THE principal of a special needs school has been jailed after stealing €101,000 to feed his out-of-control gambling habit.
alachy McNulty (39) forged signatures on school cheques and used an official credit card to channel money into own account over three years.
The coach of a top GAA club, he admitted the thefts when confronted by a member of the school’s Board of Management who had been alerted to his regular visits to local bookies in Portlaoise.
Today at Portlaoise Circuit Court Judge Keenan Johnson imposed a six-year sentence but suspended four and a half year on condition the money is re-paid.
He ordered McNulty to pay back the cash in three instalments of €20,000 after his release from prison.
At an earlier sentence hearing the court was told that almost half the stolen cash had already been paid back.
His defence counsel at that hearing said McNulty is already halfway there and “one way or another the account will settled by the end of the year.”
McNulty had resigned his post but found other employment and had paid back €50,600 in two years.
The Board member at St Francis School in Portlaoise, Fr Paddy Byrne, told gardaí that McNulty immediately confessed to the thefts to feed his gambling habit.
It had emerged he had forged a co-signatory’s name of 48 cheques and on documents to transfer money from various school accounts into one to which he had access between 2017 and 2019.
The thefts were described by his defence counsel as ‘chaotic’ ranging from €20 to low four-figure sums, committed by a man in psychological turmoil and collapse.
The indictment against him included 380 charges.
After initially being confronted McNulty sought treatment at a psychiatric hospital before being admitted to a residential course at the Rutland Centre in Dublin.
A garda witness said all the money went on gambling and “nothing else” with cash going out of his bank account as quick as it went in.
The detective added McNulty made full and frank admissions and was very remorseful.
Letters of reference in court included one from the club secretary at Rhode GAA which said McNulty had always been honest about the case before being appointed to the position of coach.
Describing the amount stolen as “just staggering” Judge Johnson said it was “frightening” someone could find themselves in “a sea of debt” as a result of gambling addiction.
He said McNulty had a gambling addiction which had destroyed his career.
In a victim impact statement, as reported by the Leinster Express today, Fr. Byrne said the thefts came as huge shock but had brought a promising career to an end at great personal cost.
It also emerged during court hearings that McNulty lost a brother to suicide in 2010 who also suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction.
As a player, McNulty enjoyed a top-class club career where he as part of Portlaoise squads that won every Laois senior football championship from 2007 to 2014.
As manager of Portlaoise they won three titles from 2015 to 2018 before taking over at Rhode where they won the Offaly championship in 2020.