A JUDGE has compared a bitter family row over a €1 million farm to John B Keane’s The Field and 1980s US TV soap opera, Dallas.
At the Family Law Court, Judge Alec Gabbett made his comments when dismissing a mother’s Barring Order and Safety Order applications against her farmer son.
Judge Gabbett said that he was dismissing the entire domestic violence proceedings against the man “for the simple reason that this is a civil matter”.
Judge Gabbett said, “It is unseemly and shouldn’t be before any domestic violence court.”
The son – who has won awards for his farming – leases the farm from his mother after her husband and his father died a number of years ago leaving the farm to his widow.
Solicitor for the son, Mairead Doyle told the court that the two have fallen out after the mother reneged on a written undertaking to voluntarily transfer the farm to her son.
In evidence the son told Judge Gabbett that his sister wants the farm.
In throwing out the Barring Order and Safety Order applications, Judge Gabbett told mother and son “this is a disgrace to your dead father and dead husband”.
Both parties were quietly weeping at the end of the hearing and Judge Gabbett said: “Ye have left an awful mess behind ye today. This is a disgrace to the both of ye. The two of ye should be absolutely mortified.”
Judge Gabbett remarked, “I wonder if that poor man is turning around in his grave right now for all the perfect family evidence that we have heard.”
In evidence, the mother told the court that she was in fear of her son.
However, in dismissing her applications, Judge Gabbett said, “I am not so sure how frightened she is of this man. She is a very capable woman.”
Judge Gabbett added he was very taken with the evidence of the long serving community Garda in the case who told the court that the mother “is a strong woman”.
Judge Gabbett said, “She is no wallflower and when she wants, she can get business done.”
Judge Gabbett said that the height of the domestic violence allegation against the farmer was that in April 2021 there “is a row in a house. The door was slammed. There is a hole in the door and the door had seen better days”.
After dismissing the application, Judge Gabbett warned the son “I don’t want any hupla going out of here today – this is ‘Day One’ of a long history”.
Judge Gabbett said that the land in question “is very valuable” and remarked “this is John B Keane’s The Field” when told of the land row between mother and son. He commented: “This is like Dallas.”
Ms Doyle of Shannon based Carmody & Co Solicitors said that her client has spent around €500,000 over the years on upgrading the farm in the expectation that his mother would transfer the land to him.
Ms Doyle said that for her client “the dream is over” after the mother reneged on her commitment to transfer the lands to her son “as is her right”.
Ms Doyle said that in open correspondence in September 2021, the mother said that she was going to transfer the land to him and in correspondence in May of this year that she had changed her mind.
The mother said in court that the September 2021 letter was made “under duress”.
Ms Doyle said that “he has worked all his life on the farm with the promise that it was going to him and now he is to be put out”.
Judge Gabbett said that the late father “left his instructions ‘on the pillow case’ effectively – that is the difficulty. There is no legal document which says what Dad’s wishes were”.
Ms Doyle said that the farmer is now living in rented accommodation in a town but was living in a cow shed on the farm for a number of months over the summer.
The farmer told Judge Gabbett, “I had no place to wash myself. I had to go to the toilet outside. I had no running water, no power. Nothing”.
Ms Doyle contended that “domestic violence legislation is being used as a tactic to force him from the land”.
Ms Doyle put it to the mother that the domestic violence applications are “a tactic on your behalf to keep him off the land and if he comes near you can pick up the phone and have the Gardai come arrest him without warrant”.
The mother denied that this was the case telling the court, “I am in fear. I feel very, very vulnerable and I have my door locked day and night.”
Asked by Ms Doyle has her son ever raised a hand to her, the woman replied ‘no’.
The mother stated, “I was afraid and am afraid for my safety.”
In her written information provided to court grounding the Safety Order application, the mother alleged that her son had pursued her to sign over the farm “through a campaign of intimidation and threatening behaviour”.
However, Ms Doyle countered that it is her client who has been a victim of harassment and a campaign of intimidation.
In evidence, the son told the court that his sister wants the farm.
He said, “She wants the farm because she feels entitled and I don’t know why.”
The man said that he hasn’t spoken to his sister since their father died.
He said, “She told me to sit down on the night of my father’s funeral when I was greeting people. I was at the head of the mourning and she told me to sit down like a little school boy.
“That will never leave the way she has spoken to me, the way she has treated me and disrespected me in every way known to man and I was simply trying to honour my father by greeting people standing up and shaking hands.”
The son said, “When my father was alive, we were the happiest people in the parish. The moment he died, these people turned and tried to make me out to be a bully which I wasn’t.”
Judge Gabbett said, “There is no party to this without sin.”
Judge Gabbett said that he doesn’t want mother and son “within an ass’s roar of each other” until the two contest the land case before the civil courts.
He said, “They all need to be protected from each other.”
Judge Gabbett said that he was’t happy that the mother was creating a picture that her son “is some sort of monster”.
He said, “There is a possibility that this is one concocted attempt to get him off the land – unless someone can counter that I have concerns.”
Solicitor for the mother, Frank Doherty denied that this was the case.
In evidence, the son recalled going to a solicitor’s office with his mother for the hearing of his father’s will.
He said that the solicitor told his mother, ‘now do right by your son here today and look after him’.
The farmer said that when his mother reneged on the land transfer, the solicitor told her “that is not the right thing do to”.
The mother told the court that she didn’t go to the district court until October of this year for a temporary safety order pending the hearing in the case due to fear.
Asked to comment on the length of time it took for the woman to seek the temporary Safety Order, the Garda in evidence said: “Do I think she was in fear of going to the courts and the reason she didn’t go to the courts was that she feared her son? I didn’t think that was the situation. She is a very decent woman, but is a strong woman and has grown up in a farming background.”
The Garda – who was called as a witness by the son in the case – said that he has never heard anyone say a bad thing about the woman.
He described the son as “a very progressive farmer” and said that he never had any dealings with members of the family before the issue of tensions over land ownership surfaced.
He said, “It is not an issue for us and that side of the law has nothing to do with the Gardai.”
Where there are tensions over land or succession, the Garda said, “The best advice is that clear guidelines are required here. Clarity is important and where there is vagueness, there are difficulties.”