Kenneth O'Brien murder trial: Killer Paul Wells' astonishing tale of secrets, lies, betrayal and conspiracy

IT was an icy Friday night in January and the rattle of a chainsaw kicking into life at the back of a terraced Dublin house must have gone unnoticed by neighbours.

If anyone did hear it, the sound of a power tool at work in a suburban garden would hardly have been out of the ordinary, even after dark.

Nobody could have imagined the horror of what was actually happening in that back yard.

Kneeling in the freezing cold, close to the wall and out of sight, a weeping man was chopping his friend to pieces with a chainsaw, after he had shot him in the back of the head.

This was the nightmarish scene described to gardai by Paul Wells (50) after he was arrested over the death of Kenneth O’Brien (33).

Kenneth’s body had been found dumped in a suitcase and in shopping bags in the Grand Canal in Co Kildare soon after he disappeared.

But while Wells confessed to the killing, he insisted it was self-defence.

To back this up, in interview, Wells told an astonishing tale of secrets, lies, betrayal and conspiracy leading up to that night of “carnage” at his home in Barnamore Park, Finglas, on Friday January 15, 2016.

Over the course of a near month-long trial, a Central Criminal Court jury had to decide whether they believed him.

For the gardai, the case started on the afternoon of Saturday, January 16, 2016, not just without a suspect, but without an identified victim.

A couple, Brian O’Dwyer and Mary Costigan had been out walking by the Grand Canal at Ardclough in Co Kildare when they noticed an an unusually new-looking suitcase floating in the water.

They dragged it onto the towpath, opened it and saw a plastic bag with red liquid and what looked like human skin inside.

Mr O’Dwyer rang gardaí and said; “I think we found a body”.

The suitcase contained a human torso, wrapped in clear plastic and bound with red ratchet straps.

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis found the limbs and head had been cut “neatly” from the torso with what appeared to be a “high-speed mechanical saw.”

Kenneth O’Brien, a JCB driver, mechanic and “devoted” father-of-one from Lealand Road, Clondalkin had been reported missing that day. Eimear Dunne, his partner, had become suspicious within hours of their last contact on Friday, January 15.

She and their young son Charlie had kissed him goodbye before they left home early that morning, his last words to them: “Don’t forget I’ll be late tonight.”

As far as she knew, Kenneth was to go to a construction job in Limerick – her 30th birthday celebrations that day had been cancelled because of it.

He was still alone in the house when he let a Wifi installer in to carry out work between 10am and 11am.

Kenneth and Eimear shared text messages with “ordinary banter” that day before contact ended abruptly at around 1.30pm. When she called him later, his phone was switched off.

Then at 3.30am, she got a text message from a number she did not recognise, supposedly from Kenneth.

“Lost my phone today, I’m staying in a hotel tonight, having a drink, talk tomorrow,” the text said.

This was “not like him,” but a more troubling text from the same number was to follow, at 7.39am.

“So here it is,” the text read. “I am heading for the ferry today, I can’t handle being home and want out. I met someone else, she came to Ireland yesterday. I met her today and I’m going with her.”

Eimear noticed the spelling and punctuation were off, and “I said, that is not right. Ken was very particular about his text messages. That is not him that texted me.”

Phoning desperately around that morning, she eventually got in touch with one of his friends, Paul Wells.

“Paul basically said look, he’s seeing somebody else,” she said.

Kenneth had been working in Australia since 2013, returning to Ireland for his son’s birthdays and Christmas, and Wells told Eimear he had met another woman there and did not want to come home.

He showed her pictures Kenneth had sent to his phone, some of them “intimate”.

Eimear “felt weak” when she saw them.

She knew Kenneth had been unfaithful before and she “had a feeling something was going on” in Australia too.

Still, while the relationship had had its ups and downs, Eimear had felt she and Kenneth were getting on “great” and he had said he was home “for good.”

She told Wells: “There’s something not right.”

The next day, Sunday January 17, she met Wells again, outside McDonald’s in Liffey Valley.

“He’s gone, probably in a hotel room somewhere,” he said, showing her the photos again.

When Kenneth’s mother Susan heard the news about the discovery of a torso in Ardclough, she knew her son had worked at a garage in the area and hoped: “it doesn’t mean anything.”

But within days, a DNA sample she gave confirmed the family’s worst fears – the remains were Kenneth’s.

The next major development came about 20km further north at Pike’s Bridge near Maynooth on January 22, when a local walking his dog spotted the frame of a chainsaw in the waters of the Royal Canal.

Two days after that on January 24, back at the Grand Canal in Sallins, not far from Ardclough, a fisherman’s line snagged a suspicious looking Dunnes’ Stores bag in the water and gardai were called.

Det Gda Gerard Byrne could see a “flesh coloured object” inside – part of a lower leg with a foot. Garda divers pulled up three more Dunnes Stores and Tesco bags from the bottom of the canal.

Inside were plastic bags containing nine more parts of Kenneth’s body.

One bag contained the arms in four sections; the legs, also in four parts with the feet attached were found in two more bags, and a fourth bag contained the head, with a bullet inside. One of the upper arms was tattooed with the name “Ken.” His hands were never found.

