THE FORMER PRESIDENT of the Irish Farmers Assocation, John Dillon, has been imprisoned over his refusal to pay a fine incurred last year over electronic display signs used in the general election.
Gardaí this morning arrested Dillon over his failure to pay €200 in fines issued by Newcastle West district court last May over his use of electronic road signs to display messages promoting his campaign for a seat in the Dáil.
He had also refused to comply with the court’s order and pay €2,000 in legal costs to cover Limerick County Council’s legal expenses. He had been given three months to pay.
The dispute arose during last February’s election campaign when Dillon erected three electronic traffic signs alongside roads in the county, bearing the slogans ‘Vote No1 John Dillon’ and ‘Dillon Delivers’.
A spokesman for Dillon this morning said the farmer, who led the IFA between 2002 and 2006, had received correspondence from the council during last year’s campaign, saying a “political complaint” had been made about the signs, which the council said represented a traffic hazard.
Dillon had offered to relocate the signs to safer locations, but the council had wanted them removed entirely – something Dillon declined to consider.
‘Stunned and shocked’
“He was feeding the cattle this morning – I was with him – and the Gardaí came along and said they had to take him in,” the spokesman told TheJournal.ie. “He went along with them. They made him change his boots and all.”
The spokesman said Dillon’s friends were “absolutely stunned and shocked” at his treatment, describing the move to imprison him as “an outrageous decision” given “the pressure he’s under, and his health and everything else”.
In a statement issued this morning before his removal to prison, Dillon said his imprisonment was an “outrageous abuse of power” and accused the county council of make it “an offence under the law to irritate their preferred party candidates”.
“I am going to jail today because I annoyed the wrong people,” he said.
I am going to jail proudly because maybe it will take something like this for people to wake up and see that in todays Ireland, it’s one rule for the political cronies and another rule for anybody who stands against them.
The Pallasgreen farmer added: “I will defend my right to free speech and my right to campaign within the limits of the electoral acts”.
“I did not seek nor did I invite this outrageous abuse of power, but I will suffer it gladly if it shows people what an absolute joke the law has become, and how dangerously vindictive the political classes are.”
At the time, the Limerick Leader reported that Dillon had complained that other election candidates, including Michael Lowry and Tom Hayes in the 2007 Dáil election, Mairead McGuinness and Avril Doyle in the 2004 European elections, had also used the signs without punishment.
A spokesperson for McGuinness has insisted that the Fine Gael MEP had not used electronic election signage in the 2004 campaign or at any subsequent time.
Dillon’s spokesman said that “knowing Dillon’s attitude”, he was unlikely to pay the fine despite his imprisonment.
“To think of putting a fella into jail while all the people who have caused the crisis are running around, laughing at us, is outrageous,” he added.
Dillon was eliminated on the third count in the Limerick constituency, having secured 4,395 first preference votes. He also contested the Seanad election in the Agricultural panel, but was eliminated early on having received only 12 first preferences.