A 66-year-old woman has walked free from a court in west Cork with a suspended sentence and a fine for her refusal to wear a face mask in a shop.
Margaret Buttimer was jailed for the weekend following a hearing at Bandon District Court on Friday.
She had refused to wear a mask in the body of the court.
She had appeared before the court for refusing to wear a mask at Dunnes Stores in Clonakilty, Co Cork, on February 12 last.
She was found guilty of the offence of not wearing a mask in the store in breach of Covid-19 regulations.
Judge Colm Roberts was told that Ms Buttimer had abused the store manager in Dunnes when he asked her if there was a medical reason why she wasn’t wearing a face covering.
Ms Buttimer, who has an address at The Cottage, St Fintan’s Road, Bandon, Co Cork, called the store manager an “asshole”.
Gardaí attended the scene but Ms Buttimer again refused all requests to wear a mask, or provide an explanation as to why she would not do so. She claimed she only answered to God when asked by gardaí.
Last Friday at Bandon District Court Judge Roberts asked Ms Buttimer to don a mask whilst she was before the courts.
She refused his request and declined to give a reassurance that she would start wearing masks in shops. She reiterated that she was only answerable to God.
Judge Roberts asked her solicitor, Plunkett Taaffe, to speak to her about the situation she was facing arising out of her non- compliance.
“I see she is not wearing a mask,” Judge Roberts said. “Ask her to reflect on her position. She is seriously limiting her position and the options this court has to deal with this case.
“I do not want to see her going to prison. Masks are an essential requirement in dealing with this virus. Science very strikingly shows this.
“She must moderate her own personal views for the benefit of the public.
“She has said several times she is only answerable to god and so she seems to think she is not answerable to the law or this court or the public health needs of this country.”
Judge Roberts said that Ms Buttimer was defiant and something of an enigma.
“She is unrepentant and is likely to reoffend. The non-wearing of a mask today is a further indication that she will do this.
“That seriously undermines the options of this court and the only option I can consider is a custodial sentence.
“I do not want that but if she remains unrepentant and is openly defiant from a public health point of view I want you to convey to her I will have no other option but to jail her.
“I have to be reassured she will not reoffend. If she goes into a shop and is without a mask she is breaking the law and that’s my deepest concern.
“It will be her choice and that she has limited my options by her choices.”
Mr Taaffe was given an opportunity to consult with his client who again refused to wear a mask. She also declined to give any undertakings or assurances to the court about mask wearing in the future.
Mr Taaffe said his client was a person of “deep religious faith” who believed she was only answerable to God.
The court heard that Ms Buttimer was a person with an unblemished record. Mr Taaffe said that his client was a mother and a grandmother who assisted hugely in the care of a 94-year-old parent.
Mr Taaffe added that the mother of two was “entrenched” in her belief that that the wearing of a mask was a “gross intrusion of her freedom”.
Judge Roberts said that Ms Buttimer was behaving in a “destructive” manner which was at odds with her pleasant demeanour in court.
Ms Buttimer, who was supported in court by her partner, who was wearing a mask, apologised to the manager at the store whom she verbally abused.
Taking her lack of previous convictions and her age in to account, Judge Roberts imposed a three-week prison sentence which he suspended for a period of two years. He also fined Ms Buttimer €350 for verbally abusing the store manager.
He stressed that there was no doubt as to the efficacy and importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the community.
Ms Buttimer left the court to a round of applause from up to 40 supporters who told her she was “brave” for taking a stand on the matter.
Supporters held placards with slogans such as “Granny’s won’t be gagged”.
Ms Buttimer declined to speak to the media but thanked all those who had assembled outside for the hearing.
She will appear in court again in relation to other similar charges on June 14 next.
Judge Roberts told her she was entitled to her relationship with God but not to the detriment of society.
There was a certain element of enjoying the attention she was getting, Judge Roberts added.