A further post mortem revealed Kenneth had died from an “instantaneously fatal” gunshot wound to the head.

From the contact entry wound, it was clear that the muzzle of the gun had been pressed against his head when it was fired, the bullet tracking slightly downwards.

One of the early lines of inquiry in the murder investigation focused on Kenneth’s bank accounts – and Paul Wells’ name came up again.

The father-of-five was no stranger to the gardai – described in court as an “IRA man”, he had served time in Portlaoise Prison for weapons offences.

While Kenneth was in Australia, he had transferred large amounts of money home to Ireland through a foreign currency service. The biggest recipient – to the tune of more than €52,000 over 18 months – was Wells.

The pair had struck up a friendship through the garage Kenneth had worked in, but the amount he transferred to Wells’ bank account was more than twice the total he sent to Eimear for mortgage payments and childcare.

The net was closing, and even in Wells’ own family, the finger of suspicion was pointing at him.

His son Gary Wells would testify that on the night Kenneth was killed, his father told him not to come home as usual, but to instead go straight to his girlfriend’s house.

The next morning, he had returned to see his father out power-hosing the back yard, bottles of bleach on the decking.

Wells gave Gary shopping bags of rubbish from the shed to get rid of – one had a red-stained piece of cardboard inside. He also gave him a bag to bring to his brother Paul Wells Jnr, and Gary could see from the shape there was a chainsaw inside.

After the identity of Kenneth’s remains became public, Gary recalled, Wells was “edgy.”

His father said he “thought it was terrible what had happened” to Kenneth and that the gardai “would probably come to speak to him as a precaution.”

However, in early February, it was Paul Wells Jnr who “pre-empted matters” by coming forward and “self-reporting” to the gardai. In interview, he revealed that his father had told him that he killed Kenneth and took a chainsaw to the body.

On February 6, detectives found the remaining parts of the chainsaw in pools and gorse in the Curragh.

That morning, Wells was arrested at his home on suspicion of Kenneth’s murder. Before he was taken to Naas Garda Station, Wells told gardai: “He was my friend.”

He was interviewed 15 times over the course of the next six days.

Initially, a garrulous Wells told gardai the last time he saw Kenneth was over a cup of coffee on the Monday before he went missing. His gut instinct was that Kenneth had not wanted to come home from Australia and had “done a runner.”

He told how the pair called each other “bud”; he was like an “elder brother” to Kenneth, who confided in him about his affairs. The jury would hear of at least three – a neighbour, a woman called Anna from Rwanda and Aisling Walsh, who he had met in Australia.

He also painted a picture of his friend as secretive, volatile, a “bit of a headcase.”

Wells assumed he was being questioned because “I am the one who knew most of his secrets.”

He told how on the morning of January 15, he had dropped his wife Audrey and youngest son Andrew to Heuston Station for a trip to Cork, then parked outside the Jervis Centre to go window shopping.

He said he drove to the butcher’s in Clearwater Shopping Centre in Finglas, returned home and cooked chops for dinner. His son Gary came home but left again and Wells “vegged out” in front on the TV that night before going to bed at around 2am, he said.

Under sustained questioning over seven interviews, he denied any involvement in his friend’s death. However, as the crushing weight of evidence began to pile up in the interviews, his lies unravelled.

Gardai showed him CCTV footage of his movements in the hours after Kenneth was last seen alive. He was seen buying a SIM card at the Meteor store on Henry Street that Friday morning.

In the early hours of Saturday, at 5.38am, he was seen on CCTV driving southbound on the M50, when he claimed to have been in bed asleep. Later that morning, he was in Cleverbuys in Finglas buying black bags and bleach.

The mobile number that sent the fake texts to Eimear had connected to the mast at Broombridge, near Wells’ home.

He was shown the evidence of Kenneth’s transfers into his bank account but had could not explain what the money was for.  There was CCTV footage of Wells withdrawing thousands from the account – just under €20,000 in the weeks before Kenneth’s death.

Gardai told him forensic tests were being carried out at his shed and the boot of his car, which would later prove to be stained with Kenneth’s blood.

But it was only in his seventh interview that Det Gda Declan O’Brien revealed to Wells what his son Paul Jnr had told them.

Suddenly Wells became less talkative, repeating: “I’m not saying anything at this time.”

On the way from the interview room, he turned to Det Gda O’Brien and said: “I’ll tell you everything in the morning… what happened to Kenneth is tearing me asunder.”

He did not even wait that long, and called the station sergeant Tom Bowe into his cell that night and confessed to the killing.

He said he shot Kenneth in a struggle and the reason they fought was because he wanted Wells to kill Eimear. “No way was I ever going to harm a woman, especially her,” Wells said.

He asked Sgt Bowe to tell his son Paul Jnr: “I’m glad he turned me in.”

The next morning, he set out his full, shocking version of what had happened.

Kenneth had wanted Eimear murdered, Wells claimed, so he could take his son Charlie to live “happily ever after” with him in Australia.

