THE most senior criminal judge in the country has issued a remarkable apology to a rape victim amid mounting public concern over the sentencing of sex abusers.
Days after allowing sex offender Patrick O'Brien to walk free, Mr Justice Paul Carney expressed his "profound regret" to victim Fiona Doyle for any distress caused as he revoked bail -- placing her abusive father behind bars.
The judge admitted it had been "insensitive" and "not appropriate" to release the 72-year-old on bail after sentencing him earlier this week.
As O'Brien was led away by prison officers, Ms Doyle said: "That was all I wanted."
"He might now feel the loneliness, the lack of support and the isolation that I have felt for the past 40 years."
Ms Doyle said other sexual abuse victims may now be able to look at the delight and relief etched on her face.
"I'm happy and it's been a rough ride but it's worth it," she said.
Rape victims' groups had criticised Mr Justice Carney's earlier decision to grant bail to O'Brien -- whose abuse of his daughter became so routine she felt it was as frequent as "having dinner".
The rapist had been allowed to walk free on Monday pending possible appeal of his 12-year sentence, nine years of which were suspended.
But victims' groups said that now O'Brien's bail had been revoked, it finally delivered the correct message to society that perpetrators will be punished.
Public rallies had been planned to call for the introduction of sentencing guidelines for judges hearing rape cases.
And Ms Doyle revealed she still plans to accept an invite from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to highlight the problems she encountered with the criminal justice system, as she had earlier feared her elderly father might not serve any time behind bars.
"I have been vindicated. I accept Judge Carney's regret in what happened," said Ms Doyle.
"I would just like to ask my dad, as a sign of remorse, not to appeal his three-year sentence. The three-year sentence now, in his present state, is a lifetime for him."
Ms Doyle's daughter Kristel (26) said the family intended to continue their campaign for guidelines and a revamp of the sentencing in sexual assault cases.
"We are going to continue this until the law is changed for the minimum sentence to be applied," she told the Irish Independent.
Members of the family will march in Bray, Co Wicklow, at 4pm on Saturday to thank their friends and neighbours for their support.
News of the support march came after Mr Justice Carney yesterday told a thronged Central Criminal Court that the procedure he had adopted in sentencing O'Brien had been "insensitive" and he had "no difficulty" in saying that.
Counsel for the State, Brendan Grehan SC, told the court it had been wrong to grant O'Brien leave to appeal – as under new laws that was no longer permitted.
The judge confessed he had followed a "procedurally confused method" but had been trying to take into account the severe ill health of the perpetrator.
O'Brien, from Old Court Avenue, Bray in Co Wicklow, walks with an disability aid and suffers from breathing and heart problems.
Mr Justice Carney explained he was not seeking to have the sentence reduced upon appeal, but wanted the opinions of three experienced judges on the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) on whether he was giving too much weight to O'Brien's extensive medical conditions.
He had not wanted to take the "responsibility of the case" entirely on his own, he added.
Mr Justice Carney said the sentence had been designed to ensure no one was able to say the "accused walked" – yet people had been able to say that.
The judge revoked bail, with O'Brien's sentence taking immediate effect. Both parties still had the option to appeal the sentence, he said.
During the court case the judge had heard how the abuse began the night before Ms Doyle's First Holy Communion and continued for years.
O'Brien had pleaded guilty to 16 charges of rape and indecent assault of his daughter at Mackintosh Park, Pottery Road, Dun Laoghaire, from 1973 until 1982.
Rape victims' support group One in Four said the case highlighted the difficulties experienced by sexual abuse victims. Director Maeve Lewis called on Mr Kenny to reform the system to deal with sexual offences in specialised courts.
Support service CARI described the reversal of the decision as sending out the "right message" to people abusing children that they will serve time.
Comment: It's not the job of judges to be popular. Page 31