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Teen’s Covid inquest abandoned after courtroom stand-off

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ADJOURNED INQUEST UNTIL DECEMBER Coroner for Mayo, Patrick O’Connor.

Anton McNulty

The inquest into the death of a Ballyhaunis teenager who died after contracting Covid-19 was adjourned after a stand-off between the coroner and members of the public.
Leaving Cert student Sally Maaz (17) of Carrowreagh, Ballyhaunis, died on April 24 last in Mayo University Hospital, where she was being treated for a heart defect, and concern was raised at the time as to how she contracted Covid-19.
Her inquest was due to take place in Ballina Courthouse yesterday (Monday) afternoon but was abandoned after it was established that there were too many people in the courtroom. In Covid-19 guidelines set down by the court service, only 14 people are permitted into the room.
At the start of the inquest it became clear that there were too many people in the room, and Coroner Patrick O’Connor said priority to who should attend would go to people directly involved in the inquest.
Members of the public, including media, were asked to identify themselves, but one male refused to identify himself when asked by Mr O’Connor.
“Who are you?” asked Mr O’Connor, to which the male replied, “I am a member of the public. I do not wish to give my name.”
When pressed again by Mr O’Connor, the male said ‘bullying won’t work’ before the coroner asked him to leave the court for refusing to identify himself.
“There are court service guidelines in relation to this court, and we can only have 14 members of the public at any one time. There are more than 14 people here. Some people have to move from the court room and priority is given to the family, the legal representatives and the gardaí,” Mr O’Connor explained.
The male said it was not Mr O’Connor’s prerogative to ask him to leave, and he refused to leave even when gardaí asked him to do so.
Two other people who were in the courtroom, one of whom had earlier identified herself as Jemima Burke, said they had a right to be present and it was unlawful to ask them to leave. At one point a garda asked one of the two women to stop recording on her mobile phone.
Mr O’Connor said he could not continue if those who refused to leave continued to insist on staying.
“This is a coroner’s court and its not for you as a member of the public to challenge me or the coroner’s authority,” he said before adding that he did not need to be lectured on the law by Ms Burke or the ‘unidentified member of the public’.
Mr O’Connor rose, and upon his return he said he was adjourning the inquest due to safety concerns.
“Inquests are held in public, and it is par for the course for the public to be entitled to attend. However, we are in a Covid pandemic and there are guidelines issued by the Government and the court service in relation to the use of the courtrooms. In this case, the courtroom is limited to the use of 14 people, and regretfully there are more than 14, and it is in breach of the guidelines.
“I am not prepared to have people’s health or the public guidelines flaunted as it clearly was by the person’s refusal to identify himself,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said he main concern was for the Maaz family, who are grieving for their daughter, and they must be given priority.
“Others may have their own agenda or otherwise, but that is nothing which should be taken into consideration,” he added.
In those circumstances, Mr O’Connor said he would not open the inquest and adjourned until December 16 for mention.