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Self-defence law Ireland

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Under attack in your home by an intruder?

What are your rights?

The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 allows a homeowner, tenant or visitor in a dwelling to defend themselves with reasonable force and specifically states there is no requirement for the person to retreat.

The Bill also states that reasonable force does not preclude any justifiable action taken in self defense that later results in the death of an attacking intruder. This Bill therefore gives recognition to the unique circumstances which prevail when an intruder enters a property that is normally occupied for the purposes of a domicile. Concerns over liability for damages, an occupier using justifiable force against an intruder won’t be liable for damages if the attacker subsequently sues in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from such force.

The issue of whether a person could use lethal force in defending his or her home arose in the case of Co Mayo farmer Pádraig Nally, of Funshinaugh Cross, Claremorris, Co Mayo, who shot dead John “Frog” Ward in October 2004 in controversial circumstances. Mr Nally claimed Mr Ward had come to his farm to rob him, and that he had shot him in self-defence.

He was jailed for six years for manslaughter. He served 11 months of that term before the case was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeal, where he was acquitted after it was accepted he had acted in self-defence.

The case prompted a major public debate about what level of force is reasonable in situations where people act to defend themselves from robbery or attack and the led to the The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2011 being put in place to address this issue clearly.

A court has recently upheld the right of a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves against a home intruder.

In a landmark decision in 2018, a Central Criminal Court jury acquitted Martin Keenan (20) of the murder of an unarmed man he stabbed to death with a part from garden shears after finding him in his bedroom.

It is the first time a murder charge has been defended using the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which removed an obligation on householders to retreat, and allows for the use of reasonable force against intruders.

Mr Keenan said he was frightened to find "two junkies" in his bedroom and hit Wesley Mooney (33) with half a pair of garden shears after he came running at him.

The defence relied on the act and a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, which stated burglary was an act of aggression.


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