Kenneth had mistakenly thought that Wells, because of his republican background was the “person for the job” and was under “some illusion” that Wells was “up for doing this thing.”

There had been a plan to meet beside the Jervis Centre on Friday morning, January 15, Wells claimed. Kenneth would give him the gun in exchange for the new SIM card which would be a “clean chip.”

Wells had no intention of killing Eimear, did not meet Kenneth and went home, he said.

After 5pm, he said, Kenneth “bounced up” to his house, asked “why did you not turn up?” and showed him the gun, in his waistband, in the kitchen.

“I then said to him that the whole thing was f**king crazy and unnecessary,” Wells told gardai.

He said Kenneth was to go back to his own house, take Charlie out and send a text, “a smiley face, that was a signal that it was clear to go to the house and take a life.”

“After I had shot her… I was to interfere with her clothing. To give the impression that she had been sexually abused. I f**king lost it. And I recall pushing him violently,” he continued.

Wells broke down in tears as he haltingly described what happened next.

They grappled, flipped over and ended up on the ground in a “rowing boat” position, he said.

The gun dropped to the ground.

“He tried to grab the gun off the floor. I thought if he got the gun he’d shoot me,” Wells said.

“I got to the gun and shot him in the back of the head…I pulled the gun a number of times. Click, click, click and he died instantly.”

“I just panicked. I swear I didn’t want to kill him, he was my friend.”

He passed out, he said, and when he came around, he had an “overwhelming sense of trying to survive” and had to get the body out of the house before his wife arrived home.

The body was “f**king heavy” and “the only way I could take him out was to take him out in parts,” he said.

He said he bit down on a tea towel, knelt down and chopped the body to pieces in his backyard with a chainsaw that Kenneth had loaned him.

“Must have f**king made about six attempts… I kept bottling it. I was practically expecting him to wake up,” he said. “I felt sick. That smell was all over… of death.”

It was “f**king savagery… nothing but pure carnage,” he said.

After changing clothes, he picked up the body parts, put the torso in a suitcase that also belonged to Kenneth and put it in his wife’s car, driving it out an unplanned route to the Grand Canal.

“I’m ashamed to say I put that suitcase in the water,” he said.

He admitted he the first fake text to Eimear to “buy some time.”

Later that morning, he went to Eimear’s house after she contacted him, before returning home to face “the horrible task of sorting these other bits.”

He parcelled Kenneth’s head and limbs, in bags weighed down with fire bricks and put them in the boot of his car, he continued.

That evening, he went for a drive in Co Kildare with Paul Jnr, to discuss his son’s upcoming stag party. Paul Jnr had no “absolutely no idea” what was in the boot – the bagged body parts. Wells pretended he had to go to the toilet, got out and threw the bags into the canal.

The following day, he said, he flung the broken-up gun out his car window into the Liffey at Strawberry beds.

Wells said he had forgotten Kenneth’s hands, which were on the shelf in his shed and bagged these and threw them into the Liffey at Islandbridge the next day, Monday January 18.

He said of his sons “them boys knew nothing,” that Paul Wells Jnr was “totally innocent” and he passed the chainsaw on to him because he “never wanted to see it again.”

The money he withdrew, he said, he had given back to Kenneth.

Prosecutor Sean Gillane SC argued that Kenneth had been “executed efficiently” by Wells in a “premeditated act.”

He pointed to the purchase of the SIM card and Wells having asked Gary to stay out of the house on the night of the killing – which Wells initially lied to gardai about.

Wells had also asked Gary a week earlier to get plastic in work because there was a leak in their shed -it was a similar type to the plastic found by gardai.

Wells’ tears in interview were “not the product of conscience” but an example of him exercising “control and manipulation.”

Mr Gillane said the accused maintaining he shot Kenneth in the back of the head in self defence did not make sense. He also pointed to the “meticulousness” of the wrapping of the torso and the “almost professional” cleanup by someone supposedly in a panic.

Against this, Wells’ defence said the evidence for a planned killing did not “add up” and asked the jury to consider the plausibility of the supposed plot to kill Eimear Dunne.

While some of the things Wells said did not sound credible, they were established independent of him to be “totally or substantially correct,” Michael O’Higgins SC, defending said.

He asked the jury to take account of seven “suspicious” coincidences that supported the allegation of a conspiracy to kill Eimear Dunne.

The CCTV at Mr O’Brien’s home that was not working on January 15 – the access code had been changed and Mr O’Brien was the only person who could have changed it.

The cancellation of Eimear’s birthday party because of the “lie” that Mr O’Brien was working in Limerick.

A set of keys Mr O’Brien got cut on January 14,  two phones he had “on the go,” his passport missing from the house safe.

The suitcase he gave to Wells, which, he said, Kenneth did not want Eimear to see being taken. The removal of Mr O’Brien’s boss’s phone number from Eimear’s phone. Mr O’Higgins suggested all this showed Kenneth  “setting up a clear run, believing Mr Wells was going to his house to kill his partner.”

Was he capable of this? The defence used a number of incidents to illustrate Kenneth’s “deeply flawed character.”

