 16, 2018, after making a pact with the 16-year-old and a group of others young people to take responsibility for the fire.
He pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court last July to the arson offence, while the girl, who was a minor at the time and who also admitted setting the fire, was treated as part of the Garda Juvenile Liaison Officer scheme.
Sentencing in Morrin’s case was adjourned at the time by Judge Rory McCabe who led the preparation of probation, psychiatric and psychological reports on the defendant prior to sentencing. He also ordered that a victim impact statement be taken from the injured party.
At last week’s sentencing hearing, Garda Patricia Sloyan of Monivea Garda Station testified that the shed was set on fire at 4pm. and was completely destroyed in the fire. It contained 300 bales of hay and an old tractor.
Several youths were seen fleeing the scene. Morrin and the girl later admitted to starting the fire together.
Morrin told Garda Sloyan at the time that he didn’t know why he did it, but she believed the youngsters regularly took ‘substances’ from the barn and he made a pact to blame the fire for it. impress the girl.
She said Morrin’s family had moved to Mayo before this incident to get him away from the young people he had associated with, but he continued to take the bus to Corrandulla to see them and that was during the one of those trips that the offense occurred.
She agreed with prosecuting attorney Geri Silke that Morrin was easily led and had a mild mental disability. She described the girl and Morrin as “a bad mix” when they reunited with the others.
The group regularly used the barn as a place to meet, drink and drug and listen to music, the court heard.
Barn owner Declan Fahy, who lives in Dubai, said in his victim impact statement in court that he inherited the farm from his father in 2015 and leased the land and barn to a local farmer.
Fahy said he has fond memories of helping his father build the barn in the mid-1980s when times were tough and money was tight. Everything he and his father proudly accomplished went up in smoke in 30 minutes, he said.
He estimated the cost of building a new barn at €20,000 and said he had suffered a financial loss since 2018 because there was no more barn to rent.
Garda Sloyan confirmed that Morrin had four convictions since that offense for breaching Covid traffic rules, getting drunk in public, breaching the peace and obstructing a Garda.
Referring to the various reports submitted to the court, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said Morrin’s mental difficulties could not excuse him as he knew what he was doing was wrong.
He set the main sentence at five years before granting a 50% reduction, explaining that he was treating Morrin as having appeared in court on a plea of guilty signed by the district court.
The judge said that after reviewing reports outlining the positive steps Morrin was now taking with the support of his family and his services, he decided to suspend the remaining two-and-a-half-year sentence in its entirety, provided that Morrin enters into a peace and good conduct bond for three years, to remain under the supervision of the probation service for two years, to abstain from the use of alcohol and illicit drugs and to continue to be supported by the developmental disability and mental health services.