Fine Gael website hackers spared jail sentences

Tuesday 08 October 2013 23.42
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Donncha O'Cearrbhail is a Trinity College student
Donncha O'Cearrbhail is a Trinity College student
Darren Martyn (left) is studying at NUI Galway
Darren Martyn (left) is studying at NUI Galway

Two students, who hacked Fine Gael's 2011 election website, have been spared jail sentences and left with clean records.

Darren Martyn, 21, from Cloonbeggin, Claregalway, Galway, and Donnacha O'Cearbhaill, 20, from The Ring, Birr, Co. Offaly were the first to be successfully prosecuted in Ireland for computer hacking.

The pair, who used the online aliases 'Raepsauce' and 'Palladium', had been identified by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in conjunction with the FBI.

They had pleaded guilty in July to criminal damage to the www.finegael2011.ie website.

The site was defaced, had its database stolen and was knocked offline for 24 hours after it was hacked on 9 January 2011 - seven weeks before the general election.

Their actions were described in court as a "stunt" to embarrass the party.

In July, Judge Ann Ryan had noted that the pair had no prior criminal convictions and she had ordered them to take part in restorative justice programme through the Probation Service.

The case resumed today and Judge Ryan noted that the pre-sentence probation report was "very good". She said she was delighted that they had put their expertise to good use and told them: "I hope you have learned your lesson."

They had also been ordered to bring €5,000 each to court for payment to Fine Gael to cover the costs of getting the website running again.

Fine Gael had decided that half of it should go to suicide prevention charity Pieta House and the remainder would be used to cover legal costs incurred.

Judge Ryan said the pair had "a lot to give to society" and she applied the Probation of Offenders Act. This means the young men have been jail spared sentences and will not have criminal records.

Mr Martyn studies forensic science and analysis at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), while Mr O'Cearrbhaill, who is the son of Offaly Independent Councillor John Carroll, is a student of medicinal chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.

In evidence, garda fraud squad officers told the judge that the pair replaced the text on the Fine Gael website with the words "owned by Raepsauce and Palladium".

The site's subscribers' database was stolen and published on the internet and was also sent to a journalist.

The site was inaccessible for 24 hours and according to Fine Gael it cost €10,000 to get it up and running again. No one suffered as a result of the subscriber list data being taken, the judge also noted.

In July, Judge Ryan had described the offence as "a terrible abuse of talent" and said they had used their expertise in "a criminal way", but she noted that their cybercrime had not caused any long-term problems.