His best friend Patrick Bogey said on one occasion, Kenneth asked him to go to his house because he was worried a man was “coming to shoot me.”

Mr Bogey was told to go to the window of a bedroom where there was a firearm, and to wait for a hand signal from Kenneth.

Another time, Mr Bogey said he walked in on Kenneth as he worked on pipe bombs in his shed. This, the defence argued, showed Kenneth’s “disregard for life.”

Moreover, Mr O’Higgins said, the prosecution had not sought to advance any reason why the killing occurred, and the jury had not heard about it because “the evidence isn’t there to support it – you are left with a blank.”

Only Paul Wells really knows why he killed his friend Kenneth O’Brien in his back yard on that cold January night. All the members of the jury had to try to fill in the gaps in this grisly story was Paul Wells’ version of events.

When he was charged, Wells had admitted: “I am responsible for killing Kenneth and I gave a true account of what happened.”

Today, a jury found him guilty not just of killing the man he once called his “bud”, but of murdering him.

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German ex-SS concentration camp guard, 94, weeps at start of trial

BERLIN (AFP) – A former SS guard aged 94 broke down in tears Tuesday (Nov 6) on the first day of his trial in Germany charged with complicity in mass murder at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

The German man from the western district of Borken, North Rhine-Westphalia state, served as a guard from June 1942 to September 1944 at the Stutthof camp near what was then Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland.

He was not publicly named but German media identified him as Johann R, a retired landscape architect and divorced father of three.

Dressed in a wool suit, he entered the regional court of Muenster in a wheelchair, with a walking stick in hand, facing charges of being an accessory to the murders of several hundred camp prisoners.

These included more than 100 Polish prisoners gassed in June 1944 and “probably several hundred” Jews killed from August to December 1944 as part of the Nazis’ so-called “Final Solution”.

Initially composed, the defendant started weeping when the court heard written testimony from Holocaust survivors who now live in the United States or Israel, read out by their lawyers.

Marga Griesbach recalled, according to national news agency DPA, how she saw her six-year-old brother for the last time in the camp before he was sent to Auschwitz where he died in the gas chambers.

Another survivor and co-plaintiff, a woman from the US state of Indianapolis, charged that the defendant “helped to murder my beloved mother, whom I have missed my entire life”.

‘GASSED, SHOT, LEFT TO DIE’

Aged 18 to 20 at the time, and therefore now being tried under juvenile law, the defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations,” Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP.

“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added, stressing that the guards “knew about the killing methods”.

But when interrogated by police in August 2017, the accused insisted he knew nothing about the atrocities in the camp, Die Welt daily reported.

Asked why the camp detainees were so thin, he reportedly said that food was so scarce for everyone that, figuratively speaking, two soldiers could fit into one uniform.

Stutthof was set up in 1939 and would end up holding 110,000 detainees, 65,000 of whom perished, according to the Museum Stutthof.

Each court hearing will likely last for a maximum of two hours due to the defendant’s advanced age – even though, prosecutor Brendel said, “mentally, he is still fit”.

The defendant was planning to make a statement during the course of the trial, his lawyer told DPA.

If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison – even though, given his age and the possibility of an appeal, he is considered unlikely to serve any time behind bars.

Brendel noted that German law has no statute of limitations on murder and pointed to the moral imperative to pursue the case.

“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today,” he said.

“That is a legal and moral question.”

‘NO EXCEPTIONS’

Germany has been racing to put on trial surviving SS personnel, after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with the landmark conviction of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk.

He was sentenced not for any atrocities he committed, but on the basis that he was a cog in the Nazi killing machine by serving at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland.

German courts subsequently convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for mass murder.

However both men, convicted at age 94, died before they could be imprisoned.

Prosecutors have also filed charges against another former SS guard at Stutthof, a 93-year-old from the city of Wuppertal. It remains to be determined if he is fit to stand trial.

Historian Peter Schoettler highlighted “an important humanitarian and legal reason” to push on with the justice process, stressing that “the rule of law should not allow for exceptions”.

Griesbach, in her testimony, said that “I don’t harbour hatred or rage in my heart”.

Rather, she said her main concern was remembrance of the crimes at a time when Holocaust deniers are being heard again, including in her country the United States.

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Ex-Guard, 94, Is Tried in Juvenile Court for Crimes at Nazi Camp

BERLIN — A 94-year-old man who served as a guard in Hitler’s SS clutched his cane as a bailiff wheeled him into a courtroom on Tuesday for the start of his trial on charges of assisting in the murder of hundreds of the 60,000 people who perished at the Stutthof concentration camp.

Johann Rehbogen was still a teenager when he began work as a guard at the camp, where he was stationed between June 1942 and September 1944. Because he was under the age of 21 at the time the alleged crimes were committed, the case is being tried before a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence he could face is 10 years in prison.

The indictment lists the deaths of more than 100 Polish prisoners and at least 77 Soviet P.O.W.s, as well as “an unknown number — at least several hundred — Jewish prisoners” killed in the gas chambers or by other means during his tenure at Stutthof, located on the Baltic Sea coast near what is now the city of Gdansk in Poland.

