One of the country's top greyhound trainers has been given a six-month suspended jail sentence and fined €7,000 for possessing steroids which are outlawed by European illegal animal remedies regulations.

Gerry Holian, of Raheen, Athenry, Co Galway, pleaded guilty to four charges which arose out of searches carried out by the Department of Agriculture's Special Investigations Unit in early 2018.

The four charges he pled guilty to were for possession of unlicenced substances, each of these contained different anabolic steroids including stanozol, nandrolone and testosterone.

The products had been found in his kennels and in his bedroom during two inspections and one unannounced raid which the Department's unit carried out under a warrant in April 2018.

Judge James Faughnan at Loughrea District Court said the charges had to be taken seriously on the grounds of public health and animal health. He handed down consecutive three-month suspended sentences for two separate charges and separate fines of €3,500 each for the other two.

He said the sentences would be activated if Mr Holian committed another similar offence or if there was credible evidence of similar behaviour by the greyhound trainer over the next two years.

Mr Holian, who also played intercounty hurling for Galway, was described as the top coursing trainer in the country and has also had considerable success on the track.

The District Court was told the Department's Special Investigations Unit became involved in 2018 at the request of Greyhound Racing Ireland, then called Bord na gCon, after a greyhound trained by Mr Holian tested positive for a banned substance during trials for the English greyhound derby in December 2017.

Veterinary inspector, Louis Reardon, said the steroids he discovered at the facility in Athenry were designed to increase muscle mass and improve performance and although they had been designed to be administered to humans, they would have the same effect on racing dogs.

Mr Holian, who was present in court, originally faced more than 40 charges of possessing illegal animal remedies, including a drug called Release which contains pentobarbital and is ordinarily used to euthanise animals.

The Department inspector, Mr Reardon, told the court he had spoken to Mr Holian about where the full inventory of medicines had come from because of public health concerns for all of the products discovered during the raid.

Mr Reardon said he was told by Mr Holian that they were sourced from two vets, both of whom had since died, and from an individual in Northern Ireland with a previous related conviction.

All but four of these charges, which related to other individual items discovered, were struck out when the guilty pleas were entered. Mr Holian agreed as part of his plea to forfeit the entire cache of products which had been seized.

Before sentencing, Judge Faughnan was handed a number of letters in support of Mr Holian.

The court heard Mr Holian had no previous convictions.

His solicitor, Angela Dempsey, said Mr Holian had acted naively but had been cooperative.

She said details of the raids on Mr Holian's properties first emerged in an RTÉ Investigates programme in June 2019, 'Greyhounds - Running for their lives'.

Ms Dempsey questioned the Department inspector as to how specific details were passed to RTÉ before they were heard in court and that the programme had a detrimental impact on her client.

The court was told general material was released to RTÉ Investigates under the Freedom of Information Act and that it would have been known in the industry that the raids had taken place and it was his understanding that Mr Holian had discussed it at a race meeting around that time.

Judge Faughnan said the release of material to RTÉ had no bearing on the case because Mr Holian had indicated he was guilty of possession.

Ms Dempsey said following the publicity of the raids in the RTÉ Investigates programme, owners did not stop sending their dogs to him. She told the court Mr Holian had informed her that: "No, nobody stopped sending me dogs. The evidence is I care for my dogs and I have a winning record."

She said she had also asked Mr Holian about why the material was on his property and he told her he would be given stuff from the owners whose dogs he trained and be told to give it the greyhounds.

She said he had made no attempt to hide the products and said he was not aware of the regulations around possessing the remedies.

Ms Dempsey said the attention had an effect on Mr Holian's health and a doctor's letter was submitted to the court to support this.

She also said that as a result of the hearing Mr Holian is expecting "some kind of ban" from the authorities running greyhound racing.

She said he had devoted his life to greyhounds since he was aged 14.

Ms Dempsey said the products Mr Holian had pleaded guilty to were all out of date for a number of years.

Mr Reardon said these had been tested, along with a syringe found with one of the bottles, and a laboratory confirmed the steroid ingredient was still active. He also referred to a diary of Mr Holian's which noted the use of one of the medicines.

Judge Faughnan said the charges were for possession of unlicenced remedies, regardless of their dates, and said if the best before date had passed on an egg "you could still boil it".