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18 May 2022

New York-based priest on drugs charges can travel to Ireland for mother's will dispute

New York-based priest on drugs charges can travel to Ireland for mother's will dispute

A Catholic priest facing drug charges in the United States is not prevented from travelling to Ireland to give evidence in a dispute involving him and his siblings over their late mother's will.  

The High Court heard on Tuesday, despite being on bail on foot of the criminal charges, New York-based Fr Michael O'Leary is not prohibited from coming to Ireland to give evidence in the will dispute.

The case came before the High Court earlier this month when Fr O'Leary's lawyers sought an adjournment because of difficulties concerning his availability to give evidence following his arrest. His lawyers also claimed that as he had gone into a rehabilitation programme, they had difficulties in obtaining any instructions from him.

He intends to give evidence in the will dispute, which was due to be heard earlier this year but could not proceed due to the lack of a judge to hear the case. 

At the High Court on Tuesday, Fr O'Leary's lawyers said their client had made contact with them over the weekend and informed them that he had completed his drug rehabilitation programme. Fr O'Leary's American lawyer had also made contact with them and have advised that the criminal charges stand adjourned until early July, and are unlikely to be disposed of until October. 

Michael Hourican Bl for Fr O'Leary's said that "surprisingly" the terms of his client's bail do not prevent him from travelling to Ireland. Fr O'Leary's American lawyer also informed his Irish counterparts that it was possible he could receive a custodial sentence if he is convicted by the New York court when the criminal case is finally disposed of in October. 

In that scenario, Fr O'Leary would be unable to travel until the sentence has been served. In addition, if he was convicted, and released on probation he may be prevented from leaving the United States until after the conclusion of that period of probation, the American lawyers also advised. 

In response to a question by Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds, Mr Hourican said Fr O'Leary has not entered a plea in respect of the criminal charges against him. 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, represented by Paddy McCarthy SC and Barney Quirke SC, had earlier expressed their concern about Fr O'Leary's availability to give evidence in the case. 

They wanted to know when he would be able to give evidence, and if he could give his testimony via video link. 

Adjourning the matter Ms Justice Reynolds said she would inquire to see if a judge could be made available to hear the case sometime in July, before the court's summer vacation.  

Previously the court heard that Fr O'Leary (50) was arrested by New York police in the early hours of St Patrick's Day, March 17, last after they found him and another man in a vehicle. Investigating officers claim they recovered half an ounce of methamphetamine, two scales and other materials used for packaging narcotics following a search of the vehicle.

Following his arrest, Fr O'Leary was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia and the criminal possession of a controlled substance. 

In proceedings pending before the High Court four of his siblings Nora Harpur, Barry O'Leary, Tadgh O'Leary and Marie O'Leary have brought an action against both Fr Michael and their brother John O'Leary.

The action is aimed at setting aside the will of their late mother, Mrs Elizabeth O'Leary, who died in September 2014. 

The four plaintiffs seek an order condemning a will made by the late Mrs O'Leary of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, in 2009 on grounds including that she was not of sound mind when it was executed.

It is claimed the family home was left to the defendants, while the residue of the estate was left to the other siblings. 

It is also alleged that undue influence was exerted over the late Mrs O'Leary by the defendants when she was preparing and executing the 2009 will.  

The claims are denied.

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