More than 140 mostly Jewish women and children were killed by injection of gas or phenol “straight to the heart of the individual prisoner,” while “an unknown number of prisoners died by various methods, including freezing in winter 1943-44,” according to the indictment.

“The defendant knew of the various methods of killing, he worked to make them all made possible,” said Andreas Brendel, a prosecutor for Nazi crimes in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who read the charges to the court in Münster.

Seventeen survivors and their families, many of whom live in the United States, Israel and Canada, have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.

Judy Meisel was 12 when she arrived at Stutthof. At 89, she can still remember standing naked, beside her mother, in line for the gas chamber. At the last minute, a guard indicated she could go back to the barracks. “Run, Judy, run!” her mother called to her in Yiddish. Ms. Meisel did and never saw her mother again.

“Stutthof was organized mass murder by the SS, made possible through the help of the guards,” she said in a written statement read to the court through her lawyer.

“He must take responsibility for what he did in Stutthof, take responsibility for participating in these unimaginable crimes against humanity,” she said. “For helping to murder my beloved mother who I missed for the rest of my life.”

No pleas are entered in Germany, but Mr. Rehbogen said through his lawyers that he would address the court at some point in the course of the trial, which is scheduled to last into January. Because of his age, trial sessions are limited to a maximum of two hours a day for no more than two nonconsecutive days a week.

For decades, the German justice system insisted that evidence of direct involvement in a Nazi-era crime was needed to charge a perpetrator, allowing countless low-ranking Nazis to live out their lives in peace.

That changed after 2011, when a Munich court found John Demjanjuk guilty of accessory to murder for having served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. The court found there was no way he could have been oblivious to the killing taking place around him.

Mr. Demjanjuk, who disputed the accusation, died before his challenge to the ruling could be heard. But in 2015, the country’s highest criminal court upheld the conviction of Oskar Gröning, a former Auschwitz guard who was found guilty on the same argument of association, solidifying the legal precedent.

Mr. Brendel said investigators from his office studied hundreds of testimonies, as well as documents from other Nazi trials. They also flew to interview survivors, like Ms. Meisel, a resident of Minneapolis.

“Given the structure of the camp, we believe that the guards knew what was happening,” Mr. Brendel said. “The killings, especially the gassing and burning of corpses, could not be covered up.”

Established in 1941 as a labor camp, Stutthof later became a concentration camp. In 1944, a gas chamber was set up.

Ms. Meisel’s grandson, Benjamin Cohen, 34, attended Tuesday’s trial as part of a documentary he is making about her life.

“To have her statement read in court today and have her story heard by everyone in that courtroom was so monumental for her and for our family,” Mr. Cohen said. “It puts into perspective how important it is to acknowledge these crimes and never stop telling these stories.”

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'Aggressive engagement' needed with US members of Congress to boost ties with Ireland, government told

The government has been told that visits by US politicians to Ireland should be ramped up as part of a strategy to boost relations between the two countries.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney briefed ministers on a review of US-Irish relations that says there should be “aggressive engagement” with members of Congress elected in today’s mid-term election in a bid to “deepen links”.

The review of Irish-US relations comes after a July meeting facilitated by the Washington-based Brookings Institute to identify strengths and weaknesses and actions that are needed.

The meeting was attended by government ministers, the secretaries general of the Department of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Business, and Julie Sinnamon, the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is also said to have contributed along with ambassadors including Dan Mulhall – Ireland’s top diplomat in the US.

A report following the meeting makes a number of recommendations to government which are to be developed through the Global Ireland strategy.

The review found that Taoisigh and Irish ministers have made 169 visits to the US since 2012.

It argues that this level of engagement should continue but also that Ireland should increase the number of incoming visits from the US.

According to the report figures like US-mayors, federal politicians and members of Congress should be encouraged to travel here.

It also says there should be “aggressive engagement” with the Friends of Ireland caucus in the US Congress to “deepen links” with the newly elected members who will be taking office in January of next year.

The report calls for more Irish staff on the ground in the US – including those with skill-sets in culture, technology and science – and for the opening of a consulate in Los Angeles.

The report refers to Brexit, pointing out that Ireland will be the only principally English-speaking country in the EU once Britain departs and highlights the close existing ties with the US.

It also speaks of the “invaluable role” of the Irish diaspora in the US.

The memo to Cabinet came days before US President Donald Trump’s aborted visit to Ireland was due to take place.

Mr Trump had planned to come to Ireland around November 12 as part of his itinerary for Armistice Day in Europe where he is to mark the centenary of the ceasefire that signalled the end of World War One.

He had announced an intention to visit Ireland including his golf club in Co Clare but this was postponed for scheduling reasons.

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'Trucks were coming, bikes were swerving' – Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick rescues swan on busy Dublin street

It was a case of right place, right time for one Dublin swan today when Channel 4’s The Supervet Professor Noel Fitzpatrick happened across the bird in a bit of bother. 

The swan had landed in the middle of traffic on the main Donnybrook road when Noel was en route to RTÉ for an interview with Ray D’Arcy on Radio One this afternoon. 

The swan had managed to ruffle a few feathers with his unfortunate landing spot in front of a taxi, causing a motorcyclist and truck drivers to swerve in order to avoid crossing over the bird. 

Arriving in the RTÉ studio a little wet after his rescue mission in the rain, Noel explained he had wrapped the bewildered animal in his tweed jacket. 

Coincidentally, the hero of his new book ‘Becoming the Supervet’ is known as ‘Vetman’ and Noel joked he had personified the character in the few minutes it took to help out his feathered friend. 

He said he had also once crashed his bike on the same road and that he felt for the swan’s plight. 

“We were rushing from Grafton Street down here and crossed the canal, and a swan just mistook the road for the canal because it is blizzarding rain down there and just landed on the road right in front of a taxi cab,” Noel told Ray on air. 

“Trucks were coming, bikes were swerving, and I was like, ‘Pull the car over I need to put my red [superhero] pants on, nah no time for the pants on the outside of the trousers – Vetman jumped out of the car.” 

“Fortunately I had a lovely tweed jacket on that I had just done a television interview in so that was perfect for getting the swan safely under it and run him back to the canal and release him.”

Luckily the swan hadn’t injured himself – or any motorists – but Noel said it had been a close call. 

“The motorbike that had swerved was unbelievably close and a taxi cab that had swerved from out behind another car – you’re not going to expect there is a swan in the middle of the Donnybrook road.” 

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The Irish widow with a secret €30m fortune

To those who knew her Elizabeth O’Kelly was a kind and generous friend who was known for her acts of kindness.

But the sheer scale of her charitable giving only became apparent after she passed away.

The County Laois multimillionaire left €30m (£26m) to charities in her will when she died at the age of 92 in December 2016.

The cash has helped organisations including the RNLI and the Irish Cancer Society.

One of her friends, Elizabeth Connelly, said she had no idea of the wealth Mrs O’Kelly was eventually able to give away.

Ms Connelly said her friend would often offer to help Kildare Archaeological Society, which they were both members of.

“I felt that was extremely generous of her,” she told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

“I thought she must be reasonably comfortable but I had no idea of the extent that she was.”

Mrs O’Kelly, who lived in Stradbally but was born in France, was a shareholder in Clylim Properties, which has extensive property interests in Dublin.

She is believed to have made about €30m from the sale of the Leinster Leader Ltd newspaper group in 2005.

‘Extremely generous’

Ms Connelly said that when the newspaper group was sold Mrs O’Kelly gave workers up to £3,000 each.

“She was incredibly generous and I did know fairly early on about the Leinster Leader windfall which was so kind to the employees,” she said.

“She thought that the staff worked hard, she wanted to say thank you to all of them and this is why she made the generous gift to them.

“It was quite clever to keep it generous and low enough so it wouldn’t interfere too much with their tax affairs.”

“One of our best treats at the society was every year for a long number of years after an annual general meeting in Nice, she would treat us to tea and scones in the local hotel, which is something we miss now.”

Orphaned

Mrs O’Kelly was born in France in January 1924 and was orphaned as an infant.

She was raised by her paternal aunt in Dublin and married a British Army veterinary surgeon at the age of 21, going on to live in Ballygoran in Maynooth, County Kildare, where she was well-known for her active social life and her love of travel.

“She had travelled very widely through Ireland and indeed throughout the world, particularly on her trips with the Georgian Society,” Ms Connelly said.

“In the early days I knew her she spent a lot of time abroad and had a property in France.

“She spoke the most beautiful French and cooked the most beautiful French food.”

Charity windfall

The Royal National Lifeboat Association (RNLI), Irish Cancer Society, Irish Heart Foundation, Irish Kidney Association and the Irish Society for Autistic Children all received an equal share of the bequest in Mrs O’Kelly’s will.

The RNLI told BBC News NI the donation will help save lives “for many years to come”.

It said Mrs O’Kelly “was a long-standing supporter” of the charity and volunteered for many years at an RNLI stall in Dublin.

Lifeboat funding boost

“Throughout her life, she displayed great kindness towards her many friends and was most charitable in supporting those in need,” an RNLI spokesperson said.

“As this is such a large legacy, the RNLI will be carefully considering all options to ensure the funds are used where they are needed most and with a view to how they can be spent to fittingly reflect Mrs O’Kelly’s support for the charity.”

The RNLI said donations in wills are vital to the charity’s work and fund six out of every 10 lifeboat launches.

Patient support

The Irish Kidney Association said it used some of the €6m it received to buy a house in Co Cork.

The charity’s chief executive, Mark Murphy, told RTE the house, which backs onto the campus of Cork University Hospital, will be converted into a support centre for patients who do not need to be in hospital.

It is also negotiating with the Health Service Executive to see if a dialysis unit in Tramore can be completed.

Mr Murphy said the association has also donated money to renal medical research.

Cancer Foundation’s largest ever donation

The Irish Cancer Society said it received a €6m bequest from Mrs O’Kelly.

It is the single largest donation ever received by the charity.

The charity said that the donation will “enable us to deliver the kind of transformational change that would have been impossible otherwise.

“On behalf of people affected by cancer all across Ireland, our supporters and volunteers, we are deeply grateful to her for making this possible,” a spokesperson said.

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Child abuse victims fight back in Spain

“The priest who tortured me is still giving Mass in the village down the road,” says Emiliano Álvarez, a 52-year-old from Borrenes, north-western Spain.

Like other victims who have come forward, Mr Álvarez claims he was abused by staff at the Seminario Menor boarding school in La Bañeza, in Zamora province, and that Spain’s Catholic Church authorities have done little about it.

He filed his accusation against a priest in early 2017, and is still waiting for a decision by the local ecclesiastical court in Astorga.

Mr Álvarez says he was 11 on the night he recalls being woken by the priest.

“He was pulling down the sheets and my underpants, and I was pulling them back up again and again.

“I can’t remember much more about that first time, but it started to happen almost every night. Then, when I was 12, it got worse; I remember fighting to turn my hips away from him so he could not touch me.”

Priest with two abuse convictions

Stories of abuse from La Bañeza and other institutions in north-western Spain have hit the news after another priest, found guilty of sexual abuse of minors in his care for a second time, was sentenced to a 10-year period of exile in a monastery and was spared excommunication.

It emerged that José Manuel Ramos had appealed the sentence and remained in a Church residence in the northern city of Astorga.

Ramos had already been suspended from his post as a village priest when an ecclesiastical court found him guilty of sexually assaulting two brothers at La Bañeza in the 1980s. But the sentence was not made public.

The victim in that case, named Javier, has denounced Ramos’s “impunity”.

However, the man who oversaw the La Bañeza cases, Bishop of Astorga Juan Antonio Menéndez, said he had carried out an “exhaustive investigation” into Ramos, adding that the sentences had been decided by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Justice and the Church

According to an investigation spanning three decades by El País newspaper, Spanish criminal courts have found priests guilty of sexual assaults on 33 occasions involving 80 minors.

Only three of Spain’s 70 bishoprics routinely pass on information on cases of abuse to the country’s criminal justice system, the paper says.

Emiliano Álvarez remembers priests inflicting beatings during the day “for the slightest thing”.

“Then at night, this horrible panic once the lights went off because you knew you wouldn’t be able to stay awake all night. It was complete torture. They acted with complete impunity.”

He was unable to tell his parents, as they revered the priests and were making a considerable economic sacrifice to keep him and his brother at the seminary. Eventually he ran away from the school and tried to take his life before he was 13.

British pianist fighting for abuse reform in Spain

Classical pianist and author James Rhodes felt compelled to act when he read about Spain’s treatment of child victims of sexual abuse after moving from London to Madrid last year.

Rhodes has described his own suffering, in his book Instrumental, during and after the years in which he was repeatedly raped as a child.

He then met Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez with Save The Children Spain. The result, he says, is a draft package of reforms that will become “a benchmark for other countries” if they go through.

Drafted with input from NGOs, childcare experts and judges, the reforms will make it simpler for children to give evidence on a single, non-stressful occasion.

There will be new protocols for professionals who work with children, better education and information, and an end to the statute of limitations, which currently means that many sexual abuse offences expire only five years after the victim reaches the age of 18.

The number of cases reaching Spain’s criminal courts is “clearly the tip of the iceberg”, says Gema Varona, a senior researcher at the Basque Institute of Criminology.

Dr Varona contacted the more than 70 ecclesiastical courts across Spain, but none agreed to supply her research team with numbers of cases.

“There is indifference, a lack of interest and, I believe, a fear of coming under attack over things that happened in the past. But for victims, the past is their present.”

One in five adults affected

The best indication of the prevalence of sexual abuse here comes from a 1995 Salamanca University study, in which 20% of the 2,000 adults questioned recalled being sexually abused as children.

Of these, 4% said the perpetrator had been a member of the Church. Extrapolate that and the number of cases involving Catholic ministers could be in the hundreds of thousands.

A spokeswoman for Spain’s Episcopal Conference told the BBC that the national synod would “work on the drawing up of new rules for the prevention and protection against sexual abuse of minors”.

The Church’s protocols for cases that arise are currently being reviewed by a special commission, she added.

But eyebrows have been raised by the fact that the commission only includes priests. It is also headed by the Bishop of Astorga, the man who led the Ramos investigation.

“It is a delicate and difficult task, but we will work to eliminate abuses altogether,” said Bishop Menéndez.

Juan Ignacio Cortés, author of a book on paedophilia in the Spanish Church, believes a huge number of cases have been covered up, while victims feel poorly treated.

“They complain about ridiculous sentences for abusers and are left feeling rejected and humiliated,” he says.

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Gardai probe spate of early-morning burglaries in south Dublin

Gardaí are investigating a number of burglaries early on Tuesday in the Stepaside/Sandyford area of Dublin.

At approximately 6:20am a retail premises in the Stepaside area had its window smashed and a sum of cash taken.

At approximately 6:20am a different retail premises in Stepaside Village a glass door was smashed at the front of the property but at this time nothing appears to have been stolen.

At approximately 6:21am a fast food outlet on the Enniskerry Road area of Sandyford the front glass door of the premises was smashed and a sum of cash was taken from the premises.

More to follow

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France country profile

France is known the world over for its cuisine, fashion, culture and language. It is the most visited tourist destination in the world.

A key player on the global stage and a country at the political heart of Europe, France paid a high price in both economic and human terms during the two world wars.

The years which followed saw protracted conflicts culminating in independence for Algeria and most other French colonies in Africa as well as decolonisation in south-east Asia.

France was one of the founding fathers of European integration as the continent sought to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War.

FACTS

French Republic

Capital: Paris

Population 63.5 million

Area 543,965 sq km (210,026 sq miles)

Major language French

Major religion Christianity

Life expectancy 78 years (men), 85 years (women)

Currency Euro

LEADERS

President: Emmanuel Macron

A former economy minister who has never held elected office before, Emmanuel Macron won the May 2017 presidential election run-off by a decisive margin over his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.

The 39-year-old former banker launched an independent campaign for the presidency little over a year before the election, and his En Marche! movement galvanised enough support from the centre-right and left to knock the traditional Socialist and Republican party candidates out in the first round of voting.

Prime Minister: Edouard Philippe

President Macron chose Edouard Philippe, a member of the centre-right Republicans party, as his prime minister, in a gesture to pragmatic conservatives willing to work with him on reforming labour laws and the public sector.

This succeeded to the extent that some centre-right members of parliament have agreed to back the government in parliament, although The Republicans form the main opposition bloc and are the largest party in the Senate.

The new government can expect serious opposition to its ambitions, possibly on the streets, from trade unions and the radical left-wing France Unbowed movement, which has pushed the more moderate Socialists onto the political margins.

MEDIA

Television is France’s most popular medium. The flagship network, TF1, is privately-owned and public France Televisions is funded from the TV licence fee and advertising revenue.

Satellite and cable offer a proliferation of channels. France is also a force in international TV and radio broadcasting.

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TIMELINE

Some key dates in France’s history:

1789 – French Revolution ends rule of monarchy going back to 9th century; followed by establishment of the First Republic.

1804-1814 – Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself emperor of First French Empire; series of military successes brings most of continental Europe under his control.

1815 – Napoleon defeated in Battle of Waterloo; monarchy re-established.

1914-18 First World War – Massive casualties in trenches in north-east France; 1.3 million Frenchmen are killed and many more wounded by the end of the war.

1939-45 – Second World War – Germany occupies much of France. Vichy regime in unoccupied south collaborates with Nazis. General de Gaulle, undersecretary of war, establishes government-in-exile in London and, later, Algiers. Rise of French Resistance.

1946-58 – Fourth Republic is marked by economic reconstruction and the start of the process of independence for many of France’s colonies.

1957 – France joins West Germany and other European nations in the forming of the European Economic Community (EEC), now known as the European Union.

1958 – Charles De Gaulle returns to power on back of Algerian crisis and founds the Fifth Republic, with a stronger presidency.

1962 – Algeria granted independence from French colonial rule.

1969 – De Gaulle leaves office. Georges Pompidou elected president.

1981 – Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand is elected president.

1995 – Jacques Chirac elected president, ending 14 years of Socialist presidency.

2017 – Emmanuel Macron breaks the Gaullist/Republican-Socialist hold on the presidency through his La République En Marche! movement, drawing support from both the centre-right and centre-left.

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Germany tries former death camp guard

A former SS guard has gone on trial in Germany accused of complicity in mass murder at a Nazi death camp during World War Two.

Named only as Johann R by authorities, the 94-year-old served in the Stutthof camp in what is now northern Poland from June 1942 to September 1944.

He denies knowing anything about atrocities committed there.

Because he was not yet aged 21, he is being tried in a juvenile court in Münster, western Germany.

He faces a sentence of 15 years if convicted but the wheelchair user is unlikely to serve any actual time in prison because of his advanced age.

His court appearances will be limited to two hours at a time for the same reason, Dortmund prosecutor Andreas Brendel told AFP news agency.

What are the accusations?

More than 100 Polish prisoners were gassed at the camp on 21 and 22 June 1944, as well as “probably several hundred” Jewish prisoners who were killed between August and December 1944.

The defendant is “accused in his capacity as a guard of participating in the killing operations”, said Mr Brendel.

“Many people were gassed, shot or left to die of hunger,” he added.

What was Stutthof?

Located near the city of Danzig (now Gdansk), it was originally an internment camp before being officially designated a concentration camp in 1942.

From June 1944, prisoners were murdered in a gas chamber.

More than 65,000 people died in Stutthof before it was liberated by the Soviet Army on 9 May 1945.

Who is the defendant?

Johann R was captured by the US Army after the war but returned to civilian life, working as a landscape architect for the North Rhine-Westphalia state authorities.

Questioned by police last year, he denied knowing about atrocities in the camp.

“If one looks at how many evil doings and crimes were perpetuated, one can understand why elderly people too have to face prosecution,” said Mr Brendel.

“Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi crimes even today. That is a legal and moral question.”

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